how to say no to coworkers who ask me to take on work I don’t have time for

A reader writes:

I have a question about interacting with colleagues. I work in a client-facing organisation. For the past six months, we have been understaffed and I have been managing projects pretty much on my own (client management and the delivery). I’ve been with the organisation around five years and it’s my first job out of college.

As I’ve moved up the ladder, I’ve taken on more and bigger projects but it’s only recently that we have taken on some more staff to help with the workload. I now work across two teams, managing projects for both, and I have recently been asked to manage one of our biggest projects.

This all is great for my career but I’m getting seriously stressed out. I am getting irritable at people at work, and I’ve gained 15 pounds because I’m living out of a suitcase and I barely see my husband. All of this would be fine (not fine, but easier to swallow) if I was paid in line with market rates but I’m underpaid!

My manager (who is great) has said everything I’ve achieved warrants a raise and that some projects can be shifted around to ease my load so I can concentrate on this big project. He said to push back if people in other teams ask me to take anything else on.

I really need some Alison phrases I can turn to when colleagues add more tasks to my list (“I have 60 emails to deal with already!” doesn’t seem like the most calm and professional way to go about it). How can I push back without it affecting my raise request? Often colleagues who add to my workload are more senior but aren’t my manager so they don’t fully understand my workload.

The good news here is that your manager has explicitly told you that it’s okay to push back when other teams ask you to take on more work. Knowing that he has your back on this makes this a lot easier.

So, phrases:

* “Normally I’d love to help, but Cecil and I agreed I shouldn’t take on anything new because I’m swamped with the X and Y projects.”

* “Realistically I wouldn’t be able to get to that any time in the next four months because X and Y are taking up so much of my time, so I’m not the person to take it on, unfortunately.”

* “Oh, I’m sorry — I can’t. My plate is completely full right now because of X and I’m not able to take on anything new.”

* “Cecil asked me to be really disciplined about not taking on anything new right now because I’m already overloaded with X and Y. Sorry I can’t help!”

(The language that invokes your boss is particularly good to use with people who are senior to you, so that it’s clear that you’re not arbitrarily turning down work but that this is a directive that has come from someone above you.)

Generally this should be all you need to say. But occasionally someone might push back and say something like, “Oh, I don’t care when you get to it — can you just add it to your list for whenever you have time?” or “It’s really quick — it’ll just take 20 minutes.” If that happens, say this: “I’m sorry, I really can’t. Cecil and I agreed that I wouldn’t add anything to my plate right now.”

Also, remember that people aren’t deliberately trying to overload you with work. In most/all cases, they probably don’t have a good sense of what your existing workload is and are just assuming that you’ll let them know if their request is a problem. I mention that because it’s easy in your shoes to start feeling resentful of the people who ask you to help with additional projects, and it’s important to realize that they’re not being thoughtless or unreasonable. It’s just that generally no one is going to be as familiar with how much work you’re juggling as you are (even your manager won’t generally have as good of a sense of that as you will). That can be hard to remember when it feels obvious to you that you’re drowning in work — but generally other people really don’t know that.

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Snark*

    As someone who just got the call to drop everything and charge into a burning bureaucratic building to rescue a Significant Personage’s darling pet project, these will be good scripts to use when someone comes and asks me to fill out a PDF form for them because Acrobat scares them.

    1. Snark*

      AND LO! Not five minutes after posting that, someone came and asked me if I could proofread a form for them. It took every ounce of strength in my being not to give him the over-the-glasses Tommy Lee Jones-in-No Country for Old Men “are you kidding me with this bullshit” stare.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I wear contacts so I can’t do the over-the-glasses look, but I find the Eyebrow of Doom to be very effective. Keep the rest of the face absolutely still, raise one eyebrow as high as you can, and just go “Hmm.” very quietly. Gets the point across nicely.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! I do the same. The over-the-glasses look is special, but the contact-based Eyebrow of Doom is VERY effective. Especially if you have expressive and/or substantial eyebrows.

