Posted by: kerrywills | September 3, 2010

Working with AND vs OR

I spent the first half of my professional career as a consultant, which meant that we did anything the clients asked of us. So if I was working on 10 items and was asked to take on two more, my workload became 12 items. This is what I call working in the “AND” model of workload (current workload AND new workload). Asking for a priority was never really an option. I have taken this mindset into my non-consulting work as well. When something else comes up I never even consider what I won’t be doing – instead I just add it to my plate and get it done.

Having this mindset ingrained in me, I often get frustrated with people who work in the “OR” mindset.  “Well I can do that work but I wont be doing X, Y and Z” The problem is that all the work that we do is on a projects and therefore X,Y and Z still have to get done.  I am empathetic to workloads and priorities but it is still a difficult concept for me since I live in the “AND” world. To manage these conflicts personally, I look for efficiencies such as not attending meeting to gain the time for the additional work. I am not promoting staying at work all day but rather look for non-value added activities and eliminate them to allow for the additional work.

Now where should I start first?

I would be curious as to other thoughts on the AND vs OR mindset.


  1. I guess, it’s a question of saying that yes we can do this but it will take so much more time and by the way I can’t do this thingy!

  2. Taking on to much only hurts each effort you have on your plate. I try to keep close track of that I am working on and if the plate is getting to full I go to my leadership to reprioritize or put on hold as needed.

  3. Stanley Bing wrote a great article on this topic in Esquire magazine called “How to Say No and Live” (Smart Money column, April 1987). Wish I could find it online to link to it. Only have it in hard copy. Anyway the article is a somewhat cynical but totally spot-only commentary on various ways to say ‘no’ in Corporate America…without committing a career suicide. Here’s a quick summary:

    * The Full Plate Scenario (i.e. you can’t possibly give this work to me)

    * Death By Agreement (i.e. say yes then never do it…because the half life of most requests is 24 hours, and everything that isn’t done by then just evaporates into nothingness)

    * Murder By Interrogation (i.e. question the task out of existence by killing the requestor with an onslaught of nickel & dime questions)

    * Be Humble (i.e. “I would if I could but I can’t.” Question yourself, not the hair-brained assignment)

    * Passive Regression (i.e. if your plate is already full, never volunteer even if you are the most qualified person in the room…and you have to endure excruciating silence while everyone stares at you waiting for you to volunteer)

    * Who Loves You, Babe (i.e. I’m too nice of a guy and you like me too much to load me down with this much work)

    * A Gutsy No (…but use this one cautiously).

    Those are Stanley’s recommendations. A mentor of mine once recommended an additional strategy for saying no, which he called ‘Getting Chit’. You basically say yes…but make it crystal clear that you expect a large favor in return…then pause to see if the original request is withdrawn.

    Kerry – I agree with you on the whole that many times you need to say yes. But I’ll admit to having used some of Stanley’s tactics in the past when I truly was too busy to take on new work…or when the additional work was too low-value-add to be worth the time required to complete it.

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