3 types of tasks to say "No" to today

It's easy to say "Yes" at work: "Yes" to joining a committee to re-write your mission statement, "yes" to planning the office potluck, "yes" to leading a training session on the new tool.

But saying "yes" to every request will quickly lead you to burnout and exhaustion, writes Florianne Jimenez, a doctoral candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in a recent post for Inside Higher Ed.

Health experts say long-term burnout is a major health concern—and no, it won't be solved in a single three-day weekend. Protecting yourself from burnout helps you bring more energy to the things you care about most, Jimenez notes. Your workday is a zero-sum game: Spend time on one task, and you'll have less of it for something else.

The first step is to change your default response to a request, she writes. Do you find yourself saying "yes" unless you have a good reason not to? Flip your script: Say "no" unless you can find a good reason to do otherwise.

Jimenez then addresses three situations where you might feel extra pressure to go along with someone's request:

Situation 1: You've done it before. You planned the Arts Division career fair three years in a row, so everyone will expect you to do it next year, too. But turning it down gives you more time to learn something new, Jimenez notes. To that, I would add that it also opens up the opportunity to other people. One person's "this again?" is another person's "awesome stretch role."

5 ways to say no to anyone—politely

Situation 2: It's a networking opportunity. You'll often hear this when someone's inviting you to join a committee, Jimenez writes. But committee membership involves a lot of work and no guarantee that you'll actually get to speak to the person you hoped to meet, she points out. If your goal is networking, you can usually find other opportunities that don't require an ongoing commitment.

Situation 3: No one else wants to do it. Studies of faculty have found that women and people of color tend to do a disproportionate share of service work (if you know about a similar study of administrators, send it our way!) while receiving little recognition for that work. Jimenez recommends turning down requests framed this way and suggests nominating someone else for the task.

It's a good idea to practice your default responses ahead of time so that you respond smoothly when the moment arrives. And if you feel guilty for bowing out, focus less on what you're not doing and more on what your new strategy will make possible (Jimenez, Inside Higher Ed, 1/28).

Just say 'No'—it's how your most successful colleagues get ahead


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