You agreed to lead staff meeting this morning. It’s your day to go on a lunch run for everyone. You have a conference call with a client right after lunch. You have three back-to-back meetings from 2:30 to 4 p.m. You agreed to help distribute the office mail. And, to top it all off, you’re working the weekend shift to help out a co-worker who’s sick. Just the thought of all you have to do is overwhelming. It’s not a bad thing to want to be a “super employee,” but when you try to take on everything by yourself, you quickly start to feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. If this sounds familiar, you could be overcommitted at work.
Juggling tasks and demands is a big part of any job in any workplace, and the art of time management is an important skill to have as an employee. But, when you get bombarded with projects, how many times do you agree to do something else when you’re already maxed for time? To effectively manage your workday, you have to learn the art of saying one little word: “no.” Although “no” can be a scary word to say, it’s much worse to over promise and under deliver. The art of saying “no” is all about how you approach it and how you say it. Here are some tips on how to make your “no” effective when you can’t say “yes” to everything.
Track your project workload. Always know what projects you’re working on, when they’re due, and how much time you’re spending on them. This keeps you aware of what projects you have already said yes to and whether or not you can take on anything else. If your boss wants to assign you four new projects with an immediate deadline by maintaining a project list you can show him whether or not that can be accomplished with your current workload. If it’s not, ask if you can work out a new project deadline so you can have the necessary time to make the project the best it can be, rather than doing something quickly and filled with errors.
Know your job priorities. What key tasks are you responsible for in your current job? In your job description, what goals were outlined for your career? Those goals and projects are usually your main focus. But, you will have times where you do need to help out a co-worker with some of their tasks or take on a special project that has nothing to do with your job. It’s never OK to use the excuse of “that’s not part of my job.” A team does have to give and take, but if special projects are taking over your work schedule and you’re not able to complete your core tasks, something needs to give. For instance, if a manager asks you to pick up their dry cleaning, it might be time to have a chat with your boss about what projects you can gracefully decline. If someone other than your manager asks you to take on a project, tell them, “thank you, but I will have to check with my manager before I know whether or not I can do this project.” If you don't know what the priorities are for your job, check out the Tough Conversations podcast series to learn how to approach your manager.
Maintain your ethics. In the workplace, not everything you do is going to get you ahead of the game. Never under any circumstances should you do anything that compromises your integrity. For example, if a co-worker asks you to lie to your manager to cover up a mistake she made, that definitely justifies saying “no.” Sometimes saying “no” may make you the unpopular person, but it’s better than jeopardizing your values and losing your job. Don’t let individuals bully you into saying “yes” to something that’s against company policy or makes you feel uncomfortable. If someone asks you to do something questionable or illegal, tell them “no” and explain that you feel uncomfortable with that. If you continue to be asked to perform that task, contact your HR department.
Keep things relevant. Obviously if you don’t know how to do something, don’t just agree to take it on. If you find yourself in the situation of not knowing how to complete a project because you don’t have the skills, let your manager know your concerns. It’s better to decline the project rather than try to take it on and hurt your career in the process. Most managers and co-workers would be appreciative and understanding of what you can and cannot do. Instead, they should look at that as a learning process for you under the guidance of someone more experienced. In the event that this happens to you, explain that you would like to take on the project, but do not have the necessary skills to complete it. You could also let them know you’re interested in learning how to do that particular job, but you would feel comfortable with some training or supervision first.
“No” doesn’t have to be a bad word, as long as you can logically show why that is the best answer in a situation. Just keep in mind that as you continue to grow and develop in your profession, you will be expected to take on more duties. As your schedule gets busier and your projects increase, be sure you’re in control of your projects and your workday so they don’t control you. Follow these basic tips to empower you to say “no” when necessary.