November 20, 2018
You are totally, completely, 100% overworked. Here’s what to do.
Maureen Kennedy, Bravely Pro
Your to-do list is long and your plate is full. Actually, it’s overflowing. You keep telling yourself that if anyone asks you to do anything else, you’re going to say no.
But saying no is easier said than done, especially if you’re someone who is hyper-focused on being a team player and exceeding your goals. What if you end up saying no to a project that would have helped you develop new skills, get closer to that promotion, or reach a goal you’ve set for yourself? What if your refusal is misconstrued as a lack of ambition?
At Bravely, we help people figure out when and how to say no to assignments that will overwhelm them — but equally as importantly, we help them learn how to say yes in a way that works for them.
Below are some helpful things to think about as you manage your workload and continue on the road to success at your company.
Tip #1: Ask your manager all the questions.
Before you say no to something, it can be helpful to put the request into context and try to see things through your manager’s eyes. The best way to do this is by questioning them (respectfully, of course). Here are a few examples.
If the due date seems unreasonable, you could say…
It’s going to be hard for me to prioritize this and meet these dates. How did you arrive at the timeline for this project? Should this take precedence over work that I’m already doing?
If you’re not sure why this is a valuable or worthwhile project, you could say…
How does this tie to the company’s (or my department’s) goals? Could you help me understand which OKR it supports? What is success going to look like?
If you don’t feel like you’re the right person for the job, you could say…
What are your expectations of me? How was I chosen for this project? Who else will be involved?
Tip #2: Think about what you might get out of it.
Before pushing back on an assignment, you’ll also want to question if you can find value in the work. (It’s always easier to make a decision if you understand how you might be able to benefit from what you’re being asked to do.) Here are a few things you might ask yourself.
Will this teach me new skills? If so, is it worth adding something to my plate?
Will this give me the opportunity to work with a new person or department? If so, will that help me advance in my role at the company?
Will this help me reach a goal that I defined during my last performance review? If so, will I be able to quantify it?
Tip #3: Learn how to say “yes, if…”
Many people don’t realize that there’s an option that sits between a flat-out “yes” or “no.” That option is called the “yes, if…”, and it’s an effective way to take control over your workload.
By saying “yes, if…”, you’re showing that you’re willing to re-prioritize your to-do list to meet the needs of your organizatization. You’re also showing that you’re willing to have an honest (and perhaps difficult) conversation with your manager about what you need in order to get something done.
So how can you put “yes, if…” into practice? Here are a few examples.
Yes, I can take this on, if you’re able to help me re-prioritize my current workload. I’ll come prepared with suggestions.
Yes, I can take this on, even though I’ll need to work longer hours for a few weeks, if I’m able to get another vacation day.
Yes, I can take this on, if you’re able to rework the timeline so that I’m not trying to deliver under unrealistic circumstances.
Think of it like a negotiation. You’re trying to put yourself in a position of control while still respecting the needs of your manager and your company as a whole.
Tip #4: Practice saying no!
If you’ve questioned your manager, questioned yourself, spent time thinking through all the possible “yes, if…” scenarios, and don’t see how you’ll be able to do what you’ve been asked, then you’re ready to say no.
While you may be tempted to shoot off a snippy Slack message — we’ve all been there when we’re overworked — it’s important to say no with grace. Take a deep breath, smile, and remember that they probably asked you because they like working with you and think you’re capable. No matter how big or small the assignment was, try to communicate the following:
Say what you think sounds interesting about the project, so that they don’t think you’re shutting down their ideas.
Tell them that you won’t be able to take on the project, and use assertive language so that there’s no back-and-forth.
If they ask why you can’t do it, give them a straightforward response. If you don’t have time, say that you have too many competing priorities. If you’re not interested, tell them that you don’t think it supports your personal goals.
Thank them for asking (and be sincere).
Saying no can be incredibly difficult for some people: and it’s even harder if the person that gave you the assignment is someone who doesn’t like taking no for an answer. (We’ve all worked with that person!)
The experts all agree: practice, practice, practice. Say it outloud, run through the potential outcomes, and prepare yourself for some potential discomfort. It may not be easy to say no, but you can make it easier on yourself by being prepared.
As a Bravely Pro, Maureen Kennedy helps employees approach whatever they’re facing at work, and provide them with the guidance and game-planning they need to go forward and succeed. Learn more about our Pros and how they’re helping employees work a little more bravely at www.workbravely.com.
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