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4 things to think about before taking on something extra at work

Next time you’re thinking about taking on a bonus project, consider these four factors.

4 things to think about before taking on something extra at work
[Photo: Chaay_Tee/iStock]

The pandemic has affected people in different ways. Some people are stretched to the breaking point. Others find themselves with some excess capacity. If you are lucky enough to feel like you can take on more responsibility, how should you decide whether you should volunteer for a project?

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Here are a few considerations.

Can you lighten other people’s load?

Organizations function best when they operate like a neighborhood. Good neighbors look after each other and take a long view on settling up debts. You can’t borrow eggs from the store, but you can borrow them from a neighbor, though eventually you’ll have to do something nice in return.

If you have a little extra time in your work schedule, you may be able to help out colleagues who are struggling with the responsibilities and anxieties of the pandemic. Taking over a few tasks for colleagues will pay off in the long run, because your colleagues will have your back when you need them in the future. Plus, supervisors love to know they have a good team player working for them.

Will it prepare you for the future?

Your career is a cycle in which you get a job, learn to do it well, and then start to prepare for the next one. When you feel like you have a good grip on the responsibilities you have been given, that is the signal that you should start looking to extend the range of your abilities to prepare for the next career stage.

There are always chances to take classes or to pursue a degree that might launch you in a new direction. There is a lot of value, though, in accepting a new project at work that will stretch your abilities in new directions. Not only does the willingness to do this work show that you’re a self-starter, it gives you experience with new responsibilities before they are officially part of your list of job functions.

A bonus of taking on something new is that it provides a great opportunity to get mentoring from other people at work with those skills. People higher up in the organization are often happy to guide your skill development when you have volunteered for an extra assignment.

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Is there a clear business need?

Even if the task that must be done won’t expand your horizons, there are times when you have to take one for the team. The pandemic has disrupted a lot of businesses that are now struggling to survive. It is everyone’s responsibility inside a firm to help it in the most dire times.

If you have the bandwidth to take on something extra in that situation, then do it.

Stepping forward to help is not a purely selfless act. It is okay to toot your own horn a bit to your supervisors as you do. If you shoulder more of the burden in a tough time, that is valuable, but it still deserves some recognition. In chaotic times like these, supervisors have a lot on their plate. Helping them to notice what you have done is not inappropriate. While you’re at it, help them to see the efforts of other colleagues who have helped in the same way.

What is the opportunity cost?

Of course, just because you can take on some extra work doesn’t mean you should. A core concept from economics is the opportunity cost. Whenever you spend a resource, you have closed off the possibility of using that resource for anything else. Buying a car means that you don’t have the money available from that purchase to spend on other things you might want. Taking on a project means that you can’t use that time for anything else.

Before diving into something extra, think carefully about what you would have done with that time otherwise. Perhaps you would be better off taking some classes, honing a different set of skills, or even taking a little time off to recharge so that you will be more efficient and more resilient at work. In general, it is a good idea to work through your alternatives before pulling the trigger on a big decision.

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