Real Life

How to say no at work

Learn how to draw boundaries and put yourself, and your family, first.

Juggling work and family life can be a constant challenge. You’re forever being pulled this way and that, trying to be all things to all people in the finite number of hours you have available to you every day.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m much better at saying no to my husband and kids than I am to work demands, but it’s so easy to get distracted by the place that is paying you the money so you can buy the food and pay the mortgage (and, let’s face it, buy the shoes).
So I’ve been learning how to draw boundaries and to shout from the metaphorical rooftops that my family is the most important thing in my life.
Here are a few tips I’ve gathered along the way:
Decide where your boundaries are and stick to them
Don’t decide on the fly about whether you’ll work on the weekend or Skype after hours. If you have a work calendar, mark it out so you are not available during the times that you have decided on. There is no need to explain to people why you’re not available – you’re just not.
Imagine a teenage boy
Okay, this one is a little odd, but bear with me. Katherine Wintsch suggests you imagine the person asking you to do something is a teenage boy who is trying to make out with you (imaging yourself as a teen too, otherwise that could get really unsettling). Her point is that you need to protect your boundaries and not let them talk you into anything you don’t want to do.
Forget what people will think of you
It will likely come as no shock to hear people don’t actually care about you or what you’re doing. What they do care about is getting their work done and looking good. If you can’t stay for their 5pm meeting to discuss that big new project, ask them to send you the information you need and tell them you’ll email them some ideas tomorrow. Taking an interest in helping them solve their problem is the key to diverting any attention away from what you are and are not doing.
Plan ahead
If you have a flexible workplace, mark out sports days, family birthdays, parent-teacher meetings, or whatever is important to your family, as soon as you hear about it.
Visualise the alternative
When you feel tempted to say yes to something at work that you really don’t want to do, try to visualise what will happen next. How will that feel when you’re on a conference call on Saturday morning instead of brunching with your girlfriends? Resentful, that’s how.
We all want to do a good job and spend quality time with our families and friends. What boundaries do you draw?
Words: Carolyn Tate