We’ve been taught to believe that the best way to get ahead is to ask for more, do more, and continue with that cycle. But, in an environment that celebrates the yes mentality, saying no can actually do you more good in advancing your career.
Saying no can also mean distancing yourself from toxic behaviors in the workplace to give yourself more time to focus on things that matter more, including focusing on big-ticket projects, developing new skills, and taking time to rest. Here are ways to subtly say no to unrealistic workplace expectations:
Ever find yourself in a situation where you get handed a new project marked “urgent,” but you’re already in the middle of another project? If yes, you’re not alone. Most people in these situations just say yes and agree to do everything but this is a recipe for disaster. So how should you go about this?
Communication is key here. Start by assessing the situation and have an open discussion with your manager. Let them know that you are already working on something important and ask them if this new task is a bigger priority. If it is, then you can shift your focus and put the other project on hold.
If it is not, continue with your work as originally planned and work together to offload the new project to another team member. This way, you’re not overcommitting and risking making mistakes with the responsibilities at hand.
Remember this nugget of truth: Life is bigger than just your 9-to-5. And you need to put things in place to make sure you actually live by it.
Setting boundaries at work can feel uncomfortable at first but can eventually help you be even more productive in your role and more present after your working hours. You can get started by confirming with your manager their expectations of your workload and the hours in which you both communicate. Let them know that you want to spend your hours away from work focusing on new experiences in your personal life and leveling up by learning new skills.
By setting these boundaries, you are also helping your team manage their expectations and being open about the best ways to work with you. Before making this ask, ensure you have a good working relationship with your manager and that you are going above and beyond on your current projects. It’s imperative to continue to be a high performer after setting your professional boundaries.
If you’re the kind of person who continues to respond to messages and emails during your holiday, it’s time to take a step back and remember that the world won’t stop spinning when you take a break. This kind of behavior of constantly working could lead to burnout, which in turn will set your career back when not properly addressed.
So before it gets there, actually use your vacation days and unplug. Activate your out-of-office message to make sure that your manager or an alternate person can be contacted on your behalf. And don’t forget to hand over and delegate your remaining tasks to another team member until you return.
And most importantly, you have to follow through with this. You can’t say that you’re taking your days off but still attend Zoom meetings and check your emails. Stay consistent in taking a step back from work and prioritize relaxation.
It may be hard to say no in the beginning, but practice can get you there. Trained counselor Fiona Caine recommends saying no to little things every day to get the hang of it and remember that you always have the option to say no.
And once you’ve said no, resist the urge to over-explain or apologize excessively. It’s okay to assert your boundaries without feeling guilty. Being more comfortable saying it will also empower you to protect your well-being and be more focused during your work hours.
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