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How to say “I don’t have time for this” professionally at work

It’s an unfortunately universal career truth that you’ll be given work you don’t want to do.

Sometimes these are tedious tasks that you just need to complete to complete a project. But when you’re given a task outside of your job description or a busy job that really doesn’t matter, it might be time to set a boundary. So how do you tactfully say “I don’t have time for this?”

It takes real skill to set a limit and gracefully decline, especially when an assignment comes from your boss or a crucial superior. But it’s worse to be silent, to overwhelm yourself with responsibilities and to exhaust yourself.

“If you don’t say anything, no one will think anything’s wrong,” said Lawrese Brown, the founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company.

Here’s what to consider when rejecting a request from a peer or boss:

First, you need to recognize when you need to push back.

Sometimes when a superior asks “Can you do this?” We hear you must do this. But if your boss is reasonable, there’s usually room to offer feedback. Learning to align their priorities with yours is part of managing; you finally know how you work best. And sometimes your boss may not realize that the way he’s phrasing his “end of day” request could be giving you a sleepless night.

Career coach Jasmine Escalera said early in her career she used to say ‘yes’ to anything her boss asked of her. “I thought that was what I had to do to grow in my career,” she said. But she later acknowledged that by saying yes to everything, she was simply categorizing herself as “someone who would just do a lot of work”.

Brown said another common scenario professionals face is being asked to perform tasks that don’t align with their personal goals. They may have the time to do them, but not the will. This is one of the trickiest concerns to raise, especially when you and your co-workers know it’s not helpful to the team, but your management doesn’t realize it.

If you decide to postpone tasks that fall into this category, focus on how that makes the team ineffective. Brown gave the example of an employee feedback form that people are asked to fill out when they have a complaint, even though the form itself asks for no action.

In that case, she says, you might ask, “Is this the best way for us to collect employee grievances?” I noticed that even when people write in the form, they also have to report it to a manager. »

Saying to a colleague “I don’t have time for that” is easier. Try this.

Because you don’t report directly to your peers, it’s usually easier to set polite boundaries with them than with your boss.

When you know you don’t have time for a task that a colleague asks you to do, you can simply say directly: “I”I’m sorry, I’m unable to help you with this at this time,” and negotiate to complete the request later or with a different scope, or refer them to another colleague who could help you, Mary said. Abbajay, chair of the Careerstone Group leadership development consultancy.

“The idea is to be kind and helpful without saying ‘yes’ if you don’t have time,” Abbajay said. “The worst you can do is say ‘yes’ to something you don’t have time for and it will add stress to your plate, and probably make what you’re trying to do late.”

Saying “no” to your boss goes better when you have a solution in mind.

Brown finds the biggest mistake people make when overwhelmed by their bosses’ assignments is simply saying “I don’t have time for this” and not having a solution in mind.

“Don’t stop at the identification because then you will come across as complaining, even when the complaint or grievance is valid,” she said.

Keep in mind that how you talk to a boss will be different from how you talk to a peer due to power dynamics. Brown said a peer’s tone can be more informal, with language like “Hey, let’s work on this together!” But with a manager, you may need to phrase your request in a question, such as “Can we meet so you can provide some insight on how best I can prioritize?”

“Recognize that your boss may have his own busy requests and may have no idea that his latest request is actually your breaking point.”

When talking to your boss, it helps to immediately acknowledge their decision-making authority and offer to adjust your priorities, said organizational psychologist Laura Gallaher of consulting firm Gallaher Edge. For example, you might say, “If I help you now, I’ll complete this task/project. [at this later date] –– will this work for you? she says.

Recognize that your boss may have their own requests busy responding and may not know that their latest request is actually your breaking point. To make your case for what really deserves your attention, track how long it takes you to complete certain tasks over a week or two. That way, when you ask your boss if it’s possible to redirect your responsibilities elsewhere, you have data to back you up on how certain tasks are cluttering your schedule, Escalera suggested.

It’s something she tried herself. “I remember having this conversation with one of my supervisors where I presented my tasks, my time and my allowance, and he was basically like, ‘Oh, well, those things don’t weren’t even in your job description. You should delegate that,” Escalera said. “He had no idea or knowledge of what I was doing on a day-to-day basis.”

When there’s a disagreement between you and your boss about what to tackle, Gallaher said you might try saying something like, “I have a different understanding of my priority — if we’re not aligned, maybe we can move towards leadership together to get some clarity. I really want to support the company’s highest priority.

But at some point, if you find that your leadership continually gets in the way of prioritizing the tasks that really matter to your goals, Escalera said that could be a sign to start looking for a job elsewhere.

“If no one is really there to support or guide you, and the work is just too big and heavy, this might be a time for you to ask yourself, ‘Is it really the company or the organization I need to be in right now?? Is this a place where I can really thrive?”

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