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Feeling Confident in Saying ‘No’ to Extra Work

Working late nights but got the feeling you’re the only one chipping in the extra hours?

Ask yourself why.

It’s unlikely you’re being given more work that everyone else. And if you’re good at your job, it’s probably not a productivity issue.

You’re probably taking on more than you should.

It’s so easily done – someone asks for some advice, or some support on a report – and you say yes. On the face of it you may think that it’s only going to take 20 minutes – and that may be. But if – and when – those ‘favours’ add up, that can be hours a week. Hours that then need to be found in your own, already very full, working week.

Ask yourself why you’re doing it – are you just people pleasing?

If you’re doing it because you’re worried you’ll be seen as unhelpful, or you feel you ‘should’ do it, then stop. Of course, everyone in a team has a part to play and this does mean sharing work where needed – but taking on work to create a good impression, or because you feel obliged to, will only do damage in the long run when you start to deliver low quality work, miss deadlines, or it starts to impact work life balance. You have been tasked to deliver your role, so ensure that remains your priority. Always ask yourself what you stand to gain from this. If it’s a team outcome, excellent, but if it’s just to ‘please’ a stakeholder, stop and reconsider, you could be doing your career and profile as a potential leader more harm than good.

Look at the cost to your own job vs the opportunity

A really clear way to look at the dilemma of taking on more work is to work out the cost to your own priorities and timeframes. By understanding this, you also have a clear and straightforward answer to why you can’t do it. Being rational and logical in your explanation as to why you can’t do it, rather than making an intuitive judgment, will not only make you feel more comfortable in your decision, but be received in a far better way. On the other hand, evaluate whether this request might actually benefit you – is it possible it might actually help you achieve something else? If this is the case, prioritising these requests makes sense and makes it easier to say no to the ones that won’t help you achieve what you have been targeted to do.

Evaluate the request for help – is there something else you can do?

The key in not taking on too much is understanding why you’ve been asked to do this. If we look at it very cynically, people take advantage of those who take on more work than they should – so understand if it is something that actually requires your oversight, input or is it something that a less time consuming intervention could fix. Ask why they need your support at this time and try to understand the actual urgency behind the request. Is it possible that you could look at this next week when you know you have some more time, or is there an intermediate solution where you could take a 5-10-minute coffee break with them to bounce some ideas around with them for them to follow through on?
Above all, remember it’s not personal. Just like in a negotiation with a stakeholder, or a difficult conversation over a pricing strategy, you’re not trying to please the other side, but do the best for everyone on the team, and the business. Remain polite and stay firm, but show empathy to the other side in terms of acknowledging their dilemma. It’s OK to say no!

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