Don't Do It Yourself

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In nature (we are animals, you know), there is a tendency for parasitic creatures to gravitate to the stronger, more able-bodied. Similarly, if you are an 'I will just do it' person you can easily become a dumping ground for other people's work. In fact, it appears that these types of individuals will seek you out, become friendly with you, and in short order start setting their work squarely in your lap.

When it comes to work, you must completely revise your philosophy if you desire peace of mind. Being a DIY person should not turn into DEW -- doing everybody's work. In a professional setting your first resource is the job description. Ask yourself, when confronted with a task, whether this fits into your job description. If not, find out if your job description has somehow changed. It likely has not. In such instances you should expect to hear various reasons why the work cannot be performed by those originally tasked with it. They may be 'too busy' with other assignments or simply do not feel confident about doing a good job.

The Road to Perdition

Here is an example of what can happen if you consistently accept these excuses:

There was once an individual interviewing for a LIMS position that, when asked about his duties, rattled off everything from development to project management. The position being offered was for a developer, so the other work he had done was largely irrelevant. However, he was so frazzled with the other activities that had characteristically been shoveled onto his plate that he could not help but to discuss them. It appeared as if he did not know where his job ended and others' began. When asked about his software engineering skills however his answers came up somewhat lacking.

This poor individual was a victim of the chronic (as opposed to targeted and well-thought-out) 'do it yourself' mindset. He likely found work at companies that refused to hire competent project managers, business analysts, technical writers, and the like and so he developed those skills himself to compensate. The problem with this strategy is that it takes away from one's own professional development, which will eventually become stunted due to lack of attention.

One's professional development requires regular care and feeding. You must be able to synthesize the latest trends in your field and your professional experience to build an internal body of knowledge. There are no shortcuts for this, so consistently diverting your attention to tasks that are really not part of your job description will diminish your development. This is not unlike starving a plant of light and moisture. Without time and attention you are effectively starving your own development out of existence.

What to Do

It is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes necessary) to fill in for someone if they become sick or otherwise physically unable to fulfill their duties. However, when there is nothing physically wrong with another individual they should be doing their own work. How does one avoid the conversion of temporary help into permanent subsidy? By setting up limitations.

In the case of physical disability you must be clear, up-front, with a time limit on how long you are going to help perform the duty. Make it reasonable. If that time passes it might be time to discuss getting supplemental assistance until the prolonged situation is resolved.

When the reason for your assistance is not due to some physical malady the default response should almost universally be 'no' if you cannot find sufficient evidence that the individual has tried their best to complete the task. Even then your contribution must be limited to fixing those areas that were lacking.

Avoid supplementing research for other individuals. Point to good sources for material but do not paraphrase their contents. If you find that individuals ignore your recommendations for good resources that may be an excellent indicator that the individual either has no initiative to become better at the job or that they actually lack requisite knowledge. If you are in a field where your actions or failures can result in injury to anyone (or environmental damage) you may have to act swiftly here to avoid liability. For example, there are documented cases of people convicted of pretending to be doctors. Some individuals under their care died before the ruse was exposed. Consider the likelihood that one's own efforts could actually serve to conceal such an individual's incompetence.

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Citation: Don't Do It Yourself. (2015). Retrieved Thu Mar 23 00:14:36 2017, from;iid=readMore;go=1421682685