There’s an adage in business that you can only handle so many spinning plates.  This is in reference to old shows where a performer would spin many plates on sticks and wow the crowd with their capability.

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The adage itself is a simple one, you cannot mentally or physically manage  things after a certain tipping point.  No one is immune to overwork or taking on too much.

Earlier in my career the tasks and things that needed to be done were simpler than now, and far less in number.  However my personality is wont to take on more and more–which I did successfully.

As your career goes on, the amount and complexity of the work available escalates.  One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn in the last decade is when to say no.

Saying no is really important.  If people don’t understand that you have a capacity, they will likely continually ask you to take on more and more.

This is a big issue as it has a detrimental effect on both your capability to finish work as well as the quality of work.  Over time, both of those characteristics can affect your perception in the work place, all despite doing your best to make things work and help the organization.

It’s commonplace for most people to try to take on more and more.  The vast majority of people I’ve worked with mean well and are more than willing to go the extra mile.  Most of the time this is a good thing, but there’s a very real line between taking on an extra task and overloading.

When people overload, they actually hurt themselves and potentially the organization they work for.  It’s management’s job to make sure it doesn’t happen–and that is actually more difficult than it sounds.  Understanding where people have time and don’t, how quickly they can get a job done well and getting to Good Enough Move On (GEMO) in a given work state are all matters of perspective and usually a function of experience.

Everyone is beholden to the “too many spinning plates” rule.  Great managers and workers understand it and the ramifications on quality.  They manage it.