Jobs seem to grow more complicated every year.

Employees are expected to carry a heavier workload, meet higher quality standards, and pick up speed at the same time. It’s a foolproof formula for stress.

Since organizations are under so much pressure from changes in the outside world, though, we can’t look forward to any letup. More work keeps landing on fewer shoulders. Customer expectations keep going up. And ever stiffer competition means we have to move faster and faster just to keep up.

Nevertheless, there are limits to the workload we can carry. Trying harder and harder can only take us so far.

If we keep taking on new duties without giving others up, we’ll eventually hit overload. This means we should sort through our work, reorder our priorities, and figure out which tasks are expendable. Something has to go. Unless we dump some old baggage, we won’t be able to shoulder the more important stuff that offers a bigger payoff.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. People have a funny way of hanging on to old habits. In particular, we’re often unwilling to quit doing what we can do well, even if it’s no longer the most important thing for us to spend our time on.

You don’t have to look very far to find employees who are focused on doing things right, but who are failing to do the right things. These are the people who act as if they’ll be held accountable for their old jobs, when—in large part—those assignments don’t even exist anymore. Often they just can’t understand why they’re no longer getting accolades, even though they’re doing their old jobs as well as ever. Their key mistake comes in ignoring how priorities and management expectations have changed.

We need to abandon the expendables, because that creates valuable space. Not only does it relieve a lot of the pressure, but it also makes room for the far more important work that higher management is going to grade us on.

Survival Guide:

Reengineer your job.

Eliminate unnecessary steps, get rid of busywork, and unload activities that don’t contribute enough to the organization’s current goals.

Focus your efforts on doing “the right things.” And ditch those duties that don’t count much, even if you can do them magnificently right.

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” —Stephen Wright

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