More Work Please: Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before Taking on New Responsibility

09/14/2011 04:28 pm ET | Updated Nov 14, 2011

There's something unsettling about volunteering for more work, and for good reason. Taking on greater responsibility can expose volunteers to the anxiety of learning something new, the possibility of failure and, perhaps more importantly, a lack of return on one's investment of time and effort. An aversion to more "work" partly depends on how we define the term. If your job and the tasks it entails lack personal meaning, than raising your hand to do more is illogical -- particularly if the payoff is unsure. On the other hand, when your work is what you love -- or at least what interests you -- doing more of it, at a higher level, makes sense.

Engaged professionals are provided countless opportunities on a daily basis to do more. For many of us, the more pressing challenge is to do less, with greater impact. Jumping at every opportunity available is a fast track to burnout. We have to be choosy about the ones that will reap the greatest rewards individually and collectively. But how do we pick the real growth opportunities from the time wasters? Based on my own experience and observation, here are a five key questions to ask yourself as you consider taking the "more work please" plunge:

  1. What's involved?
Before you can effectively evaluate an opportunity, you have to know what you're volunteering for. What specifically needs to be completed? How does the task support realization of the greater business strategy? How much time will execution demand? In peeling back the layers of the work, you'll not only build your understanding of what it entails, but also begin to assess how the activity might be refined to produce better results.

  • Who will I collaborate with?
  • The nature of our experiences -- professional and personal -- are significantly impacted by the quality of the relationships we build along the way. Will the assignment enable you to work with colleagues you respect and enjoy? Will participation empower you to demonstrate and grow your people management skills (if that's something that interests you)? Will you be granted exposure to senior leaders or colleagues from other parts of the organization that you might not interact with otherwise? Map the stakeholders involved and consider the implications of greater partnership.

  • What strengths will I leverage?
  • You'll find the most success and fulfillment from work that enables you to build on your strengths. Ask yourself: How will this assignment enable me to apply my unique talent? Will it be challenging enough to inspire my ongoing engagement? If not, how might I reframe or reshape the work to keep me engaged? You may find that after answering these questions, you're not the right person for the job -- and that's okay! Being honest about your interests and capabilities is good for you and for the business.

  • What developmental areas will I address?
  • Great opportunities will also force you to stretch yourself in new ways. Try to seek out those assignments that will push you right to the edge of what's possible. Going too far past that threshold means certain failure, but bumping up against it will bring out your best. Ask yourself: Is this work challenging yet doable? Will I have the support and resources I need to effectively stretch myself? Does the task demand up front skill mastery or is it suited to experimentation?

  • What's next?
  • The highest potential work may be positioned as a springboard to even greater, more exciting responsibilities. When evaluating a prospective assignment, it's critical to think beyond the short-term towards the doors that success will open for you. What will I be enabled to do next if I knock this one out of the park? Will immediate pain lead to long-term gain? If so, how much unpleasantness can I endure today for the benefit of tomorrow?

    The inclination of most high-performers -- particularly those at the beginning of their careers -- is to raise their hands for more responsibility no matter its nature. We're taught that part of being a team player is to constantly do more and to prove your value by the growing volume of your responsibilities. The truth is that "doing more" is not always a gateway to leadership, nor is defaulting to the path of least resistance. Use the questions above to have a real dialogue with yourself, find the right balance, and pick the work that makes sense for you and your company.

    What's your experience determining which new responsibilities to pursue?