Other Duties As Assigned: 10 Ways to Take Advantage of the Good Tasks and Drop the Bad

Based on the YNPN Discussion Group on April 11


Nearly every nonprofit job description includes that pesky little bullet: “other duties as assigned.” Some can be exciting new challenges that transform your perspective and career. More often than not, though, they tend to be menial tasks like organizing closets, making endless phone calls, or driving around town until your car runs out of gas and you end up calling your boss in tears.

The nature of nonprofits pretty much requires these “other duties,” but we’ve brainstormed some ways to escape the worst of them and make the best of the rest.

  1. Start by asking questions. When you’re assigned a new task or even consider taking it on yourself because there’s no one else, stop for a second to think about whether it’s really worth doing. According to Social Velocity, ask yourself these three questions. If the answer to any of them is no, go to step 2.
    • Is this best for me as a human being?
    • Is this best for others in our organization?
    • Will this move us closer to our mission?
  2. Talk to your boss. Realize that you’re not going to get fired for not completing every duty without question or comment. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or like something isn’t right for you, tell your supervisor. Discuss your reservations or the capacity issues. When something’s not working, that’s when you need to start asking the “why” questions.

  3. Identify your passions. Figure out what you love most about your job and do more of that. Determine where you want to grow in your career, and start taking on some of that work as those “other duties,” especially if no one else is doing it. If your role become associated with those new responsibilities, it’s easier for you to argue that you need smaller things taken off your plate. And you’ll be better positioned for a future career move if you do get fed up with the other “other duties.”

  4. Imitate your mentors and the older leaders around you. Many of our co-workers further up the chain don’t put up with mundane tasks or tons of work outside of scheduled hours. They’ve learned how to say “no,” and they know how to delegate. Ask those you admire and trust for advice on doing this. And look for extra help, like students, interns, volunteers, or AmeriCorps VISTAs.

  5. Work smarter, not harder. Sometimes it’s better to spend more time upfront on planning and organization than to jump into a long, tedious series of tasks. Think strategically. Or consider collaborations with other local nonprofits that could benefit everyone in the long-run, even if it means more work in the beginning.

  6. Remember that you’re not essential. With small nonprofit staffs, it can sometimes feel like the whole organization or community is counting on us to get something done. We all sometimes think: “If I leave this place, the rest of you are f*cked.” But really, no one would die. In fact, they would replace you in a few weeks. No matter how good you are at your job, the world will keep turning if you take a break or give up a few tasks.

  7. Let them feel the fire. Although you may not be essential, you are pretty dang awesome, and sometimes your leaders don’t know half of what you’re doing. If you can’t handle it all, then drop some of those balls, and see who notices. They might decide it’s time to hire someone else, or at least figure out which of your duties are most important. (Note: It’s better to do this in conversation with your direct supervisor, so you can both prioritize which items get done and which are “fired.”)

  8. Schedule your time. If you’re finding that those “other duties” are starting to creep into your personal life, then limit your work hours to scheduled times, whether they be traditional office hours or not. Stop checking work email outside those hours. Remember that emails don’t require an immediate response; you don’t expect it for the messages you send. When you’re working, be fully present. When you’re relaxing or socializing, be fully present there, too.

  9. Cross things off your list. When you write out your to-do list for the day or week or start planning for the month ahead, try to delete 2-3 things to cut down on your tasks. Maybe they’re not worth your time, they aren’t high enough priorities, or they don’t add meaning to your life or your organization.

  10. Change your attitude. When worst comes to worst, you might just have to take on some on those most annoying “other duties” because there is no one else and they have to get done. In that case, think of them as a challenge, a way to stretch your brain or get out of your routine. Maybe it’s something that gets you away from the desk. Whatever it is, remember that it serves the mission of your nonprofit. And that’s always worth doing.

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