Who here has been asked to do more than they can physically accomplish in the allotted time? Please raise your hand.
Okay, so I'm just assuming you've raised your hand if you've ever had a job before. Many professionals feel overworked or overwhelmed at certain points in their career--in fact, according to the Families and Work Institute, almost one third of employees in the United States feel this way at any given time. Often, job-type is a big indicator of this. My wife is in sales with a large enterprise company, and when not specifically calling on clients (which she does often because she's a true rockstar at her job), her job can be quite reactive, answering emails and taking phone calls. But, that type of position allows for a certain kind of freedom--freedom to run errands, etc when needed--that's often specific to sales. I, on the other hand, am the only full-time developer at a start-up branding and marketing agency, and my job isn't quite like that.
My job is really special, and I get to work with a lot of different types of clients. I'm afforded the opportunity to make decisions on which clients should use which technologies, and I fully understand how rare that is. I'm still in my first year as a professional developer, for crying out loud! However, the tough part of my job is that with the number of clients we have, I'm often at the mercy of how much work has to be done. In my job, I'm literally reading a book about the importance of having only one priority, and then being given four priority projects.
Outside of producing during my billable hours each day, a large chunk of my time is spent balancing this super sick problem:
I'm gonna work super hard and try to get all this done no matter what to make my boss proud of me
I just literally can't finish all of this
(with a little bit of crippling imposter syndrome sprinkled in, for flavor).
BUT, faithful readers, what I've learned, and what I'm going to share today, is what keeps my head on straight. (I've lost my mind long ago, lezbeyonest). In the words of our favorite D.A.R.E. officer from 5th grade, "JUST SAY NO."
Well, I take some of that back. It's really about managing expectations. Here are 4 ways to say no that will save you from getting too overwhelmed, and make your clients, colleagues and boss think you said "yes!"
1. Use over-sharing to your advantage
When I get assigned an important time-sensitive task from an account manager, I've realized it's best to avoid the annoyed "No", as well as the stressed out diatribe of "I'm just, like, really busy, and I guess I can try to get it done today, but it's gonna be tough, and also, I think I'm getting a stye." Instead, consider thanking your boss/client/colleague for keeping you top of mind for this project, and then share what you were PLANNING on working. This does two things:
1. It tells them that you're flattered (because you are!)
2. It shares that you already have plans to be busy.
The second key there gives them the chance to ask something else to be moved back in the queue, which gives you more insight to what the real priority is!
2. Offer a "Why"
You know all those "stupid millennial" memes that try to make fun of our need to know "why"? Well, they're kinda right. (Sidenote: if you want to disprove the "millennials are fragile snowflakes" trope, disagree with someone in their 50s or 60s about LITERALLY ANYTHING.)
When we are discussing a particular plan of action, providing a clear reason to accompany the plan is an effective way to sell the plan. As much as people want to know their role, they equally, if not more so, wish to know why their particular cog in the machine matters. "My way or the highway" isn't a super great way to get people on your side.
This is particularly important when you're going to have to "shoot down" a bunch of your client's ideas. By rationalizing your own actions through addressing their requests, together, you'll both gain clarity as to why particular choices were made and how they'll add value.
By offering a "why" to accompany your plan of action, colleagues and clients are able to envision their role and are more likely join in wholeheartedly.
3. Prove you're already addressing the request
Maybe more than anything, your clients just want to know and feel like they're being heard. This is not the time for Don Draper-isms like, "This is why you hired me," or "Let me do my job," or my personal favorite:
Allow the client to completely finish what they're trying to say, and REALLY listen. This can allow you to fully tailor your response to what they're asking. Most likely, you're already in the process of doing part of what they're asking. This is a great time to celebrate a victory by sharing that. It's also an effective time to share that you're all on the same page.
4. Be (98%) Honest
Sometimes, there are just things you don't want to do. Maybe it's because it's not your skillset, but it also could just be that it doesn't interest you. Many times, it's your co-workers asking. The last thing you want to do is lie to people you spend most days with every week and count on for other work, but at the same time, if you get asked to help on a project that is absolutely not up-your-alley, give a kind, but real reason: "Sorry [co-worker name], I stink at social media stuff, and have no clue how to use Docker or Ontraport." It's also a great idea to honestly recommend someone who would genuinely be better for the task. People love to be thought of as experts, and that person just might send something your way the next time that you can actually be an asset on.
Agency work is tough. Having multiple clients with numerous projects per account can be mind-boggling. It's up to you, more than anyone else, to be an advocate for your own time and sanity. Setting these boundaries allows the people you work with to understand what you're capable of, how much bandwidth you have, and how valuable you are. That gets you that much closer to a raise, or at least to being elected "Unicorn of the Week," (which is an actual thing we do at Elevate).
Do you use any other tactics when it comes to saying "no"? Please share in the comments!