How to say ‘no’ to taking on more work

“It’s a good learning opportunity!”

“This could be great exposure!”

“We’d really love your help!”

All forms of here’s another thing for you to take on. You don’t want to be viewed as a “quiet quitter” but you also recognize, bandwidth challenges are real. Especially in large organizations, opportunities to work outside of your job description are seemingly endless. Knowing how to maximize your energy (and still get your work done) is imperative.

And to do that, you often need to turn down what might be well-intended asks for your time for extra projects, initiatives or workgroups.

It’s possible to say no and still preserve your reputation as a hard-working team player. In fact, you can say no and leave the person asking feeling great.

Here’s how:

Be direct Constantly skirting a request with “maybe” or “let me think on it” can be incredibly frustrating for the person making the request. No one likes being strung along. If you truly want to say no, say it the first time you’re asked. Show respect for the other person’s time by being clear about your willingness (or lack thereof) to help.

Respond with what you can do Agreeing to a single portion of the “ask” can save you tons of time, while still preserving your reputation as someone who is willing to help. For example, if you can’t help your colleague completely overhaul the onboarding procedures for your department, offer to tackle a specific element that relates to your role or express your willingness to support them during the first implementation.

Suggest a trade-off This tactic is particularly helpful when it’s your boss who is asking for your time. Try responding with something like, “What could I deprioritize?” or “What do you view as more urgent, X or Y?” This shows your genuine interest while affirming commitment to what you’ve already agreed to.

Show your support Just because you said no doesn’t mean you don’t care or worse, that you want the person asking to fail. That’s hardly ever the case. But when someone turns you down, it’s easy to assume. Prevent this assumption by saying something like, “rooting for you from the sidelines.” Continue to show your support as the work develops, even when you’re not directly involved.

Don’t over-apologize You’re a grown-up, and unless this is the most pressing thing ever from your boss (in which case, you’d be saying yes), you are allowed to say no. Don’t be cold, but skip the hand wringing “I’m so sorry” spiel. Over-apologizing make your no feel more personal than practical.

Saying yes to every opportunity ends up hurting you (and your organization) in the long run. It causes one of three things to happen:

  • You burn out spending your time on low-value projects or initiatives that drain your energy.
  • You fall short on your extra commitments because you agreed, knowing you didn’t have time in the first place.
  • You become so excited about these other things your actual job suffers, creating some major career roadblocks for you in the future.

Your time and energy are your number one assets; don’t waste them because you’re too afraid to say “no.”