            1. Gadfly*

              I took time off to go back to school and then had health issues–I’m slowly trying to re-enter the workforce. And I am grabbing a mirror and practicing now. I didn’t realize it was something you could lose, but it is.

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Hah! Just last week I got a “I’m so sorry, but I really need to interrupt you…. What should I put as this expiration date here?”

        Literally anything you want. Anything at all.

        Alison’s sentence about resentment is super true, and something I need to be careful about!

    2. Jadelyn*

      I’m going to have to use some variant of this next time my VP comes to me with a suspiciously innocent expression and says “I need you to save the day again…”

    3. M is for Mulder*

      As one of few employees with access to Acrobat Pro versus everyone else’s Acrobat Reader, I feel this so hard.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Ugh, yes…I’m to the point of wanting to cry every time I hear “Hey, I hear you’ve got special software, can you make this thing a fillable form for me?”

      2. Annoyed by Academics*

        Also feel this so hard. People in my office refuse to get pro installed on their computer because, “You can just do it real quick.”

  2. Lil Fidget*

    Been there! This is so common, and it’s a valuable skill to develop as you go up in your career. Politely and kindly defending your boundaries is a gift that you can give to yourself :P

  3. Lil Fidget*

    Also – if this raise isn’t materializing in the short term, I hope OP is looking to leverage the experience they’ve gained here at a new, better paying position. It’s so easy for companies to string employees along, always promising that “someday” they’ll be rewarded for taking on all this extra work, but honestly raises /promotions rarely keep up with what you can get elsewhere when you’re the Shiny New Thing. It’s up to you as the employee to decide that if “someday” isn’t within the next say, three months, you’ll be looking to exit.

    1. Cassandra*

      I call this “jam tomorrow”ing.

      Jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow, jam tomorrow… but never jam today.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            People apply The Art of War to management all the time–we should have an open thread on other management styles as embodied in literature.

            1. periwinkle*

              This needs to be in next Friday’s open thread. Right now I’m gnashing my teeth, ever so discreetly, about the internal customer using the Mr. Collins management style. “We must do this because my great director, Lady Catherine de Burgh, says this is the best way to paint our teapots and we cannot make a move unless it is something which our great director, Lady Catherine, would approve. Oh, your director’s executive conference room is so elegant! It reminds me of the hay storage barn belonging to my esteemed director, Lady Catherine de Burgh.”

              1. Anion*

                Does he bow slightly every time he mentions the name of his elegantly condescending director, *bow* Lady…Catherine deBurgh?

    2. Artemesia*

      oh so this. The OP should be looking now. I have seen people strung along like this for years, often women, and then Johnny McHotshot with less experience and less ability arrives and there is no problem at all ‘meeting his salary requirements’. When they promise and promise and don’t deliver within a reasonable period of time, they really don’t care that much. Time to look for other jobs while you wait. You can always stop the search, but they take a while to get going so gearing up is the right thing to do. And sometimes the kind of calm glow you get when you have made a decision creates a perception of you that actually results in the raise happening.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I’ve seen SO MANY of my coworkers stagger on and on, overloaded and overpaid; then, as soon as they finally left, they were replaced with two people / new person came on at a MUCH higher rate / whatever. For some reason, a lot of companies resist paying their existing employees a lot more – even superstars. Internal promotions here usually come with a “small bump.” Nothing extravagant, even if they are willing to spend that money on somebody new. I think you’re devalued by being a known quantity, and for having worked at your original rate in the first place. Not universal, of course, just that I’ve seen it a lot in my career … and I’ve begged some people to leave rather than keep being strung along!

        1. Competent Commenter*

          I learned this lesson when I was a teenager. I worked part-time as a file clerk for a doctor’s office for three years. Literally all I did was file. [Those were the days! Also the days you could hire a 15-year-old with no experience to do that kind of thing.] The whole time I was there I had to work standing up at a counter, and there were other significant comfort issues as well. I quit at age 18 and was replaced by a 20-year-old woman who immediately said, “I’ll need a place to sit while I work” and the table was in place before my two weeks’ notice was up. Lesson learned.

