4 Things That Happened When I Started Saying “No” at Work

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Adobe Stock / Fairygodboss Staff

Your Money Geek
Your Money Geek
April 15, 2024 at 6:12AM UTC
Does your employer own you? Can they dictate your every move?
There was a point in my career where I bent over backyards for my employer. I would be more than willing to sacrifice my weekends, my sanity and my well-being to ensure that I made my boss and clients happy.
The fact is, we are paid to do a job. If we stop doing that job, we probably will get fired.
But there came a point in my career where I realized I valued my employer above myself. I decided I was going to shift my perspective. This change has not sacrificed raises, promotions, or opportunities, and it has increased my happiness and enjoyment with my job.
When we get to a point where we have already proven our value to our employer, we have to learn to set boundaries. Otherwise, we increase the possibility of getting burned out.
And sometimes, people don't even realize they are expecting more from us than what is reasonable. They know they can depend on you based on your past performance, and usually, that means more work and additional responsibilities end up coming your way.
But the issue is, you are one person.
You can't do everything, and there are only so many hours in the day. No one is going to care more about making sure your workload is healthy than you.
By effectively communicating what you can reasonably get done, you are setting yourself up to have practical tasks, deadlines, and expectations.

Force your employer to respect your time by saying no.

Your time is valuable. And you have already shown your employer how useful you are (and if you haven't, maybe you need to hold off pursuing this).
Since your employer already knows when you tackle a task you are going to be awesome, they already recognize the value you bring to the company. There is no need to put in extra effort to prove your value. You already own that title.
I'm not saying we should push back anytime we receive any pressure or stress from a project. But I am advocating that if we notice that our peers, boss, or clients are expecting us to produce what is more than a high-value person like ourselves can accomplish, we should not let them walk all over us like a sidewalk on a busy street.
We need to point out when timelines, expectations or projects are unrealistic.
When we do this, we might discover that our peers are not aware of the complexity of the task they are expecting us to complete. Which then ends up leading to questions like: “If you can't get it done in this time frame, how much time do you need?”
That is a great question, which allows us to come up with a more reasonable plan. Or maybe we come up with a solution that completes the project in realistic phases. But in any case, we set ourselves up to achieve whatever we tackle successfully, with realistic expectations.
By doing this, we accomplish the following:
  • We limit the amount of extra time we have to put in to complete the project.
  • Your peers learn that your time is limited.
  • You increase the chances that everything you do will be successful.
  • Above everything else, you prioritize your well-being.
  • If you find yourself consistently in situations where even after doing the above, your employer continuously abuses your time, which most likely indicates you should start looking for a new job.
We need to gauge our work culture. If we are experiencing mental abuse, regardless of our pay, it might be best to find better opportunities.

Master the art of saying “no.”

If you read this article, and any time someone asks you to do something, your automatic response is “no,” you've missed the point.
How you communicate unrealistic expectations is vital. If your employer feels like you are just lazy or incompetent, your value vanishes.
It isn't about deceiving our bosses or refusing to do any extra work. It is about ensuring your time and headspace are respected, regardless of where you work.
Learning how to phrase these discussions is an art in itself. If you are unsure about whether or not what they are asking for is reasonable, don't be pressured in committing to anything before you had a chance to think through the request.
Here are a few samples of how you can word things.
  • “Let me look into this project to see if this timeline is reasonable.”
  • “I'll go ahead and think through the details of this task to see if what they are asking for is possible.”
  • “Given the complexity and uncertainty of this project, I'll need to plan out a rough timeline.”
  • “At this stage, given the details we have for this task, there is no way I can estimate how long this is going to take.”
  • “It is impossible to complete what they are requesting.”
These statements will usually follow additional discussions on how to handle each scenario. In any case, it focuses on making sure your team is aware of the details of the request, and you increase the chances of being successful.

Benefits of saying “no.”

When you start to do this, you will notice a few things happen.

1. Increased productivity.

Learning to say no at your job increases your productivity.
How? By making sure your tasks are reasonable, you can focus more on each one. The more you can avoid switching between multiple projects andtasks during any given day, the more you can pinpoint your mind on solving the problem at hand.
A typical scenario that I've found myself in from the past is I would over-commit to a project, then something else would come up. Not only is my mind and time stretched from the first commitment, but now I have to juggle multiple priorities.
As best we can, we should build-in margin into our schedule.
Unexpected situations come up, or tasks that you thought would be easy, turn into something more complex. We don't want to have too much margin, but by adding some cushion, we make our time more flexible.

2. Increased project success.

When you are looking at a complex project with a short timeline or a small budget, the chances of that project being profitable for your company goes down.
Not only do these kinds of projects make your life more difficult, but it also means the chance for this project being successful decreases.
In other words, you get into lose-lose situations. You not only struggle to complete the task, but you may not be able to meet the commitment fully.
And this isn't good for you, and it is not good for your employer.

3. You work 40-hours per week.

Having to work 50-60 hours per week regularly is not fun. Your well-being starts to dwindle. You get home exhausted and are more likely to overspend on comfort foods and items to ease your suffering.
By regularly working more than 40-hours per week, unless you get paid hourly, you are decreasing the value of your time.
Let's say you have a salary of $60,000/year. Not including paid time off, you make about $29/hour when you work 40 hours per week. Every hour you work above and beyond that, you are donating that time to your company.
In salaried positions, you don't get paid for each hour you work. You get paid a specific amount, regardless of how much you work.
There might be times when you need to put in extra hours to meet a deadline. But you want to avoid making this a regular occurrence.
The more you consistently work more than 40-hours per week, the more your employer will assume this is “normal”.
I would argue that working extra does not guarantee your productivity will increase. Each additional hour you work, your quality and focus decreases.
Here are a few ways you can increase how much you get done within 40-hours per week:
  • Focus on effective communication to reduce wasting time
  • Avoid task switching as much as possible. Which means trying to complete each item, one at a time.
  • Limit the number of distractions around you
  • Push back on attending meetings where your presence is not required
  • Make sure you are showing up to work on time, and limit the amount and length of breaks you take
  • Get a good night sleep, so you are on top of your game
  • Turn off instant notifications for things you don't need to know about right away (email, slack, google chrome, etc.)
  • Make sure you and your team are clear on priorities (what should get done in what order)
  • Ask for help if you are spinning your wheels or get stuck
The idea is that you want to work your ass off during the time you work, and reduce the number of hours you put in above and beyond 40-hours per week.
Often you will find that you can out-produce coworkers within 40-hours when they might be having to put in 50+ hours to get the same amount done. Can anyone say cha-ching!

4. Reduced stress levels.

Stress not only can be a productivity killer, but it can also bleed into every aspect of your life.
High stress has caused me to lose sleep, get into more arguments with my partner, and made it difficult to enjoy life after work.
When you are always in high-stress situations, your job becomes less enjoyable. I find that I'm more likely to focus on “comfort” things that help me cope with my stress. Which often bleeds into my finances, as I become more willing to waste money buying things that offer me temporary relief, but don't add much value to my life.
It is common knowledge that high stress is not healthy for our bodies. Our blood pressure goes up, and it is harder to keep our minds focused on what we are doing.

In Conclusion

The more you can enjoy what you do, and limit how much you work the more your job satisfaction goes up.
These ideas will ultimately lead to increased productivity, raises, and peace of mind. Your value will grow over time, and it ensures that companies will be willing to pay you more to keep you on their team.
I found that implementing these techniques has allowed me to out-perform my peers, even when they have more education and experience than me.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for saying "no" at work? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article originally appeared in Your Money Geek.

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