Saying “no” is one of the hardest things that we have to do as adults. Some people have an innate ability to set healthy boundaries and they know when and how to set their limits. However, if you are anything like me, saying “no” can feel like the one of the strongest senses of torture. In striving to work harder and grow as professionals, we are often feel pressured to do as much as we possibly can. Wait, make that more than we possibly can. Social media culture has both capitalized on and enhanced this perceived expectation by creating an ecosystem solely designed to flaunt our successes and promote the concept that we must always have it all together. It seems like “enough” isn’t even a word anymore.
We have been trained to measure our value by the quantity of our output, and it doesn’t just pertain to work. We are conditioned to feel guilty if we cannot be everything to everyone. To make matters worse, while the expectation is to produce quantity, that doesn’t negate the unspoken rule that we must also be concerned with the quality of our work and endeavors. Quantity over quality just doesn’t work, no matter how many times its retweeted.
So what do we do about it? How can we maximize our output while protecting the quality and integrity of our work without going utterly insane? I wish I had the magic answer, but this is one of those mysteries that will always remain. We can, however, learn to play the game by being very strategic in our endeavors. If we focus on the things that will bring us the most success, in terms of both quality and quantity, we have a stronger chance at being able to make it all work. In order to do this while living in this society of opportunity, we have to learn to say “no”. There’s really “no” way around it.
While it may seem like declining opportunities may be taking a step backward, it is very important to recognize our limits, making sure that we actually have the time and energy to successfully accomplish the tasks for which we are already responsible. Always saying “yes” can lead to the production of our less than best results as well as professional burnout.
There are some non negotiables in this life. We have a biological core responsibility to take care of ourselves and our loved ones in a way that, at the very minimum, satisfies our most basic needs. These are things that we really can’t say “no” to without some serious repercussion. So I’m not talking about passively selecting things in our life that we don’t want to do. This isn’t about that. It’s about weighing out every opportunity that presents itself to see if it (A) adds relevant value to our life, and (B) has a place in our life in this particular moment.
There are some essential steps to take in order to learn how and when to effectively say “no”. It’s important that you define your limits and determine your priorities. Defining your limits in your professional life is your first defense in protecting yourself against burn out. It is very important to understand how much you are expected to take on and how far you will be able to go above and beyond. If you end up taking on too many responsibilities, it can cause you to start taking work home and feeling overwhelmed. At various times in our lives, we may have differing abilities. It important for us to continually take notice of ourselves and clearly define our limits so that we can set appropriate boundaries and prevent additional stress and burnout.
Identifying our priorities can be a little trickier. This is because we often come across things that we enjoy doing more than our essential expectations and responsibilities. It can become really easy to blur the line of priorities. When it starts to feel like this line is being crossed, writing down all of our responsibilities can be a very helpful activity. Try writing down everything that you are currently doing and then rate the activities based on importance. Seeing things written down on paper can really help us make rational decisions when determining our priorities.
It is important to set aside some time for things that we enjoy, and as we grow in our professional career we may start to find other areas that peak our interest. We should not discount the things that we enjoy but rather make sure to budget them appropriately within your list of priorities. While making your list of priorities, it might not be a bad idea to start to recognize areas of our life and career that we may want to shift in different directions as the future progresses. Where we put our natural energy can be a good indication of where our actual passion lies. Find out how to add hours to your day.
The last step in this process is one of the most important. Once we have established our limits and priorities, we can put them together to set healthy boundaries. Boundary work is the heart of learning how to communicate your needs effectively. In reality, the easiest way to say “no” is to refrain from saying “yes” to begin with. This is the sole challenge that lead you to read this article. It is especially difficult if you are new in your career or new to your company or workplace. It may seem that jumping at every opportunity will set you apart from your coworkers, but taking on too much can lead to having to eventually cut back and say “no” anyway.
Before accepting a new responsibility or joining a new project, make sure that it is something that you will be able to sustain with integrity. Remember, going above and beyond doesn’t mean taking on more than you can physically and mentally do. Allowing yourself time and energy to focus on your primary responsibilities can leave you the opportunity to go above and beyond in those areas. Don’t get caught up in trying to add more, try to focus on the responsibilities that have already been established. It is also important to budget in vital time for self-care.
“No” is not a bad word. It is actually an essential part of a healthy vocabulary. Setting healthy boundaries at work and in our personal life allows us to attend to our true priorities. It can be tricky to determine when it is okay to decline an opportunity. The most important thing to consider is how dire the task may be. In our professional life, we should always be sure to do the things that are expected of us (the non negotiables). If it is in your job description, it is probably safe to assume that you’re supposed to get it done. It’s the extra tasks that can lend themselves to a little more flexibility. It sounds very simple, but we often confuse these things. We can make ourselves so busy with going above and beyond that, we start to shirk our basic responsibilities. When making the decision to say “no” we need to first focus on making sure that we are always saying “yes” to expectations. Because, again, while quantity may be the shiny gold medal, quality is always the prerequisite.