Who wants to say no? Of course you want to impress your clients, employer, or customers. Agreeing to any and all of their requests might feel like the fastest way to gain their trust and drive success at work.

On paper, it seems like this should work. Have you ever considered that your desire to please could be your downfall?

If you’ve ever agreed to working on a project or task when you’re already overstretched then you wouldn’t be alone:

Percentage of those with management responsibility who often felt stressed (2017)


Percentage of employees who stated stress from their job always, often or sometimes caused them to regularly engage in unhealthy behaviors (2015-2017)


Leading source of stress among employees as of 2017


“But I want to build my career!” I hear you cry! – You really CAN do both, save your sanity AND progress… but it’s not by taking on other people’s last minute projects. I always saw this as my chance to shine and earn the praise of my superiors. Sadly, I was just rescuing others from failure and watching them get rewarded instead.

Obviously taking on new challenges is exciting and provides opportunities to learn new skills, but that doesn’t mean that you want to be handed EVERY new job that comes through the office, right? Or to be known as the “fixer” that everyone comes to when they can’t manage their own time effectively.

The fact is that it’s easy to set a precedent and can sometimes be tricky or uncomfortable to say no. There are some subtle ways to go about it that bring new and exciting responsibilities your way and put you in the driving seat.

Become the “why man”

Now, you can’t quiz your manager on every single element of your role otherwise you’re in danger of breaching your employment contract! But, when you’re feeling overstretched and somebody hands you over a pile of work you weren’t expecting (or that isn’t in the job description) – instead of saying yes or no, ask why. For example, consider the following:

  • Am I the best person to take on this project?
  • Do I have access to the right tools for this project?
  • Do I have the right level of authority to take ownership of this project?
  • Is there anyone that could help me with this?
  • Could this be improved or streamlined? Is the process still fit for purpose?

It’s great to look at ways to improve processes and lighten your workload. Your management team will love how you’ve demonstrated innovation, utilized technology, team working and leadership skills. Showcase these assets and Senior Leadership will sit up and take notice.

Become the “maybe man”

“Maybe” sounds like a cop out, doesn’t it? Not if you’re already balancing a lot of plates in the air! Have you checked if the process or task is even possible before you’ve agreed to it? It’s not a no, but an “I’ll look into it”.

Rather than immediately saying yes and taking on something new to impress your superiors, ask for as much information about the task as possible and:

  • Offer to move onto that NEXT,
  • Advise that you’ll look into a solution or speak to someone that can help you identify one before you can agree,
  • Give a timescale of when you can take it on, e.g. “I’m really up against it right now, but I’ll be happy to take a look next week when my schedule is clearer,”
  • Offer instead, to shadow a particular process with a view to taking it on next time (when you’re more prepared for it!)

Remember that it’s better to under promise and over deliver. If you want that responsibility but are struggling to fit it in now, then tell them. Honesty, reliability and effective time management are integral.

Keep showing them your very best, at your own pace!

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