        2. Jean Lamb*

          Whenever I moved into a different position at the place I used to work, I was generally replaced by two and a half people. I am not there now.

      2. M-C*

        Oh yes, this is such good advice! If nothing else, it’ll give you a better sense of exactly how much you’re worth on the open market. And that too-through-with-this-salary glow is unmistakable to anyone paying attention, so you’ll be sure that they really do want you (or not, sorry) way before you actually have to make any decision about it.

    3. Kj*

      Yep. I just left a job where my boss strung me along for years. I was sad to leave in a way, as I liked the work, but the being strung along was painful to my self-esteem. I eventually realized, after hearing other’s stories, that this was the way this boss worked, so I got out. Many co-workers are still there, being strung along like Christmas lights.

    4. Krista*

      Is it feasible to ask for a raise because you are short-staffed and they have no plans on hiring someone else to help? My workload has doubled and I’m also underpaid.

  4. NW Mossy*

    Another good addition to these scripts is to identify the person who makes project assignments (Cecil, or his equivalent) or the person that project has already been assigned to, if you know it. Channel Barney Stinson saying “Have you met Ted?” – your role can be simply to connect the two people who need to talk to each other and then gracefully exit the scene.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yep. We do a lot of this on my team, since we’re everyone’s default “I don’t know this — ask those folks” group. There’s a lot of “Well, that’s not something I handle here, but X Team specializes in it. Let me get you through to them!”

      1. Jadelyn*

        Same – leaves of absence are handled by our benefits specialist but I’m the general HR gatekeeper as far as everyone seems to be concerned, so I get not-infrequent “I’m pregnant/sick/my husband needs surgery and I need to go out on leave soon, what do I do?” emails. My response is always “Well, I don’t handle LOAs myself, but our benefits administrator Kristy does. I’ve cc’d her on this email. Kristy, could you please reach out to Mary Anne and help her get started on the LOA process?” And that’s usually the last I hear about it – they take it from there and drop me off the email thread.

    2. k.k*

      Giving them another person to go to is a great idea. If they didn’t know who else could handle that task, it gives them somewhere to go instead of just standing there clueless. And it makes it hard for them to push back since you’ve already given them a solution.

  5. Elizabeth West*

    If they really don’t let it go after you’ve done both of these, then I find it helpful to send them to your boss–“You’d have to talk to Cecil about that.” Of course, this only works if Cecil has your back and really will tell them to stop trying to give you stuff. It sounds like he might be.

    1. Red Reader*

      Yes. “No, seriously, this is super important.” “How about if you put it in an email to me, and CC Cecil, and we’ll discuss it with him then?”

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      Yes, my team frequently get “pop up” requests like this, and our default answer is basically that our department protocol requires all requests to be routed through our boss so that she can delegate the work based on our workload. It’s a great way for us to avoid having to say “no, I’m too busy for this” and also makes the requester really think through what they’re asking of our team.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      There is also, “Let’s go talk to Cecil and see how this should be prioritized with the other work he’s got me taking on. I’m happy to help but need to make sure he’s okay with bumping deadline X to [reasonable time] before switching gears.”

        1. Jadelyn*

          Invoking the spectre of involving a manager seems to be a dash of cold water on people. Very effective – they’ll try to browbeat you into doing stuff, but they won’t want to risk there being consequences for doing so.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Well, I work for a law firm where there is a pecking order, so a lower-level associate is not going to pick off a the lead partner’s project. But, there are some times when the associate’s project is more important and the partner managing the matter will deprioritize their work so it gets done. It’s not always intended to be a scare tactic, just letting the person in charge of the whole thing set the priorities and deadlines.

        3. Grapey*

          Eh, I think it’s also important to keep Alison’s last paragraph to mind…sometimes people really don’t know your workload. If I got a reply like this off the bat, I would think the person is being unnecessarily passive aggressive.

          1. Red Reader*

            Well, yes, but that’s why Elizabeth West started off with “If it keeps happening after you’ve done both of these things….”

