How To Say No At Work

If you’re reading this right now, you’re probably an overachiever. Hi! Nice to meet ya! You probably also burn yourself out too quickly because you tend to say yes to everything. Am I right? No shame in admitting it – join the club! So for those of you with a million things on your plate.

You’ve just started a new job after graduation, and you’re eager to impress your boss. You read up on the company, got your desk situated, and you’re still trying to remember the name of the coworker next to you. For the first little while, you’re still frantically trying to learn what exactly you’re supposed to be doing every day. The first part is pretty stressful on its own, but then, just when you think you’ve got the hang of this thing, your boss asks you for a “small favor.” Three days later, you’re still working on that small favor, and you’re wondering how you’re going to finish everything, only to have your boss pop in again with, “Hey, do you have a minute? I need something done ASAP.”

“Of course,” you say calmly, like any professional. “What do you need?”

You’ve always said yes to everything, and it’s never been a problem. Of course you can do it. No problem. You’ve just got to work harder, longer, more efficiently… Except there comes a point where that’s no longer true. Whether because you’re an overachiever or just a people pleaser, some of us have a tendency to take on too much. And maybe in the past you’ve been able to let other things slide to compensate, but even then, there is a limit to how much you can do.

What does this mean? Saying “no,” without explicitly stating it.

Be Honest with Yourself

If you’re really overwhelmed, realize that you’re actually doing the right thing by refusing another task. It does nobody any good if you’re overextended. Details will slip through the cracks, crucial tasks might be overlooked, and you’ll look more incompetent than if you had just said no in the first place.

Assess the Task

How big of a deal is this task? Think about if you’ve ever had a similar task before, and how long it took you. In the case that you’ve never done anything similar, consider the fact that there will be a learning curve- likely, a very steep one. Is it going to take you completely off course, or are you just going to have to stay half an hour later?

There are some things that you should be able to Google and figure out fairly easily, even if it’s outside of your job description. Taking notes on a conference call, sending a memo to a client, or fixing a printer jam are all things that you can safely figure out by yourself. Something small like that, never say no to, unless you are in the middle of a vital task!

If it’s going to take you time that you just don’t have, then you need to communicate that, and a good boss will understand.

Suggest an Alternative

Now, the important thing to remember here is that you don’t know all the information. Your manager might be asking you specifically to complete a task for a variety of reasons, and you won’t know all the context, so don’t be surprised if your idea is rejected.

On the other hand, you might know something that your boss is overlooking. Maybe there’s someone within your department who’s better suited for the task than you, who was complaining that they were bored with their assignments, or who simply has more time than you do. Be careful here, because you don’t want to sound like you’re just passing off the work to someone else. Instead, try something like: “You know, I’m actually not sure if I have the time to complete this. I know that Erin knows a lot about Photoshop though, and she’d probably do a great job.” This shows that you’ve been thinking about what’s best for the company and you’re offering a solution, which is always better than just restating a problem.

Additionally, there might be a better way to do the project altogether. A more efficient software, another project that this one can be combined with, or perhaps it should be pushed back a couple weeks anyway.


Alright, so you’re still standing in front of your boss at this point, and for all intents and purposes, you’re still stuck with the task. The next step is to make your boss realize how much you actually have on your plate. To do this, ask them if they could help you prioritize your tasks.

Worst case scenario, you’re still overwhelmed with this extra task, but now you know what can afford to be pushed back. This is a difficult concept to wrap your head around if you’re used to accomplishing everything by your deadline, but in cases where your to-do list could wrap around the equator twice over, you need to learn how to prioritize.


Do your research. Find out how to write a grant, throw an outdoor event, or code. None of these are as easy as Googling the minor tasks mentioned earlier, but you absolutely cannot give up.

Sit down and create your own list what you’ll need to do. You might think that this is wasting valuable time, but the truth is that writing down these steps will make them more likely to happen. Additionally, this will truly help you understand the scope of what you’re taking on.

Don’t forget the details. They might not seem important, but that’s where your work will really shine. Your boss isn’t about to be impressed that you completed a needed project on time if it’s barebones. It’s the mistakes people remember. So research past grant awardees, make sure you have enough booze for your event, and double check your code. If need be, ask for help from a colleague or another manager. While you can absolutely inform whoever assigned you this task that you’re having a difficult time, don’t go overboard. They’ve already listened to your concerns and they’ve chosen to reject them.

You might be used to being a large fish in a small pond, but the corporate world is a different ecosystem. While it’s important to know when and how to say “no” to your boss, it’s also important to follow through on whatever is expected of you. If it crosses the threshold of reasonability, it might be time for post-grad job #2, but until then, stick it out and hope you learn something.

Love & Sparkle,




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