Una Dabiero
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Community Team at Fairygodboss

While going above and beyond at work can be great for your reputation, there comes a time when extra tasks and responsibilities become too much and have the opposite impact: Burnout, poor work quality and a people pleaser label can all be negative impacts of taking on too much. 

Unfortunately, right now, many professionals find themselves at their breaking point. They're in positions where they're being asked to work much more than they were asked to work six months ago. Whether their company has cut employees and they're carrying the burden or they're being asked to work after hours now that they're working from home, an increased workload can be overwhelming and detract from work quality. 

So, how can one cut back on the number of extra asks they take on — especially those that fall outside of one's job description? While it can be hard to say "no" to extra work, it's often necessary. 

Here are four ways to say "that's not my job" and go back to putting your best foot forward. 

1. "I don't usually handle that, but [insert coworker] might be able to help. They have the expertise." 

This considerate but firm phrase works best if you're getting an extra ask from a colleague about something that's outside your wheelhouse (or your job description). It's a legitimate excuse that allows you to pass on the work to someone else — and it helps point your coworker in the right direction so they can do their best work. 

2. "I'd really like to help with that, but I don't have the capacity right now." 

Not having the time or bandwidth is a legitimate reason to turn down an extra task, especially if it's coming from a peer. Let them down softly by telling them you'd like to help but you really can't. A kind presentation of this fact can mean a lot in keeping your relationship strong. And remember, you don't owe them an explanation nor do you have to go into detail.

3. "I have to focus on  X and Y right now because I am under deadline. I'm not sure I can realistically help out with this unless I am able to hand off some of that work." 

If your extra work request is coming from a manager or someone senior to you, providing a bit more context as to why you're drawing a boundary can ease the delivery and keep your reputation strong. Explain the deadlines you are currently working with and say that you'd like to make alternate arrangements to take on the extra work, if necessary. You can also ask if priorities have changed or if it'd be OK to delay another deadline to meet this new task head-on. 

4. "I am absolutely swamped [today/this week/for the next few weeks]. How can I help in [preferred timeframe]?" 

If the additional ask is something you'd genuinely like to help with or one where your expertise is needed, it is possible to help out and draw a boundary. Let the person on the other end know your constraints and your availabilities, then reiterate that you'd really like to help. This can be a strong approach with a peer or a manager.