Episode 30: How to Say "No" at Work


I know, I know it’s not easy to say no, but if you have aspirations—it’s critical that you do! You’ve got to align yourself to the right activities. If you want to have more influence and impact, you have to find time in your schedule to make that happen. And that involves saying no, which isn’t always easy. As women, we tend to be overcommitted; we’re working on activities at home, in our community, with friends and family, and then we have full-time jobs that leak or spread into our weekends and evenings.

Maybe you’re there with me. You’re drowning in dues to your current activities.

You’ve probably taken things out of your schedule that really fill you up. And then you feel depleted as you work through your to-do list. How do you fix this? You’ve got to get clear on what’s important to you now and what you’re aligning to next, because what I’ve learned in so many instances is that if you are not clear and decisive about what’s important to you, it’s very difficult to move the right things off your schedule. And if you need help with getting clear on those things, I recommend checking out Episode 2: Aligning Your Yeses, Work, and Energy for Your Next Level of Impact, which also includes a worksheet!

Now, the reason I decided to go forward with this episode and topic is that I’ve been getting asked, “JJ, how do you say no?” These women all have aspirations, they have a vision for where they want to go, but when it comes down it, someone asks them to do something, they can’t say no, and they’re diverted from their path.

3:45 – First, I want to admit that this is not easy for me either. But I think about the alignment. Does the ask align to where I am or where I want to go? Does it give me good energy? Is this something I look forward to? Is this aligned to my sweet spot? That’s a lot to think about.

4:40 – Now for many of us, we want to do a lot of things; we want to help a lot of people. We are committed to enabling, empowering, and advancing the people that we care about and the people in our community and network. But the reality is if we spend too much time doing this, we don’t spend enough time investing in our own goals.

Tips for saying “no”

If you’re someone that wants to accelerate where you have influence and impact, you really do need to be conscious about where you spend your time and what you say yes to. So with that, let me give you a few tips.

5:19 – #1: Find your north star

For many of us, having a north star, really knowing what’s important to us, is crucial. Knowing what that allows you to quickly assess whether or not an ask of your time is either aligned to the work you’re working on now, and the things that are important now, or the things that you want to move toward,  or invest in.

6:11 – #2: Create buckets.

I have different buckets of priorities. I have a family bucket, a community bucket, a retreat bucket, a book bucket, a work bucket… And as requests come in for my time, I assess whether they align to one of my key buckets. And if I’m unsure, I’ll ask for more detail and give myself 24 hours to think about whether I want to add it to my schedule.

7:30 – #3: Offer an alternative.

If I determine that the ask is not really the best alignment of my energy right now, the first thing I think about is how can I help this person with the task at hand? Is there a person in my network that can take this on? Is there something already going on that they can log into or align with?

9:30 – #4: Track your current projects.

Now, what if it’s your boss who continues to ask you for things? That’s a great question and one I’ve had to deal with professionally too. My trick for that is creating a spreadsheet or board where you list out all the tasks, activities, or projects you’re currently working on. And when new requests come in, you can show them how full your plate already is or even work with them to reprioritize your to-dos.

10:30 – #5: Set boundaries.

To be frank, people are going to continue to layer on requests unless you create some boundaries. The best way I’ve found to create boundaries is to share the work you’re already doing and have them help you prioritize the requests that are coming in and the projects you already have now. At the end of the day, you’ve got to prioritize yourself, your knowledge, your expertise, and your time. Because, if you don’t prioritize those things and you don’t value those things, other people will not value them either.

The bottom line

You need to create space in your schedule for the activities, projects, and alignment that are important to you and that help you get to where you want to have an impact next.

And if you’re working on too many things that really shouldn’t be landing on your desk, you often have to find ways to move those yeses around and start saying no. This is not easy. It’s not an easy behavior to create, but if you have aspirations, if you have a north star you’re running towards, my best advice is to start small. It takes time and practice to really harness this skill. But I know you can do it.

If you really have a desire for more influence and impact, it is a must to create that space and momentum by saying “no.” Don’t forget to connect with me on Instagram – @JJDigeronimo, and share some of the strategies you use to say no or how saying “no” has impacted your life!

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