I know a developer who lusts after all the sexy projects. He asks for them and he wants to talk about them. You might think this kind of enthusiasm makes you a star in your boss’s eyes. And it can, up to a point. But what if my developer wants to talk about the sexy projects with a handful of unfinished ones still on his plate?
That’s a dangerous habit for your career because it can give your boss the impression that you’re a lightweight – someone who will try to take on everything that comes your way leaving unfinished and half-ass work in your wake.
Those who really succeed, do so by handling a few important projects really well. Below are two critical ingredients to making that happen.
1. Know your boss’s priorities and live by them. He’s the one who decides what’s important and what’s not. If you are not getting clear guidance, you’ll need to ask questions until you really know how to rank what you’re working on. Help your boss understand the trade-offs.
If you want to talk about something that’s not currently near the top of your list of important projects, make sure you first give an update on the top projects presently underway before bringing up a new subject.
2. Say ‘no’ when low priority items will degrade your performance on important projects. Just as it’s tempting for you to take on every project your boss mentions, it’s also tempting for your boss to give you too many projects. We all have eyes that are too big for our stomachs. When you say ‘no,’ you are simply introducing some reality into the discussion and that’s a mark of maturity.
You’d be wise to say ‘no’ gently, however. You might say something like “Eric, can you help me prioritize that in relation to my other projects?” and follow up with “Based on those priorities, I’ll probably be hitting that project next quarter, does that work for you?”
When you focus religiously on your boss’s priorities, you’ll earn a reputation for strong execution, for accepting guidance well and good teamwork. Your boss will know that you understand the meaning of ‘less is more’.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery