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The No Problem

How Saying No At Your Job Can Help Achieve Work-Life Balance

Becoming a father will change the priorities of even the most workaholic guy. Suddenly the long hours at work trying to get ahead are messing with the (arguably more enjoyable) long hours at home trying get to know that awesome kid you recently made. Something’s gotta give or else your work-life balance will have you feeling like a Flying Wallenda with a brutal inner-ear infection. Which is to say, totally unbalanced and basically useless to anyone.

So how do you make sure you keep your workload reasonable enough so your kid (and your kid’s mother) doesn’t start calling the mailman “Daddy?” Well, you may need to start saying no at work once in awhile. Which comes with 2 upsides: do it right and you give yourself more room to breathe. Do it wrong and you give yourself all the free time you could possibly want — on the unemployment line. Here’s how to get it done right.

Set Boundaries Early

So, if you’re a dude who’s been pooped on by managers at the same gig for years, this one is coming a bit too late for you, broseph. However, if you’re in the first year of your job there’s still hope.

At this point, you and your employer are still trying to figure each other out. If you block out your evenings and weekends now, there will be less expectation that you’ll give them up in the future. And when you do give up one or 2 later, it will be seen as the true sacrifice that it is, instead of just a forgone conclusion.

When You’re Asked

If you are a poor sap who has the weight of those d-bags in management on your shoulders, it might be time to pucker up those lips and say “No,” to extra work. Or “Non!” if you’re French. But there are some things to do before you just outright refuse.

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Stall For Time

When someone asks you to step up and do extra at work, don’t just answer right away. You need to look at this from all angles. And to do that, you’re going to need time. Here’s some things to say to give yourself time to think:

  • Can I have a moment to look at my schedule?
  • Will you give me time to think about it?
  • Can I get back to you by end of day?
  • Can I look over my current priorities before I answer?
  • My proctologist is calling — I have to take this.

What To Think About

Now that you’ve given yourself a bit of space to mull things over, it’s time to be brutally honest about your abilities and that extra project. You need to think about what this will or won’t do for your career. Ask yourself:

  • Am I going to be working working with a crappy manager who’s going to burn me out and make me impossible to live with for the foreseeable future?
  • Am I going to be working on something that will further my career?
  • Will I be working on something that will make me look bad at current duties because I’m overextended?
  • How will this project build my strengths and bolster my reputation?
  • Have I received any recent disciplinary actions or bad performance reviews?

Maybe Consider Saying Yes

Yes, it might be strange to think about “yes” when learning how to say “no,” but it’s an important consideration. You don’t want to possibly say no to something that could lead to a promotion and additional money to put shoes on your baby’s feet (BTW, they don’t actually need shoes).

Sometimes in a moment of panic you don’t realize how good the additional work might be for you. Consider saying yes to work that stretches your skills, but gives you big reputation rewards. Or projects that you find crazy interesting and put you in contact with people you don’t normally work with.

Getting To No Them

Once you’ve decided that “no” isn’t going to hurt your career, it’s time to learn how to say it in a way that won’t make you look bad, or anyone else feel like crap. Here are some ways to do this right:

  • Do It In Person: Email is the coward’s way out. Also, the recipient of the no doesn’t get to hear the nuance of your calm, steady, angelic voice.
  • Listen First: It will go down easier if your boss feels like you’ve considered their needs.
  • Be Direct: Don’t leave the door open for interpretation. Say “no,” and then say why.
  • Don’t Whine: This is not time for complaints about your workload. It also isn’t a time to appear frustrated, put-upon, or otherwise as frazzled and sick of this crap as you are.
  • Offer Alternatives: You may not have time to do the whole project, but you might have time to review a first draft, or be a sounding board.
  • Ask For Help: You manager might be able to clear something off your plate or rejigger deadlines so that you can do the extra work. Ask if they can look at your workload with you and help you find a solution.
  • No Guilt, No Apologies: You came to this conclusion after careful consideration. You do not need to apologize or feel guilty about your decision.
  • Practice: It’s crucial that you speak your no into the bathroom mirror a couple of times, just to get it feeling natural. Though talking to yourself in the mirror is probably far from natural.

Ultimately the acceptance of your “no” is beyond you. You need to be prepared for whatever comes next. But if you’re feeling constantly overworked, overstressed and under-compensated at your job, it might be time to look for another one. Do it for your sake, and the sake of your partner and kid, who don’t want to be living with a worthlessly dizzy tightrope walker for the rest of their lives.

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