2 min read

Why you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more time

You might feel inferior asking for more time but your boss would rather have the best work, a new study shows
Why you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for more time
Photo by Jen Bonner / Unsplash

Sustain issue #52 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)

Let’s entertain a universally hated work situation: Your boss asks you to prepare something for them by end of the week. You cancel drinks with a friend as you work into the evening to finish it. When you go to deliver it, you can tell they forgot they even asked you to do it. Worse, you know they didn't actually need it by the end of the week. Really super.

But what if instead of blindly catching what gets thrown at you, you did a little probing before the ball is thrown? Some things at work absolutely have unmovable deadlines. But some, especially for internal deliverables, can be flexible. The problem is, we don’t know and often we’re afraid to ask.

As this Harvard Business Review study found, there’s actually surprising power in asking for more time.

We typically don’t do this for two reasons:

  1. Fear of judgment
  2. Assumptions about the importance of speed vs. quality

Essentially, we’re afraid that we’ll look inferior if we ask for more time. And we feel an implicit pressure not to question deadlines. Both of reasons are completely rational.

Blindly saying yes to deadlines

But the research found something interesting.

Employees feel their performance is more likely to be judged on speed since it’s more easily quantifiable. However, when bosses were asked the same question, they preferred that the work was high-quality even if that meant it took little more time than expected.

Of course, there are caveats here. You shouldn’t request extra time on every assignment and you should agree on extra time well enough in advance or else, yes, your performance evaluations will suffer.

The way of the anti-burnout employee

But both of those caveats are covered by the anti-burnout employee. You prioritize doing high-value vs. commodity work. You know that high-value work takes time. You also prioritize being in lock-step with your boss and making necessary tradeoffs. If they ask you to do something it may require saying: hey I have a big deadline I’m working on this week – do you have the flexibility for me to start in next week so I can give it the proper amount of time and brainpower?

The point is not to be difficult with deadlines. The point is to properly manage expectations and ensure you have enough time to do work that has your name next to it in a high-quality way.

So if you’re being squeezed, ask for more time. You might be surprised to know that doing high-quality work, as opposed to sped-up work, is the priority of both you and your boss.


Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?

Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to eliminate burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it even though I never found a playbook for doing so. So, I'm writing it myself.

✉️ Want my top tips? I share my full step-by-step playbook in How I Quit Burnout, my premium newsletter. Get the next one delivered straight to your inbox >

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