Your Time

Five tips to help you frame your response to requests for more of your time

By Fiona Collie |

You have to feel comfortable saying "No" to more work at the office once in a while in order to maintain a reasonable work/life balance. To do that, however, you need to know how to say it properly.

Avoid burnout: Learn to say no

Sometimes people can't say "No" because they're unsure of how to say it professionally, says Eileen Chadnick, principal and certified coach with Toronto-based Big Cheese Coaching. For example, they might feel awkward about offending someone or of appearing unhelpful.

Here are five tips that will help you to frame your response the next time you're asked to take on one too many projects:

> Acknowledge the request
Avoid sounding harsh or even rude in your response, says Chadnick, by not leaping in with a "No" right away.

Instead, always acknowledge the request before responding, she says. For example, if you are asked to help with a charity event, tell the person that you appreciate the request but that you do not have the time right now to take on any more commitments.

> Answer honestly
Maintain your relationships with people, says Chadnick, by being authentic and explaining your reasons for turning something down.

For example, you might explain that you've made a commitment to spend more time with your family.

> Show empathy
Let the person making the request know that you understand where he or she is coming from.

"Show empathy and that you care," says Chadnick. "Never give a flat out ‘No.'"

For instance, when turning down a new project you might say: "I understand that it's a difficult task but I truly can't take on another commitment at this time.

> Meet them halfway
Instead of refusing to help at all, you could offer to assist in other ways.

For example, if you are asked to chair a committee at work but don't have the time, says Chadnick, you could offer to provide a few ideas to help the committee.

> Buy yourself some time
If you tend to say "Yes" to requests at work when put on the spot, try asking for a little time before responding.

When asked to help with something you know you don't have time for, says Chadnick, tell the person that you have to finish another task or make a phone call quickly and that you will get back to them in an hour or by end of the day.

That will give you the time you need to frame your response in a professional and polite manner, she says.