The pandemic has forced many employees to adjust how they work. Some of us are working remotely, others combine in-person and remote work, and for those of us whose work cannot be performed remotely, our environments have been altered to enhance safety.
While we’re thinking about how we work, it’s also a good time to consider what work we do. Non-promotable tasks (NPTs) are important to the organization but don’t advance the career of the person who does them.
Tasks like filling in for a colleague who is out, serving on a DEI committee, or polishing a PowerPoint presentation for a colleague. Everyone needs to do some NPTs but when you do more of them than your peers, your career can be stalled. That’s because NPTs steal time from the work that will matter to your advancement.
So how do you know if you are doing too much non-promotable work? Here are five warning signs you aren’t spending your time wisely:
You regret handling a task.
Perhaps you were assigned the task and you wished you hadn’t been. Or maybe you were asked, said yes, and wished you had said no. Perhaps you volunteered to do it and now you wish you had waited for someone else to raise their hand. These are signs you are doing tasks you shouldn’t be. They may benefit your organization, but they won’t help your career. Use regret as a warning signal—you never regret spending your time in ways that help you succeed at work.
Everyone breathes a sigh of relief that it’s your task and not theirs.
No one wants a task that comes without reward so people are thankful when they can get out of it! When you finish an NPT, you’ll get a quick “thanks!” but that’s it. It doesn’t show up in your performance evaluation. The promotable work that is core to your job and helps you succeed doesn’t elicit only gratitude or thanks. It produces tangible rewards such as higher pay or a stellar performance evaluation!
You are jealous of the work your peers are doing.
If your peers are spending their day doing work that is more central to the mission of the organization, then you should want those tasks too. This type of work is rewarded and gets your co-workers noticed and praised for their contributions. If your work falls short on these dimensions, you are probably spending too much time on NPTs.
The tasks you perform don’t require specialized skills.
Just about anybody in your organization can do them. People bring different skill sets and perspectives to their organization and you want to spend your time on work that taps into yours. You’ve got a problem if you spend your time on routine work.
You don’t have time for the work that’s most important to you.
Spending your day focused on dead-end work, which diverts time from your critical promotable work, is a clear warning signal. Dead-end work often has short time horizons and your promotable work typically has longer ones, so it is tempting to bang out the things with short deadlines first. But do this too often and you will limit your productivity over the long haul.
If several of these warning signs apply to you, you are probably not optimizing how you spend your time at work. Here’s how to get back on track.
First, analyze your workload to assess which tasks are promotable and which are not. If you aren’t sure, solicit an opinion from a co-worker or friends.
Second, identify the tasks you’d like to stop doing so that you can focus more on promotable work.
Finally, talk with your supervisor—respectfully—about gradual changes you’d like to make. Frame the conversation as wanting to maximize your contribution at work by better prioritizing how you spend your time.
These changes will help you spend more time on work that is meaningful and advances your career.
This guest post was authored by Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart
They are the authors of The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work