How to say No, without ruining your career

I remember being the last one in the office, colleagues had to dash off but before they did they’d say “do you mind just doing this I need to go” I was happy to help but when this became routine I felt a bit taken advantage of. My boss would say “oh you are just great at getting things done”. I loved being needed but my work load was spiralling out of control and people viewed as strategic rather than doers were being promoted above me. I came to the conclusion that I needed to learn to say No.

It’s easy at this stage to be all out agressive and be like “hell no” but you need to be mindful and take responsibility. I’d allowed myself to be taken advantage of, I’d agreed to all the extra work. I wanted to people please, to impress, to feel valued at work. When you’ve been that person it’s then difficult to turn around and say “hey I’m not doing that anymore”. You’ve already set up that expectation.

So how do you turn it around and set up new expectations, manage your work load and say no?

Firstly you need to be honest with yourself, take a step back and look at your work load. Do you need to be doing all that? Are there things you do because you like to do them rather than being part of your job?

Make a list and think what’s time sensitive, what’s urgent? Also look at how much time you spend emailing friends, chatting to your mum or watching cats doing the funniest things on YouTube. You can’t really say no if people have seen you all day doing non work tasks and generally faffing about. It doesn’t make you look very credible.

Refer up and be honest, tell your manager what you have to do, how long it takes and ask them “what do you think is a priority?” If someone very senior or another colleague is giving you work then tell your manager. Come armed with your own suggestions for priorities but check with them and ask for their opinion.

Don’t feel like you have to do everything right now. So often we feel like we have to drop everything and pick up a task because someone has just asked us to do something. Why can’t we say I have this to do but can look at that at 3pm. The odds are they’ll say that’s fine or they’ll ask someone else to do it. I think giving time frames back and explaining your work and asking them the real urgency of what they want you to do can be very helpful.

Learn to team work better, help out your colleagues but also ask them for help too. That can ease the burden particularly on busy days. Don’t throw your colleagues under the bus though, nobody likes someone who goes “Anna isn’t busy she can do it!”
Without Anna’s permission that can cause conflict, it may be true she isn’t busy but that is for your manager to determine.

Keep your boss regularly informed off what you are doing so it doesn’t come as a shock that you are over worked. Ask for their advice in terms of planning as well as coming up with your own suggestions.

Choose your battles carefully , things might not be in your job description but think some of these new tasks may help your career or get you to network with influential people. They might not and you might be being asked to make tea but even then think well who am I making tea for, this is my chance for them to notice me.

Be assertive and positive when saying no at work. Rationalise why you can’t do something or set time frames for when you can. Come up with solutions and don’t wallow in a martyr mentality. Yeah you’ll feel needed but people need to say you say no otherwise they won’t know there is a problem!