5 Times To Say “No!” At Work

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As an achiever and a professional, you’re likely used to saying “yes”—yes to additional work to help your team, yes to late meetings and yes to new ideas. While saying “yes” can expand your opportunities and keep people happy, sometimes you need to say “no.” to also keep yourself sane and happy. You don’t always have to be a people pleaser, sometimes you need to say No for your own good, so you don’t lose sight of your priorities and goals.

It’s easier said than done, I used to be a people-pleaser when I started off my career. Always saying yes just to seem “agile” but slowly losing sight of my goals and tasks. Don’t fall for it, you can’t please everybody. Juggling the needs of my manager, my team, my coworkers, and the company alongside my own was exhausting. At a certain point, something had to give, and I had to learn to say “no.” The key was figuring out WHEN to push back.

The easiest way to go about it is to take advantage of the 4 D’s of time management – Do, Defer (Delay), Delegate, and Delete (Drop). The 4 Ds of time management, sometimes referred to as the 4 Ds of productivity, is a popular strategy for discerning whether or not a task or project is worth your time. It involves making a quick decision about what to act on now either by doing it yourself or delegating to someone else, what to act on in the future, or what to drop from your to-do list.

Here are five times it’s totally reasonable to say “no” to at work –

Unnecessary meetingsRemote work is becoming a new norm and it requires a lot of communication but how can you get any work done when you spend more than half of your day in meetings talking about work to be done?? Learn to turn down meeting invites when you really don’t have to be there; your input isn’t needed, it has nothing to do with your goals or that of your team. If it’s quick, then use the first D – “Do”. Attend the meeting and say everything you need to as easy as possible.

If the value of the meeting isn’t clear from the invitation, reply back with a few open-ended questions before making your decision, like: “Could you please provide some additional information on the agenda?” or “What are you looking for me to contribute at this meeting?” Don’t think you need to be in this meeting? Try one of the following approaches:

  • “This is going to be an important discussion. I’m not able to attend, but I will find some time to share my thoughts so you can include them in the discussion.” This is you deferring, simply schedule it for a better time.
  • “Based on the information in the invitation, it looks like this meeting is for informational purposes. Would it be possible to get a summary sent out rather than convening a meeting?”
  • “This is an interesting topic. Based on our current year priorities, I’m not sure we’re ready for a productive conversation yet. Would it be possible to push this meeting back and let the working group make a little more progress before we meet?

If you simply won’t be available, try another D – Delegate. Get another colleague to represent you or just “Delete”; do this when it’s completely unnecessary.

When It’s Out Of Your Lane – The pandemic has taught us that the only way to stay ahead in your field and also remain relevant in your workplace is to work outside your job description, you need to be flexible and adaptable. I’m all for taking on a project that challenges you and pulls you out of your comfort zone. But just like a speeding car, you need to know when to press the brakes before you crash and burn.

Listen, you can’t be good at everything. And, while pushing yourself to try new things is always recommended, there comes a time when these things actually just get in the way. If you have to always take on more work than you are supposed to, it will be counterproductive to the success of the business because you will be unable to be effective in your primary role. Delegate extra tasks to people in a better position to execute or simply delete and move on.

When you really do not have time – Time is money! Every second you waste being unproductive will come back one of these days and bite you. Life isn’t just about working hard, you have to work smart. Imagine working and working, saying yes to everyone’s requests but yet all these efforts don’t even reflect in the company’s success; what’s the point?

Note to self: Taking on too much work than you can handle can be a disaster. Not only does it lead to sleepless nights but it also comprises the quality of your work—you’re running around frantically trying to get everything done, and you simply don’t have the time to do things well. Simply put, delete, delete, delete.

When your gut is saying “No” – Your gut, that first feeling or discomfort should be a factor in your decision making. Ask yourself these questions before responding to extra tasks –

  • Is this something you can DO and do well?
  • Can you DEFER, maybe get someone else in a better position to execute?
  • Can you DELEGATE it to another person?

After looking through the facts and figures, if it doesn’t just add up or add value, say “no!” – DELETE. Be polite, be professional, be smart.

When you know you just can’t deliver – Nobody wants to seem laid back or lazy in the workplace. We all want to put our best foot forward, but face it, sometimes deadlines could be impossible. And agreeing to projects that you can’t deliver on reflects poorly on your performance.

It’s never a good thing to over promise and under deliver – it’s even better for you to under-promise and over-deliver. Before switching to your default “yes”, figure out whether it’s feasible for you to help, given your priorities and workload.

Need to learn more skills to make you a better professional? Or do you need to learn how to properly execute the 4Ds of time management? Then sign up now for our FREE training, which is now on Coursera too! These skills might seem simple but it could make or break your professional career. Get the relevant skills you need in the workplace, today!

Eseosa Osayimwen
I create content that builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.