It usually starts out innocently enough with a compliment.  Maybe the other person tells you what a great job you are doing or how talented you are. Then the conversation steers to how your skill set fits this particular project. Before you know it, you are being asked to work all weekend or take on another huge project.

say no

We’ve all been in that tough spot when someone asks you to do something you don’t want to do. Maybe it is a request to chair a volunteer fundraising committee, maybe it is to give a speech at a conference, or maybe it is to fix someone else’s mistakes. While these requests can be fantastic opportunities, other times they feel simply like more work dumped on your already full schedule.

Reason to say no

You try to say “yes” whenever you can, but what do you do when your inner voice is screaming “no!”?  Under these circumstances, do you often say “yes” and then regret it later? Here are five reasons why the best answer is sometimes “no.”

1. It will take you away from an important project. Lucille Ball of “I Love Lucy” fame is credited with saying “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.” You can take it as a compliment that you are asked to step in when something really needs to get done. The problem is that when you are always stepping in to help on another project, something suffers. It may be the quality of the work you are supposed to be doing in the first place.

Do you find that you put off your own deadlines in order to help someone meet theirs? It’s a noble thing to do unless your own work suffers as a result. When you expend your talent on a last-minute request, you may not have any energy left over for what you have already committed to do. When this happens, you may have helped someone else look good while sacrificing your own career.

2. It will rob you of some needed down time. Overwork and the stress levels it can create can contribute to a host of health problems including less energy, weight gain, and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke or worse.  Japan is one of the only countries to keep track of these death statistics. Here in America, we just lump stress-related deaths together.

While death by stress is an extreme example, you should be aware of your body’s warning signs when you are doing too much and you need a break.  Are you getting enough sleep? Are you nervous and fidgety? Are you feeling that you can’t focus well? Although everyone has to pull an all-nighter now and then to meet a deadline, we do our best work when we are well-rested. Saying “no” to something because you have been running on empty is valid.

3. It will not further your career goals. We like to help others when they are in a bind, but sometimes we have to think “what is in this for me?”  Is this something that will provide you with any new skills or experiences? Will you be able to network with other professionals? Will you be able to use this work on your resume? Volunteer work can provide invaluable benefits, but you need to judge whether or not giving that speech “that will only take a half-hour or so” or joining that board of directors that “only meets once a month” is really worth your time.

4. It will keep you from pursuing something else. Busy people need to make choices. One way to look at it is that when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to something else. By taking on that extra work, you are effectively taking time away from family, friends or from pursuing your goals.  Have you been meaning to earn another degree and have been putting it off? Do you need to spend more time with your family? Is your creative side suffering from neglect?  Be careful that saying “yes” doesn’t de-rail you from what is really important in your life.

5. It doesn’t feel right. It’s hard to say “no.” It can feel as if we are being rude or unfeeling to tell someone – particularly someone we like and respect – that we won’t do something. We want to be liked. We want to help.

To make things worse, the people who ask us to do these unwanted projects are usually really good at making their requests. “We need you.” “It will only take one evening, I promise.” “If you don’t help us, I don’t know where else to turn.”

Saying “no” in these situations is indeed hard. It takes some practice. If your gut tells you this is a “no,” but you don’t know how to say so, try responding with, “I am going to have to think about it.”

By saying that you will think about it, you give yourself some time to carefully weigh your decision. No one can blame you for considering a request carefully. If the other person responds with “I have to know now,” don’t let yourself feel pressured. Say something like “Then I guess it will have to be ‘no.’”

Let the other person determine when he or she will follow-up with you for your answer. She may say she will call you tomorrow. Be ready with your answer then. Or he may take your indecisiveness as a “no” and ask someone else. Problem solved. As you gain more practice saying “no,” you will grow to trust your instincts more and the situations for which you ask for more time to make a decision will decrease.

When you make careful choices with your time, you put yourself in the position to say “yes” to the many opportunities that are out there. When you say “no” gracefully, in fact, you show others that your time is valuable and that you want to give your best to everything you undertake.