Let's face it — it's so easy to get sucked into new responsibility after new responsibility until you've completely booked up your time and nearly overwhelmed yourself. I once gave a presentation on time management, and I asked everyone to raise their hand if they’d been guilted into doing something they didn’t have time to do. Every hand in the room went up. How can you keep prioritizing when more things keep getting added to your plate?
The key to this is saying no, and unfortunately, it’s not as easy to do as it sounds. As much as we'd all like to successfully overachieve at all times, sometimes we just can’t put any more on our plates. It’s important to be able to recognize when that’s the case and to know how to respectfully decline more work.
When to say no
Whenever something will add unnecessary time or stress that you don’t have room for, it’s probably a good idea to say no. This could be a favor a friend asks you to do, something in an extracurricular that could be delegated to someone else or even when your boss gives you one too many tasks in a short amount of time. If you don’t have time for it or you know it’ll be one more thing to add to your overwhelming to-do list, it’s okay to say no.
The key is to know your limits. Only you know how much you can handle at once without going over the edge. If you feel you’re reaching that point, you owe it to yourself to protect your time. Other people don’t know how much is on your plate, so it’s unlikely they’re intentionally asking you to overcommit yourself. It’s your job to politely decline if you feel someone else could devote more time and energy.
How to explain that you’re over-committed
Most often, other people truly don’t have any clue how much is on our plates. In this case, all it takes is, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t have any time right now!” If it’s a lofty task such as something at work and you know you have too many other projects to work on, you could say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough time to do as thorough a job as the project requires.” Something like this sounds very considerate to the person asking because you’re acknowledging the importance of the task and hinting that you care about its outcome. Once they get the idea that your plate is full, they should hopefully move on to someone else.
If they persist, you have a few options. You could show them your schedule and/or your to-do list so that they actually get a picture of how busy you are. You could also offer to do it in the future when you have more time, but please don’t offer this unless you know your stress is only going to last for the next week or so! If it’s a coworker who keeps bugging you to do something, but you have too many of your own tasks, you could go to your boss and ask for their advice on how to handle it.
Recommend someone else
If it’s something that needs to get done no matter what, such as a task at work or for one of your extracurriculars, you could always recommend someone else. Make sure you give out the name of someone who you know is more likely to have extra time on their plate. Yes, it sucks having to volunteer other people, but they are also free to say no if they see fit. Pick someone who knows their limits and not someone who will be easily guilted into adding too much to their plate.
Saying no to your boss
This is a tricky situation, but it often must be done if you simply cannot finish all of your tasks. While work is supposed to be busy, there’s a fine line between having a lot of stuff to do and being completely overwhelmed. If you feel you’re crossing this line, I recommend having a conversation with your boss. Rather than saying no the next time your boss assigns you something in a meeting, it will look a lot better if you pick a time to sit down with them and let them know how you’re feeling. If they truly care about you, they will likely be very understanding and willing to help solve the situation. If you’ve reached out several times and they’re not accommodating, it might be time to find a new position elsewhere.
Hopefully, the next time someone asks you to do something you simply don’t have time for, you will recognize that you need to say no and will know how to do so. If you found this helpful, make sure to pin it so you can reference it later. Get out there and stand your ground!
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