Every time I discuss or facilitate workshops on effective time management/professional resilience, I really enjoy the conversations in the room that go something like this “my inbox/plate/workload is always full, but when a member of the senior leadership team or even a director asks me to do something, I can’t say no!”

When I challenge back and ask “well why not?” the response is usually something like “I like my job too much” or “I wouldn’t like to think what would happen if I say”.  For me this raises several concerns, but in the short term one of the quick-wins I like to discuss is ‘saying no without saying no‘.  This relies on confidence, honesty, transparency and a sense of psychological safety within the workplace (which is an additional concern that could be part of a much bigger problem).

Saying ‘No’ without saying no…

The scenario could be anything, for this example let’s say you are a logistics coordinator within a global manufacturing business.  Due to rapid expansion and recruitment not keeping up the same pace you have an overflowing workload, but you are taking on additional duties in order to ensure that orders do not get backed up and production continues to ensure customer deliveries are getting out the door on time (this is a very real scenario where business is growing much faster that staff can be recruited for).

The Director comes to you to give you a task that you know will take much more time than the director has forecasted, but is not as urgent as they are portraying.  What do you do?

The honest answer from most is they take it on anyway and work extra hours in order to achieve everything they have on their plate.

In an ideal workplace where there is trust and honesty, you should be providing options as follows:

Here are all the high priority tasks I’m working on at the moment, which task would you recommend I reprioritise in order to complete your task?

Several things can occur here, primarily this is giving the director an insight into your current workload, and also providing accountability on them for deciding which task to reprioritise.

They may rethink the urgency of their task, or they may continue to push for you to take the task on.

If the latter occurs, then you should look at the priority level that should be assigned, is this a high priority?

  • Yes – then advise you can take the task on but you will need to delegate it to another team member in order to achieve the deadline they are proposing.
  • No – then this task should be scheduled into your existing workload or delegated and advise as such.

This technique is just one that we deliver as part of our professional effectiveness and resilience training. For more information reach out to our team.