Have you realized that, somewhere along the way, you’ve become the person who will say yes to just about anything? Do you take on new projects regardless of whether or not you have the bandwidth or if the work is even appropriate for your role? Are you struggling to break the cycle without offending your boss or co-workers?
It’s natural to want to be considerate of others at work and take on extra projects in the name of “going the extra mile” to show your commitment to your job. But this eagerness to please can quickly go too far. While at first it may have seemed like doing it all and volunteering to take on more responsibiity will prove your worth, in the end accepting each and every request can seriously compromise not just the quality of your work, but also your happiness and satisfaction.
Fact is, your pushover tendencies can leave you feeling resentful toward your colleagues and just plain burned out. If you’re constantly working, the likelihood you’re devoting any time to personal upkeep (like getting to the gym or catching up with friends) is low, and the quality of your work, not to mention your mood, can suffer greatly.
Entrepreneurs see this, too: By focusing so much on growing their business, they soon find themselves victims of “scope creep”—saying yes to every new client demand and projects so much that it surpasses their bandwidth to provide good service.
So, whether you’re running a business or running on low at the office, how do you recover? How exactly can you begin shedding your pushover ways and learn to be more assertive and protective of your schedule?
Fundamentally, it’s about learning to better set and manage relationship boundaries and flexing your self-respect muscle.
Here are some steps to take.
1. Uncover the Roots of Your Pushover Ways
In order to be your best, most productive self, you must protect your top essential priorities from those that are mentally and emotionally draining. Start by identifying the passive habits you have that are incrementally eating away at your focus and control. Think about your average day: How much time do you spend simply reacting to other people’s demands? For example, do you drop everything the moment an email comes in from your boss to respond to it?
Now, take it a step further and see if you can figure out the true reason why you’re triggered to automatically say “yes.” For example, are you yearning for more responsibility, hoping that your enthusiasm will get you noticed, rather than confronting your boss directly about a promotion? Do you take on extra projects because you crave recognition? Or, if there is an office clique, do you want to feel included and more like part of the crew? Recognizing what you’re dealing with is the first step to helping you identify and manage trouble situations in the future.
2. Create a To-Don’t List
Set aside time at the beginning of your day (or whenever you feel least distracted) to take stock of your responsibilities. For each to-do item, ask yourself: “What will I accomplish or learn from this? How will it help me advance?” Now, as you scan your list, be bullish about moving anything that does not align with your top priorities to a “to-don’t” list. For example, if increasing revenue by 10% in the next quarter is your top priority, don’t agree to take on a pro bono project right now to “diversify.” If you’re looking to gain experience managing junior employees, anything non-essential that takes time away from working directly with your reports should be on your “to-don’t” list.
3. Enlist Help
Are you delegating as much as you could be? Ambitious self-starters often get caught up on multiple projects, but if you don’t start passing off certain tasks now, it will only overwhelm you when it becomes too much. Start with anything that comes across your desk that’s on your to-don’t list and see if there’s someone who may be better suited to take it on. No one to delegate to? Then perhaps an overflowing workload is a sign that it’s time to talk to your boss about expanding the team and hiring someone who has the skills to pick up some of the work.
4. Practice What You Preach—in the Moment
This is the hardest part, because saying “no” to others’ demands can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first. But it’s also the most important. Next time you’re asked to take on a project that falls outside the boundaries you’ve identified, you need to say no and stick to it. Not the next time it happens, not most of the time, but right now.
If it’s something you’re struggling to say no to—say, a request from your manager—ask questions and look for ways to compromise. For example, if your boss asks you to work on a Saturday when you’d planned to go visit your parents, first try to understand why he may want the project done ASAP. If you’re not sure, ask. Then, when sticking to your boundaries, make the explanation about the business, not about you. Do recommend an alternative for how the project can be completed (for example, “Saturday won’t work, but I will clear my schedule on Monday morning because I understand why you want this completed early in the week”). You’re still showing value and dedication—but you’re also maintaining your sanity.
While it might be difficult to say no and stick to it initially, practicing assertiveness based on the priorities you’ve identified and commitment to delegating when appropriate will not only help you shed your reputation as the office pushover, but it will improve the quality of your life. Building a successful business or career takes a lot of self-respect and requires having a thick skin and knowing when to say no. Start with these steps, and you’ll be on your way to building a reputation based on the quality of your work, not the quantity you take on.
Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.
Melody Wilding is a performance coach and licensed social worker with a Masters from Columbia who has helped over 10,000 people. She helps established and rising managers and executives advance in their careers and her clients work at companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP, and Deloitte. She loves arming ambitious people with tools and tactics to boost their confidence, as well as teaching assertiveness and influence. Melody helps them achieve results like getting promoted twice in a year, taking steps to grow their business, and doubling their monthly income. In addition to coaching, Melody also teaches Human Behavior at CUNY Hunter College in NYC and writes about psychology and careers for Inc., Forbes, Fast Company, and more. Get free careers tools at melodywilding.com or book one-on-one coaching sessions on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author