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3 Times You Should Tell Your Boss You Didn't Do Your Best Work

In an ideal world, you'd give your all 100% of the time. In real life, you sometimes can't. Here's when and how to own up to it.

3 Times You Should Tell Your Boss You Didn't Do Your Best Work
[Photo: janeb13 via Pixabay]

Everyone has an occasional crisis of confidence. You’re about to turn something in and you wonder, "Is it good enough?" Then, your next thought is, "Do I need to say something to my boss?"

There are definitely times when it’s just a bout of impostor syndrome; and by ignoring your inner critic, you avoid a situation in which your manager would’ve loved your work, but because of how you frame it, she starts to question it, too. However, there are other situations in which you need to speak up, so you can get the guidance you need to make something better.

It’s not always easy to tell one scenario from the other, but here are three times you should always be honest that you’re unsure of what you’re handing in.

1. When You’d Like Constructive Feedback

You know something isn’t quite clicking, but you’re not sure how to fix it yourself. Should you scrap everything and go back to the drawing board? Could minor changes make a big difference?

Even though it can feel uncomfortable (and even scary) to admit that you don’t have all the answers, it’s your boss’ job to provide guidance so you can do your best work. By mentioning that you could use advice before you turn a project in, you’re being proactive, attentive to deadlines, and showing that you have a clear idea of where the project needs to be (even if you’re not quite sure how to get there).

Just keep in mind that when you ask someone to help you solve a problem, you have to be open to implementing his or her solution. If what you really want is another day to try and tweak things for yourself, share that you’re not 100% where you want to be, but then ask for a deadline extension (as opposed to thoughts on how the project could be improved).

2. When You’re The Last Stop Before It’s Made Public

One of the things I love about working with an editor is the feeling of reassurance it brings. I know there’s someone who’s job it is to tell me if I’m being long-winded, or alternatively, if I didn’t go into enough detail to actually make my point. When you have the safety net of someone you trust to review your work, you can veer on the side of not mentioning if you’re on the fence, because he’ll let you know if you need to make changes.

However, that person doesn’t always exist. Maybe someone is charged with reviewing your work, but he never actually reviews it—unless you specifically ask him to. Or, maybe you’re project lead and so you get to make the call when a project is ready to go. When you know what you’re turning in won’t be assessed further, you should always mention if you’re feeling iffy about it.

There are lots of ways to go about this. Maybe you just need a second set of eyes. Maybe you want to go to that coworker who always has a different perspective from you to see if there’s anything you missed. Or maybe it’s making sure that you’re communicating as clearly as possible. In other words, instead of sending your boss a "final version" with a note that it’s complete, but not your favorite, label it "draft" and point out why you think it may not be 100% ready.

3. When You’re Desperate to Be Done

Sometimes you’ve poured all of the time and energy you have—and then some—into one lousy project. And it looks complete enough that it could finally move on, but in all honesty, you know it’s not that great.

Even if you could get away with saying nothing—which is undeniably tempting in a situation like this—you should absolutely speak up. It says a lot about your credibility that you’d mention something isn’t your best work even if the last thing you feel like doing is revising it.

In this case, also include that it’s been a huge time-suck or that there were unforeseen challenges, and check in on how high a priority it is. If it just needs to be completed, your boss may give you a pass to let this version go, but she’ll appreciate (and remember) your honesty. On the other hand, if this task is super important, she may take something else off your plate to accommodate a redo; and you’ll also be glad to know that some work you aren’t entirely proud of won’t define her opinion of you.

Not every project you complete is going to be one you want to save in a portfolio. Sometimes, work just needs to be completed, and that’s okay. But if you have a feeling it might really need improvement, ask yourself if you’re in one the above situations, where mentioning that you might want to take another stab at something could underscore just how good your best work truly is.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.

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