(Photo Credit: Horia Varlan/Flickr)
First, don’t actually say “no.” It’s better to handle the situation diplomatically instead of seeming too aggressive or insolent.
1. Clearly understand expectations.
Understand what the expectations from you are for the project. If you are the only subject matter expert for the new project, there’s little you can do. You are the go-to person, and your manager has to come to you. But even then, understand the role your manager expects you to play in the project. Will you be an advisor, project manager, or just a consultant? How much of a time commitment would it require? Often, when you wait out and understand the expectations, they don’t seem to be too taxing. If you have a good manager, she may already know your work load and wouldn’t expect to stretch yourself too thin.
2. Involve your manager.
Seek your manager’s help in prioritizing your projects. Instead of saying, “sorry, I’m swamped,” let your manager help you with prioritizing what’s absolutely important and how your time is spent on the projects you are working on.
“The best thing about this approach is that, along with demonstrating everything on your plate, you’re giving your boss the opportunity to weigh in on what’s most important,” says Sara McCord at The Muse. “That way, if the new project can be passed off or held for later, it likely will be, and if it needs your attention now, you have full permission to de-prioritize something else.”
3. Offer alternatives.
Take some time before you respond, but don’t wait until it is too late to do anything. Help your manager by evaluating options. Can somebody else who had expressed interest in the project earlier do it? (Sometimes managers just rely on the person they know absolutely for sure will deliver, their right hand if you will, without considering other options.) Can you delegate it to somebody in your team? Would the project make more of an impact if another team worked on it first — like provided data or background work?
4. Evaluate your own process.
Are you really overworked or are you not able to manage time? If Facebook or Twitter is your time-suck, you may have to work on your social-media addiction. Is the commute to work taking too much time? If you don’t have to be present at work to your job, perhaps you can work from home. Are you attending too many meetings which yield little or no result? Seek your manager’s help to get you out of those “important” meetings.
5. Know your manager.
Sometimes managers themselves are workaholics and expect their team to behave similarly. Offer logical and practical solutions to your manager’s requests. Keep emotion out of the equation. Your manager may just not know your personal commitments outside of work, and maybe an open discussion is all that it takes for her to stop expecting you to respond to mails after 10 p.m. Or maybe that’s just her style and that’s what she expects of you. If you feel that your needs are just not being met, the work culture is too demanding and your priorities are suffering, maybe it’s time for you to decide on your next move. Maybe this work culture is just not working for you.
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