    4. cncx*

      i am a huge fan of sending people who won’t drop stuff to my boss. suddenly their urgent important problem isn’t so urgent and important when they have to justify their lives to my boss…or my boss’ boss, which i save for special occasions.

  6. At Wits End*

    I’d disagree that people aren’t trying to overload you with work because, at my last job, when I was already doing the work of three people because two employees had left and management decided to not replace them, one of my supervisors tried to give me yet another project. One that would be coming from an employee who came into work late, left early, took three hour lunches, and asked me to take messages from her angry clients because she didn’t feel like talking to them. When I pushed back on my supervisor, his response was ‘Oh, well, we need you to do this because she doesn’t want to do it anymore; so just do it.”

    Of course, everyone’s experiences are different and I like to think the best of people but a supervisor giving me even more work to pick up the slack for a lazy employee rather than disciplining her and severely colored my view of requests to take on additional work when I’m already swamped.

    Thankfully my new job gives me supervisors who understand prioritizing and when I push back on unrealistic project deadlines. Good luck, Letter Writer!

    1. Allypopx*

      Oof, I’m glad you got out of that environment.

      But in general it’s usually best to assume you’re dealing with sane, well intentioned people and to approach it from that angle to solve a problem. If that’s not the case, you’ll probably figure it out pretty quickly.

      Echoing good luck to OP!

    2. Not Tom, just Petty*

      This is it exactly. Time to put your manager to the test.
      You’ve been told to push back. Your manager said you can push back. You won’t know until you do it if your manager sucks. If you say “Manager wants me to focus on this” and manager is contacted and tells them that you will find some time then you know your manager sucks. If manager tells them you have the time, then tells you to “get to it when you can, because I know you’re busy but I wanted to shut him/her up.” and make it seem like you a co-conspirators (when really, you’re the one who will either do it or fail publically) then your manager sucks. AND that raise is another load of crap manager told you to shut you up.
      Hope it turns out well.

    3. Gazebo Slayer*

      If she can refuse to do her work, then really you ought to be able to reply “She doesn’t want to do it? Well, I don’t want to do it either, and it’s her job.” If the manager doesn’t discipline people… what are they going to do?

      (Unless Three Hour Lunch is just the manager’s favorite and they WOULD discipline anyone else.)

  7. Janet Snakehole*

    Alison’s scripts are amazing, and where the appeal-to-manager’s less of an option, I’ve found this is one of those situations where corporate-speak I wouldn’t normally use is actually really effective. Maybe it’s my organization, but people seem to hear and respect “Sorry but my bandwidth is at max capacity” more than they do with something like “I’m just too busy to take this on.”

  8. Lucky*

    I love Allison’s scripted responses and have adapted them for my own use in the past. I found, though, that I needed a reminder in the moment, so that I didn’t allow myself to nod along and get swept into more work. So, I have a tiny post-in in the corner of my monitor, right in my line of sight for visitors but out of their sight, that says “I don’t.” I’ve found it helps me to start my response to questions like “do you have a minute? do you have time to . . ?”

  9. Antilles*

    “It’s really quick — it’ll just take 20 minutes.”
    I just want to emphasize that you absolutely need to hold your ground when you say this. It will feel like you’re being a ridiculous hardass by refusing such ‘oh just a few minutes’, but in my experience, it’s practically *never* ‘just 20 minutes’. A more accurate phrasing is:
    “It’ll just take 20 minutes … assuming that you’re already familiar with the project history AND we don’t have any back-and-forth discussions AND it doesn’t have to go to any higher-ups who have minor changes which you’re then on the hook for AND this isn’t really just Phase I of a multi-phase project AND…”

    1. Risha*

      It’s a 20 minute fix, after half an hour of emails to confirm the requirement, then a half hour to find a test case and properly unit test it, then a half hour to migrate it to the test environment, and another half hour to tick all the paperwork, documentation, and bureaucracy boxes, and then…

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I also want to add that even in cases where it really will just be 20 minutes, it’s still reasonable to say no if you’re swamped with higher-priority stuff. 20 minutes isn’t an insignificant chunk of the day (and it turns your attention away from the things you need to be focusing on).

