In most jobs, there will be situations where you’re asked to take on extra tasks or assist in areas outside of your traditional role. Sometimes, this can be good exposure and a great way to build relationships with new people and teams. And other times—you may wonder why on earth you went to college, if this is what’s become of your career.
I’m not talking about occasionally being asked to make copies or order pizza for the team. I’m referencing the more absurd things that sometimes arise: being told that your marketing gig includes holding a sign on the street corner or that, as a graphic designer, you’ll be creating your boss’s holiday cards. It’s definitely important to be a team player, but without limits, these “other duties as assigned” can become an overwhelming burden, take away from your actual priorities, and limit your ability to really grow in your role.
So how do you draw the line—nicely, professionally, and not looking like you’re shirking responsibility? Here are some tips for dealing with the less relevant tasks that come across your plate.
Set Crystal Clear Expectations
Many times, when someone makes a ridiculous request, it’s just a matter of not understanding exactly what you do. I work in corporate communications, but I often get requests from other departments to help edit promotional videos. Not only am I not trained to do this—it’s not a task my team can prioritize.
I’ve found that one way to avoid falling into miscellaneous tasks is by setting clear expectations from the get-go. When you receive a request, be direct with others about your role, your typical responsibilities, and your priorities or current projects.
Try: “You know, I’m really not positioned to work on catering orders. My team’s main focus is corporate event planning, and right now I’m swamped preparing for our annual conference next week.”
Be Helpful, Within Reason
That said, if you work on a team, helping out your co-workers and taking on additional tasks and projects is just part of the deal. The trick is to balance these requests, so you don’t end up with an onslaught of extra work that takes time away from your actual job responsibilities.
I once helped place a rush order for t-shirts for an event, because I knew a vendor who would do it—a one-time task I was happy to do. But after that, people thought I was the “t-shirt girl,” and I was bombarded with requests for ordering apparel, which is definitely not my job.
If you’ve been helpful once and then found yourself continually asked to do things you shouldn’t be doing, let the other party know why you can't take on the request, and who to go to in the future.
Try: “I know I helped out with your last design request as a favor, but these are really better handled by the product marketing team. They have better resources and are more familiar with the brand guidelines.”
Dial a Life Line
If you’re a junior member of a team, others may look to you as the default option for picking up miscellaneous duties. It’s also not uncommon for senior associates (who aren’t really supposed to be in the position of assigning you work anyway) to try and put projects on your plate. And these types of requests can be tricky to navigate or turn down.
If you’re feeling pressure from senior team members or other leaders or departments, mention that, given your current priorities, you’ll have to check with your manager. Then, go back and talk to your boss about the request, and you can decide how to handle it together.
Try: “You know, before I say yes, I’m going to have to run this request by Mike—it seems like a big undertaking and I need to make sure he’s OK with me taking some time away from the department’s other priorities.”
Learn to Laugh
Chances are, anyone who's worked in a professional environment for a few years can share stories about silly things they've been asked to do. Heck, I once had to order flowers for a supervisor’s wife when he was stuck out of town. Sometimes, you'll end up just having to do these things, with a smile, to help another person out. It might be frustrating in the moment, but it'll make a great story over happy hour one day.
However, if your willingness to run across town and buy your boss a tie for his important meeting is misconstrued as you wanting to be his personal shopper, discussing the details in person is a good way to send the right message, leaving no room for misinterpretation.
Try: “It was no problem to help out with this last time, but I’m not sure it’s an appropriate assignment for me on a regular basis. Could we look into another option for getting this done?”
There's definitely a reason the phrase “other duties as assigned” is on almost every job description—it's a natural part of most positions. But the trick to navigating these duties is learning when to roll with the situation and when to push back. And when those duties cross a line, recognize that a little open communication is often all it takes is to set the situation right, and set boundaries for what you can—and can’t—do on the job.