How do you identify which requests are valuable and which are mere scutwork that doesn’t move your career forward and gobbles up time? And how do you say no without killing your reputation as a team player?

Rachel Feintzeig of The Wall Street Journal asked John Matthews, who serves as an interim executive for businesses in retail and financial services, how to handle situations like this. His advice:

Don’t approach your boss and say, “I hate doing this.” Instead, explain you’ve been thinking about better ways to deal with those reports, for example. Then, lay out some options – reasons why another team should do them instead, or why they’re just totally unnecessary.

When Ravi Raman, an executive coach in Minneapolis, works with clients who are burned out,  he often finds they’re stuck in a torrent of work that’s not what they were hired to do. Women are asked 44% more often than men to do “nonpromotable work,” and they’re 50% more likely to say yes, according to a study from Lise Vesterlund, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh, and her co-authors of a book about avoiding dead-end work. Requests for employees of color to help fix companies’ diversity and equity failings, often without additional compensation, skyrocketed after a national conversation on race in 2020.

What to do to avoid this?

Put some rules into place. For example, you’ll only spend an hour planning this event; you won’t write more than three letters of recommendation a month. Any requests that would push you over that quota get an immediate no. Plus, prepare the response in advance: You can’t do it, you’re sorry, but here’s an idea for someone who can help.

Another boundary to set: If you receive a request that goes to more than 10 people, wait. See if someone else raises their hand first. Failing that, suggest the team establish a rotating schedule, so everyone takes a turn.

You can also try negotiating, says Deepa Purushothaman, a former managing partner at Deloitte and co-founder of nFormation, an online community for professional women of color. Yes, you can serve on this panel now, but next year you’d like a plum role on the compensation committee.