The hidden cost of being too good at your job

In a society that celebrates relentless over-achievement and productivity, it’s easy to believe that constantly operating at 100% capacity will result in rewards. Ironically, being exceptionally good at your job might actually impede your progress. Here’s a typical scenario: You excel in your role, becoming the dependable go-to person for getting things done quickly and efficiently. However, instead of receiving rewards, your workload increases. You’re given more responsibilities and higher expectations because you managed previous tasks so easily. 

While your excellent performance establishes you as a reliable team member, it can lead to being taken advantage of. Your demonstrated competence might signal to management that you’re capable of handling even more, leading to additional tasks without corresponding recognition or compensation. This is often presented as “a great opportunity for growth” or “a chance to prove your potential,” phrases used by organizations to justify more work without proper rewards, revealing a dysfunctional organizational culture.

Being seen as “too competent” comes with pressures. You might fear letting others down, and you bear the burden of your promise, which can be more pronounced if you’re in a minority group. Operating at full capacity constantly to prove your worth and avoid disappointing anyone leaves no room for discretionary effort. It prevents you from taking on strategic projects that could lead to promotions and leads to anxiety and exhaustion.

Sometimes, less really is more for sustainable success and well-being. The solution? Before considering quitting, try the “85 percent rule.” The premise is to work consistently at 85% capacity, maintaining high productivity and quality without overextending yourself. This approach ensures you have the bandwidth for unexpected demands and creative strategic thinking. It also reduces stress, improving overall workplace wellbeing and maintaining a better work-life balance. 

Here are three strategies to optimize your performance at 85%:

1. **Maintain an achievement portfolio**: Compile a record of your contributions and their impact, including measurable achievements and positive feedback. This portfolio can underline your value and strengthen your case for career advancement. Share it with management ahead of performance conversations to ensure recognition.

2. **Get better at prioritizing**: Focus on key tasks that significantly impact your success. Concentrate your energy on these tasks and delegate less critical ones. Mastering prioritization can help preserve your energy and prevent overwhelm.

3. **Learn to say “no”**: Manage your capacity by tactfully declining tasks that don’t align with your main responsibilities or when you’re at your limit. You could say, “Thank you for considering me. I’m currently focused on X, Y, and Z. Perhaps this could be a great opportunity for [a less busy colleague]?” or “I think Sally is better suited for this task given her expertise in _____.” This protects your time and encourages teamwork.

Embrace the wisdom of working smarter, not harder. Indeed, sometimes, less is more for sustainable success and wellbeing.  

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