Saying NoA few months ago I was promoted into a new job and I became the manager of the team on which I’d worked.

I won’t lie or sugarcoat this: the last few months have been rough. Instead of being an individual contributor on one team, I’m now expected to continue the duties I had (because our team didn’t grow in a way that allowed me to give up my responsibilities), be part of a leadership team, and acquire still more tasks related to that team. Two teams make it feel like I have two full-time jobs.

I haven’t been handling it well (or, at least, not the way I’d wanted). I used to love solving problems for people (even if it meant performing boring admin work), but now there’s so much on my plate that I need to force myself to block time to get the big career-moving stuff done. I’ve never been this overwhelmed in my life and it is imperative that I get better at saying no. I wrote this blog partially to brainstorm ways to do that better.

When to Say No

Seth Godin, Marketer Extraordinaire and writer of one of my favorite daily blogs, read my mind and published this insightful post about when to say No. Read it! I’ve printed it out and put it on my desk as a daily reminder not of what I should say no to, but what I MUST say no to.

How to Say No

That brings me to another tough problem. How, when you love to help people, can you politely say no? I’ve found the key is to keep it short and simple. Don’t try to explain yourself because that just gives the requester some room to try to change your mind. Here is my own list of ways to say no, which I’m happy to report I have been using a lot more lately.

  • Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I don’t have enough time to do this right now.
  • No thank you, I’m doing x instead and I loooove x. (This works well as a serious comment or a sarcastic one.)
  • I’m sorry, I know I won’t be able to focus on this and do a good job. I have to decline.
  • I can’t do this for you, but check with <insert someone’s name who can help>. (Don’t rely on this method too often or you’ll just overwhelm someone else.)
  • Why does this need to be done?
  • Here are the other things I’m working on, can you help me prioritize all these tasks? (This one is most appropriate when talking to your manager.)
  • <pause, as if you’re actually considering the task> No, I can’t.
  • No thank you, I can’t justify adding this to my plate right now.
  • Great idea! Why don’t you do that?
  • Come back later. (If you really want to help, but can’t at the moment.)

Are you saying no often enough? How are you saying it?