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Sometimes The Answer Has To Be 'no'

July 23, 2018

The first step is to weigh up the value of the extra work. Is it career-enhancing: giving you extra skills, networks or visibility? Does it add significant value to your team or organisation? Does it fit with your career goals and the reputation you are cultivating? Is it interesting, fun, challenging, different, lucrative? If so, then grab the opportunity.  

But hold your already had a full diary, remember? You can’t dream up extra hours. Remove something from your to-do list to make space. Re-negotiate it, delegate it, or stop doing it and see if anyone notices.

Decided to say NO?

Ditch the guilt and say it calmly and assertively. Here’s how to decline tasks and maintain a positive relationship: 

1. Someone is trying to fob something off on you that you have no intention of doing – say no firmly:

  • 'I’d really love to help, but I simply don’t have capacity'. You might want to offer alternative people/departments/solutions but don't over explain why you aren't doing it.  

2. An important client/stakeholder, who you don't want to upset, is creating unnecessary extra work that you don't think adds value:

  • 'Can we just take a step back here? How can we achieve the outcome you want from this within the scope of our original plan and the tasks already scheduled?'

3. You have multiple managers giving you work – push back and make them communicate with each other to sort it out:

  • 'I’d like to do this for you but I've already agreed to do this report for Anne. Can you talk to her about which job should take priority and let me know?'

4. It's a reasonable request but you can’t do it straight away. If you push back they might do it themselves:

  • 'What’s the latest you need it by?'

5. You are supposed to collaborate with this person, but the work they want you to do doesn’t fit with your own priorities:

  • 'Can we take a step back here. I understand what you are trying to achieve but I wonder if there’s another way of getting that result? Can we schedule 15 minutes to think through all the options?'

In each case, you are saying no to the request, not the person.

Being over-whelmingly nice and trying to please everybody will only get you so far in your career. Leaders are nice, but they are also assertive and skilled at prioritising. They make time for strategic planning. They are role-models for managing their well-being and maintaining their professional boundaries.  

Committing to work you don't want or need to do won't help your career. People who wear their 'Crazy Busyness' as a badge of honour ('the back-to-back meetings all day' type) look like they'll fall apart with extra responsibility. You want to appear like you have the capacity for more, but only more of the work or responsibility you want.

Zena Everett runs Crazy Busy workshops to eliminate the ways that people and organisations get in their own way and inhibit productivity - by up to 20%. That means saving the equivalent of a whole day a week, squandered in pointless email exchanges, inconsequential meetings, missing data and time-consuming distractions. Find out more here.


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