The Art of saying “No.”

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We all know the world is becoming more fast-paced. With the technological revolution and the constant connection we all have to each other, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to find an escape from the stress of work. A 1999 governmental report found the number of hours worked increased 8% in just one generation to an average of 47 hours per week with 20% of people working 49 hours a week. Additionally, according to the American Institute of Stress, an estimated 1 million workers are absent from work every day due to overwhelming stress. The bottom line is that workers are feeling increasingly overwhelmed with each passing day. So, how can us workers improve these numbers? One way is we can learn that it’s okay to say no to projects you don’t have the time for.

I know, I know — easier said than done. Too often workers take on more than they can possibly handle because they feel pressured to prove themselves within their organizations. This can be especially true for younger people in the workplace or new hires that are eager to display their value in the corporation. But, taking on every project that becomes available is only impressive if you can actually handle those projects and complete them all in a timely manner while doing your best work. You will look much worse in the eyes of your leadership if you commit to a handful of projects, get too overwhelmed, and then only meet the deadlines or criteria for one or two of them. It will look much better on you, in the long run, to take on what you can realistically handle and complete those assignments to the best of your ability. Remember, it’s better to give your all to a few things than to half-ass twenty important projects.

Now, every now and then I see these super-humans that seem to be able to work all day and night with virtually no sleep, social interaction, or even coffee breaks. They can take on any number of projects without fear of stress or time constraint and really crank out these results. And while your boss may idolize these rare few, that’s exactly what they are — rare. Very few people can actually meet these extreme expectations, because the fact is, we’re just people. We need sleep, downtime, and breaks. We can’t do it all, no matter how much we and our bosses wish we could. So, don’t let the one super-employee in your office discourage you from restricting your workload to what you can realistically accomplish. What one person can handle may not be what you can handle, and that’s okay. Remember that everyone is different, works at their own pace, and has their own sets of obstacles.

So, what if your boss doesn’t offer projects, but instead assigns them as they see fit? In these kinds of situations, communication is imperative to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed. Let’s say you’re already feeling extremely stressed with all the projects you’ve got going on, and your boss asks you to add another task to your long list of to-dos. What should you do? In this case, I would make a list of the responsibilities you currently have with the top priority as number one and the lowest priority at the bottom. Then, show this list to your boss and have them place this new assignment where they believe it should lay as far as your priorities go. This way, your boss may see how much you have going on and realize you don’t have time for this new assignment in the time frame the company needs it completed. But, if they insist that this new assignment is still in your domain and high up on that priorities list, then you two could discuss eliminating or lessening the weight of one of your other assignments. Just remember, the idea is not about getting out of work because you don’t feel like doing it — it’s about understanding and accepting your work capacity and working within your limits.

In this increasingly fast-paced world, it’s so important for workers to understand that it’s okay to say no to things you don’t have time for. In the end, your mental health will always be the most important thing. And, if you’re constantly stressed, overwhelmed, and yanking out your hair because you have too many things going on at work, then you are not going to perform to the best of your ability — period. So, communicate with your boss as best you can and hopefully, they will be understanding that you are only human and do not have superpowers. And, if your boss isn’t the type that would understand what the average human can handle, then check out my article coming out soon about bad bosses.

Chad Q. Brown’s Profile is a retained consulting firm incorporating distinct team building and talent strategies utilizing proprietary technology and behavioral assessment infrastructure. Our mission — help people get better at people.


Chad Q. Brown

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