My friend Nancy tells a familiar story of the challenges she faced with a former boss. Like most of us, Nancy is intensely motivated by a strong work ethic.
However, she was simply overwhelmed with tasks on the job. Initially, instead of approaching her boss to discuss her workload, she worked harder to get everything done.
Nancy got so busy that she was afraid the quality of her work might suffer. On top of the overwhelm, she began noticing that the projects she was assigned no longer interested her.
What was her stellar work ethic earning her? More work she didn’t want to do. Nancy tried to discuss the situation with her boss, but her concerns fell on deaf ears.
Have you ever found yourself frustrated and overwhelmed because you had no interest in the work you were doing? And the only reward you received for your effort was more of the same type of work?
How do you stop the cycle?
You have to learn to say no.
By saying no to the work you don’t want to do, you will have the time and energy to pursue the work you do want to do.
Nancy ultimately said no by quitting her job. While quitting is a valid option, here are three alternative strategies to employ to effectively say no to work you no longer want to do.
1. Develop an area of expertise.
Think about an area in your industry that you enjoy and want to learn more about. Find someone in the office who does this type of work and volunteer to work with them. Shadow them and take on projects that will build your understanding of that specialty. Then, when your boss comes and asks if you have time for an additional project that doesn’t interest you, tell him or her with much excitement about the project(s) you are busy working on.
Eventually, you will develop a skill in a specialized area, and people will go to you as the expert. When you start saving other people time and energy by helping people with what they don’t enjoy or have deep knowledge of, you increase your value to the organization.
2. Find an advocate.
Make an effort to find someone in the workplace who advocates for you to get more interesting projects. After you find an advocate, invite him or her to lunch and find out how you can work more closely with her. You could ask how people branch out to other areas in your organization, and if she will help you get assignments better suited to your interests. To do this, you have to stop being available for work you don’t want to do.
3. Be clear about your time and workload.
If you find you are constantly fixing other people’s emergencies, you have to learn to gracefully say no. This means that instead of reflexively saying yes to every request, you have to pause and think about what you have time to do. Nancy was not in the habit of taking a deep breath and looking at her calendar before she said yes.
When someone asks if you can take on an additional assignment, tell them you have to see where you are with your current workload. Buy yourself time to figure out a diplomatic way to say no. And then say no without elaborating or apologizing.
Once you get past the instinctual fear of saying no, you will find that people respect your time much more. The first step is to value your time by learning to say no.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint, the founder of Food On Our Table and the creator of the Leverage to Lead programs, is a Career Strategist. She works with women across the country to help them clearly articulate their value in order to gain credibility; increase their visibility; have more interesting work; and get paid the money they are worth. Jennifer has worked with clients from Citibank, Skadden, Morgan Lewis, JP Morgan Chase, Facebook, Google and Bloomberg Philanthropies to name a few. Sign up for her helpful emails to take your career to the next level.