Like all other modern knowledge-workers, you likely are asked to do far more than you could possibly accomplish. But depending on your particular role, this has different implications.

In some jobs, you can go ahead and accept extra work, while doing a slightly less high-quality job than you might otherwise have.

  • Marketers will spend less time on the details of each campaign
  • Consultants will spend fewer hours on each job
  • Lawyers will prepare less rigorously for a given case
  • Athletes will get less sleep, spend less time in the gym, or watch fewer gameplay videos
  • Musicians will practice less, delivering a less technical or considered performance

All these roles may deliver output considered “acceptable”, even when they are pressured into a less-than-ideal final product.

Other jobs on the other hand, will literally not be done if too much else is piled on.

  • Programmers (the web site doesn't load)
  • Engineers (the bridge doesn't stand up)
  • UPS Delivery Person (packages are left on the truck)
  • Surgeons (the patient dies)

If you expect more from these jobs than they could possibly handle, the whole system falls over as opposed to merely resulting in high-volume, lower-quality output.

Consider this dynamic carefully the next time someone from group one tells you “sure, I'll manage to get that extra task done”, and when someone from group two says “Sorry, I can't do both of these things, you'll need to prioritize one”. On the surface, it seems like the first employee is being accommodating, willing to work hard, someone who steps up, and the second is being difficult or lazy. But, in fact, you might need to demand that the first employee not compromise on the quality of their work just because they can, and applaud the second employee for knowing what it takes to deliver results.