      1. Snark*

        Right. Because maybe this is mostly how my monkeybrain acts, but if I let him go swing on another tree for awhile, it’s gonna take another damn 20 minutes and a not-insignificant number of bananas to lure him back to the original tree I wanted him to swing on.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, but also even if that’s not true — even if it will just take 20 minutes and then you can immediately get back to what you were doing before — it’s still often reasonable to say no, because you all your time needs to go to the higher priority thing. I’m stressing that because I want people to know that it’s really okay to say no to 20 minutes, even if the reason isn’t that it’s 40 minutes in disguise!

          1. SRB*

            Thank you for this… Friday at like 5:30 I received a “just 20 minutes” type request which I’ve been told in no uncertain terms *not* to do by my actual boss, but still am angsting about writing the email saying no to such a “small” request. Here’s hoping it all goes over smoothly. :S but hearing this makes me feel a little better :)

            1. tigerStripes*

              Remind yourself that your actual boss will be annoyed if you don’t say no. That’s what I do.

          2. Winifred*

            Agreed … I struggle with this. I am the Congregational Administrator of a very large church, not the administrative assistant (we don’t have one). So when people (other staff, church members) come by asking me to make copies, even though it “only takes a minute,” it’s an interruption to workflow and thought process — plus, it’s not my job. I show them how to use our fancy new copier (once) and leave them to it.

            1. Samata*

              I think this is a key point, too. That even if it’s a true “but it only takes 5 minutes” it can actually effect 20-30 minutes because you have to completely shift gears – twice.

              1. Artemesia*

                And you will be asked to do it many times more. These copies only take 15 minutes, but becoming the person who will do the copies will eat up your life.

          3. AnonEMoose*

            Totally agreed. A lot of my work involves going through records and figuring out what happened so that I can summarize the information for someone else. It takes time and focus, and even a quick interruption can mean that I then need to spend 20 minutes re-acquiring the thread.

            So there are times that I have asked my boss, at particularly busy times, to email others in my department and tell them not to stop by my desk with questions, to email instead. Because then I can answer them when I’m between longer tasks, and it’s much less disruptive. It works out.

            Now if I could just get people to stop asking me questions to which they already know the answers but “just wanted to confirm,” and to check the notes before asking me…seriously, it would make both their lives and mine easier.

    3. MissDissplaced*

      I used to get a lot of these because I was the only person in the company with any “graphics” experience. Those “just 20 minutes” add up if you get 5/6 of them per day.
      Unfortunately, I had managers who didn’t care, and these requests completely overwhelmed what I was actually hired to do.

      1. Someone else*

        This is really key too. Even if there is absolutely no snowball or no extra “shifting gears” time to the claimed 20-minute-item, if you say yes to one truly, genuinely, “just 20 minutes”, you open the door to even more “just 20 minutes”es which then eat you alive when there are 6-10 of them.

    4. Not Tom, just Petty*

      Exactly. 20 minutes is the time it will take to type out and or fill in the form, not the time it takes to get the information, process the information and oh god, the inevitable follow up. Even a “hey thanks” email, kills your flow when you’ve moved on to the next thing.

  10. Amy*

    When it’s requests from peers and people I work closely with, I’ve found that “Sorry, I’m swamped right now. ____ is good at this stuff though, maybe ask them?” can work well. They rely on me being productive as much as I rely on them, so none of us want one another to be so swamped that we can’t finish our work.

    With people from outside my department/who I don’t work with regularly, they’re not as invested in me having a reasonable workload, so it’s often useful to fall back something like “Sorry, (boss) has asked me not to take on any more projects at this time.”

