Saying No for Better Work-Life Balance (infographic)

Posted on Posted in Words on Personal Effectiveness, Words on Work-Life Balance
saying no for better work life balance
Image via DepositPhotos

Are you feeling overworked or burned out? Well, you’re not alone. And while the demands of the always-on workplace are partly to blame, it’s time that we all took at least some of the responsibility by saying NO a little more often at work.

What is burning us out at work?

Of the 3,105 residents of the United States and Canada surveyed for the 2016 Staples Business Advantage Workplace Index, nearly half said they feel overworked, and 40% indicated that they feel burned out at work. Of those, fully 67% said that their workload contributes to feeling burned out.  

Are we to blame for being overworked?

While workload is often thrust upon us, it also has a sneaky way of growing thanks to choices we make by saying YES to too many requests — and not saying NO when we should. When we say YES to too many requests — on top of the things we’ve already committed to — we end up feeling overworked and burned out. And feeling overworked and burned out is a strong indicator that we’re out of balance.

Why we say no to saying no

And why don’t we say NO? Here are some of the most common objections to saying NO that I hear from clients:

  • But I want to be seen as a “team player?” Won’t saying NO get me labeled as uncooperative or negative?
  • But isn’t it my job to do what I’m told?
  • But what if my boss won’t take NO for an answer?

These are all good questions. Saying NO doesn’t mean being a jerk. And it doesn’t mean you say no all the time. What it really means is focusing on the important stuff at work and keeping yourself on track to make the biggest contribution of value that you can. The real rewards don’t come from saying YES all the time; they come from delivering value and getting results — and that can only happen with the focus that comes from saying NO.

How to say no at work (without being a jerk)

So go ahead and say NO if a request won’t help you make the biggest impact you can for the organization. Go ahead and say NO so that you can deliver results AND get home at a reasonable hour. Go ahead and say NO — but do it right. The infographic below (from the nice folks at offers six helpful tips for saying NO the right way:

  • Be honest: Tell folks the real reason you’re saying NO.
  • Offer alternatives: The next best thing to saying “YES and” is saying “NO but,” suggesting other ways you can be helpful.
  • Know your availability: If your schedule is packed (whose isn’t?), don’t say, “I can get to that by tomorrow.”
  • Ask for assistance with prioritization: If you must say YES, figure out something else you must say NO — or at least “not now.”
  • Reinforce your openness to help in the future: Make it clear that you’re not a NO person — you just need to say NO to this particular request right now.
  • Show empathy: Don’t be a callous jerk with your NO. Let the requester know that you feel their pain and wish you could be of more help.

Bonus tip

As I detail in my Kindle book, Not Safe for Work, one of the best alternatives to saying NO is asking WHY. When a request comes your way that you think might take you off your path and negatively impact your work-life balance, consider asking one or more of the following questions:

  • How does this fit into our strategy?
  • Which big goal will this help us with?
  • Where does this fall relative to our other priorities?
  • What will we be able to do if we get this done?
  • How does this serve our customers?

In addition to being focused on learning more about the reason behind the request, these questions are all phrased in the first-person plural, which emphasizes the collaborative and collective nature of work. In other words, the project in question isn’t something YOU need to accomplish — it’s something WE need to accomplish. When we start thinking in “we” terms, we can focus the conversation on organizational priorities, rather than personal ones.

Bonus work-life balance ninja secret

Sometimes, when you ask the right questions, the task goes away. Frequently, what seems important in the moment is actually a distraction (i.e., urgent, but not important). When you ask the right questions, you and your coworker or boss just might realize that the task in question doesn’t support a larger strategy or goal, doesn’t enable us to better serve our customers or isn’t a priority relative to everything else. This process of deciding what NOT to do is called deselection, and it’s one of the most underappreciated skills in the world of work and personal effectiveness.

Now, here’s that infographic I promised:

How to Say No at Work

Note: I think this infographic is really cool and helpful, but in no way does it constitute my endorsement of GetVOIP. I’m sure they’re great, but I have no first-hand knowledge of their products or services. That said, I’m grateful to them and their partners for sharing this awesome infographic with us.