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Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: How I Quit Being a Door Mat

There’s a fine line between being a team player and ending up as the official doormat of your workplace.

Most of the time, when your coworkers ask for your help, it’s because they’re genuinely too busy with important work to get everything on their plate done on schedule. Maybe their responsibilities expanded because cutbacks caused someone else to lose their job. Or perhaps it’s just the busy season and they have more to do.

Whatever the situation is, it’s important to do your best to help the team. Not only will this raise the level of the entire department, it will help you as well. Do a good job on some important projects – whether they’re yours or not – and the people who matter will see how much you’re contributing and recognize your value.

The problem comes when you constantly find yourself suffering – both in work and life – because you’re always doing the dirty work and people start to expect that you will do it. Earn that kind of reputation and you could end up killing yourself with all the extra work just to keep a job that’s no longer satisfying. Worse, all that grunt work can sap away at your energy and make you less capable in your real work.

But there is a way to get out of this rut. Here are several lessons I learned that let me quit being a door mat.

Why you should not always say yes. Learning to say “no” is a very powerful tool, but it’s not just about saying "no.” You always want to be thought of as a person who’s willing to help the team, so you have to pick your battles wisely and have good reasons for when you do refuse extra work. And I don’t just mean good excuses that you can tell the person requesting your help.

Saying no is an opportunity. Instead of bogging yourself down in the grunt work that someone else doesn’t want to do, you’re keeping yourself free to tackle more important jobs, and preventing yourself from doing a bad job or burning out because you’re overworked. The goal shouldn’t just be to get the job done, but to impress the people above you and make it look easy – when you’re accepting work from all sides, the quality of what you’re doing can suffer, and that hurts everyone.

Why you don't have to please everyone. Some people just don’t like being the bad guy and turning others down, especially people they see as their friends. But by constantly taking on others’ work that you know they have time to do, you’re hurting yourself, enabling their lazy behavior, and making them see you as someone who can be taken advantage of. This doesn’t enhance friendships or build respect; it makes you their whipping boy.

At this point, it’s important to say that this kind of behavior isn’t the norm in most workplaces. Most people are just trying to work hard and climb that ladder – the same as you – but there are a few out there who are just opportunistic, and you have to know how to recognize them or risk being taken advantage of. Ultimately, refusing them is good for you, for them, and for the company because it causes everyone to strive for a particular level of productivity. Your goal should be to complete your work to the best of your ability; doing an excellent job makes the entire team look better.

Why being a leader of yourself helps you to lead others. Deciding to become a “leader of yourself” teaches you to prioritize tasks, evaluate the time you’ll need for each one, and agree or refuse to take on more work based on facts and what’s best for the business. Learning how to make yourself adhere to these principles is a fantastic way to show that you can transfer those skills into a position where you will be leading others.

In contrast, taking on everyone else’s work is a horrible way to conduct your professional life because it will leave you constantly struggling to define priorities and get everything finished. In effect, it keeps you from having to make those tough choices about what’s important and what isn’t because everything always feels like it has to be done now, now, now!

About the Author: 

Patrick Del Rosario is a Filipino business and career blogger. He is part of Open Colleges Blog. Aside from blogging and being a business blogger, Patrick is an aspiring photographer. If you want to feature his writings on your site, connect with him at Google+ or drop a line at patrick (at) oc.edu.au.

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