    If my manager is the one making the request (not your situation, OP, but something that happens sometimes), my go-to response is “I have A and B on my plate right now. I can take on C, but it would mean pushing one of those back to make time for it. How do you want me to prioritize these?” Often as not, they decide that they don’t want to push any of the things back and find someone else to do one of them. Other times, one of the things does get pushed back, and that still works for me to manage my workload. Either way, it means my manager is aware of my workload and I know I have their buy-in on my priorities.

    1. tigerStripes*

      I have used the same thing when talking to a manager – I figure they want to know if I’m dropping something important to work on the new thing, and so far, they seem to appreciate knowing.

  11. Gail Davidson-Durst*

    If its someone other than my manager, I’ll sometimes tell them to email me and give me more details or give my data x and y, so I can assess whether I’m the right person and am able to help. At least half the time something that’s SO! IMPORTANT! at the moment they’re talking to me and want me to drop everything to do it becomes completely optional when it requires them to initiate an action or write down some documentation.

    If it’s a manager, I super-double-plus-underlined endorse Amy’s advice up above.

  12. Gloucesterina*

    Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore (who writes on academic faculty productivity) describes setting up what she calls an “N-Committee”–a couple trusted people whom she runs by any requests for extra work that she receives (in the form of a few minutes worth of phone call/email/text exchange). The way she describes it is that sometimes she knows that she should say no, but hearing it from her “N-Committee” helps her be confident in her response and actually follow through with that response. Academia is perhaps a slightly weirder context terms of how additional work is demanded/perceived but maybe this idea can help someone who has trouble setting up guardrails around their top priorities!

    1. Gloucesterina*

      oops – “Academia is perhaps a slightly weirder context IN terms of how additional work is demanded/perceived”

  13. Been there*

    I’ve used “Sure I can do it, but just so you know I won’t be able to work on it until April (or whenever the project ends). You might be better off to see if you can have Jane do this instead.”

    I have to be honest, even using those scripts there are people who will not give up. I invoked my CEO’s name and directive and I still got harassed. Finally after a plea from my manager to do the thing for the other people, I relented but under my own terms.
    1. You will have all of your requirements ready when we talk.
    2. I will schedule a meeting to review, when I’ve completed
    3. After the review you all will go away and determine what needs changed/enhanced
    4. I will do one round of changes/enhancements after that you are on your own.

    It sucked because the first time we spoke (#1) they weren’t ready. So I told them I was dropping from the call and to set something up after they had agreed on the requirements. It took 2 more times of me doing this before they figured out I was serious. (It was 3 separate team managers trying to agree on a new process none of them wanted to play nice in the sandbox). As I was demoing and going through the first review (#2) they criticized everything and kept telling me what needed to change (Mostly it was because they hadn’t worked out their process yet). I shut that down and reminded them about #3. They finally got back to me with their changes and 70% of them were not tool related but process related, so I changed the 30% and reminded them that we had now concluded #4 and they were on their own.

    I was receiving follow ups from them for months. I kept referring them to our trouble ticketing system to the tool owner for support.

    1. rubyrose*

      Great advice! I also, when dropping from the call, suggest they use the remaining time on the call to converse with each other to work out what they do next. You would be surprised (well, maybe not you) how many people think that because you are dropping they can use that as an excuse to their management about why they did not make any progress and need to set up another meeting for next week.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Yep. Been there. And depending on how important the relationship with the coworker is, you may have to resort to answers that, while not rude, are not strictly “nice.”

      I once used the following on a coworker who would not stop trying to dump an unpleasant task on my department: “The copy team will not be doing that. I have the full support of my supervisor on this.”

      Pretty sure she hated my guts for not rolling over, but again, depends on whether you *have* to make nice to people. This particular coworker was not beloved by anyone, including her own manager. Not sure why she was allowed to stick around.

      If I hadn’t done that, though, she would have continued her M.O. of leaving the unpleasant task done until the last possible second, then throwing up her hands, saying she was far too busy to get it done in time, and that my team (or whatever other poor sap was willing to say yes to her) would need to do it instead.

