Over a five-year period, Gallup asked 50,000 managers more than 500 questions concerning the issues they face in the workplace. They found that the biggest challenges are "unclear expectations and competing priorities."
The respondents estimated that 58 percent of the work that managers and employees do is not connected to any organizational objective or goal.
Managers and supervisors are often uncertain of what is expected of them or of what matters most for the organization's success. For example, competing priorities means that accomplishing one goal would be counterproductive for another goal, such as having a directive to increase productivity while also being told to cut labor costs. Scott Mautz "A 5-Year, 50,000 Person Gallup Study Says This Is the Single Biggest Challenge Managers Face" inc.com (Jul. 22, 2019).
Working without clarity as to the objective leads to lost productivity. Often the cause of a lack of clarity is simply incomplete communication as to roles and the division of work tasks.
Managers who are not clear of the direction they should be leading their team should ask for clarity, in person if possible. There is nothing wrong with asking for clarification on objectives, directions, priorities, and your role, so long as your request is communicated with respect. Hesitating to seek clarity just wastes valuable time.
If your boss is also not clear, then both of you should ask for clarity and work together to get on the same page.
When you receive a new work request that seems to conflict with stated expectations or your existing tasks, discuss the resources and time needed and the scope of the project. If the new request takes too much attention away from meeting your existing priorities, request more time and resources or ask whether the scope of the project can be limited.