      1. Oh God, so anon*

        My office has a department that is running in perpetual last-minute mode. Part of this is because they’ve lost a couple of key people recently, but part of it is just that their manager is absolute crap at building a schedule and holding the team to it.

        A couple of weeks ago, they asked my boss for a piece for the website about a new teapot we’re working on. Boss wrote a few hundred words and sent it to me for a quick review, which I turned around in half an hour because I knew he was under the gun. Boss then sent this to the last-minute-mode team, where it ping-ponged through at least four people, all of whom tweaked the document, before it came back to Boss with TONS of tracked changes and a request to review them all by EOB — and this was at 5:15.

        Boss’s email was brilliantly simple: “This has been through at least five people since I finished it, and there is an entire team of people responsible for vetting this content. I will be happy to look at the *finished, edited* piece once your team thinks they’re done with it, but as I am about to leave for the day, that won’t happen until tomorrow.”

  14. TootsNYC*

    I don’t even think you need to say “because of X and Y.”

    Just say, “I won’t have time to get to it. Sorry.” or “Cecil told me not to take on anything else if I don’t have time, so I won’t be able to.”

    Those colleagues are not your boss, and you don’t need to justify why you’re saying no.

  15. animaniactoo*

    “Yes, but I have to say no to even quick projects or they all add up. Individually isn’t the problem, it’s a cumulative effect. Sorry!”

  16. OwnedByTheCat*

    This is so timely and something I’ve been really learning. I’m 37 weeks pregnant and run my own department so I’m working furiously to meet major priorities before I go on leave. I’ve finally learned how to say “not my job” and many variations of it when people come to me with things that…well, aren’t my job.

  17. Avyncentia*

    I may have written out these phrases on index cards and taped them to the bottom of my computer screen. From a person who chronically says “yes” to everything, thank you!

  18. curmudgeon*

    I have the added fun that I get told “we’re all working really hard and I need you to take this on” and “well, I’m making it part of your job now”; tried to push back on something last week and got called on the carpet for saying no.
    I’ve been told that there are no raises happening and even if there were I wouldn’t be getting one; this is classified as “entry level” but I’m doing managerial, exempt work. The past 6 weeks I’ve averaged 50 hours a week (including some weekends) but not allocated any extra time off or breaks.
    All around me I hear other staff having friendly conversations, actually leaving for lunch, getting time off when working extra hours and i’m drowning under work.

    1. Jenny Next*


      I sincerely hope you’re job-hunting. What you’re doing isn’t sustainable.

      (And you have double-checked to make sure you’re really doing exempt work, right?)

  19. Drew*

    My problem is related: I do a fair amount of creative work, and sometimes that involves reading rather than writing. Because it looks like I’m not busy to someone outside, I’ll get a fair number of people swinging by with “just one quick question.” (Narrator: it is never one OR quick.)

    I have taken to putting a sign on the back of my monitor, where it’s visible to anyone walking up to my workstation, to the effect that I’m in research mode and cannot be interrupted for anything less than “building on fire” emergencies, so if something CAN be emailed to me, it SHOULD be, and I’ll get to it during my next email break. (Tangent: Boomerang for Gmail just added an email pause feature that is a godsend, because it lets me whitelist key people — basically, my boss, our CEO, and our president — whose email gets through regardless. Everything else gets a polite “I’m on an email break for the next hour” note.)

    Rarely, I’ve had to take it to the next step: “I’m working offsite today because I cannot afford walk-up interruptions.” I try not to do this often because there’s at least one person in senior management who believes working remotely is the same as not working at all; this person is very much a “butt in your chair” manager. They have other charming qualities. Fortunately, my immediate boss is also of the “sometimes you just have to be elsewhere” mindset and has had my back so far.

  20. nonegiven*

    My husband had this problem.

    Foreman: I need you in $town today to do x.

    I can order the materials, but two weeks before I can schedule that.”

    Foreman: Really? I saw you loading $materials onto your truck.

    “Yeah, for big client, that’s been scheduled for a month and will take 4 days. Two weeks. How long have you known you’d need x in $town today?”

    Foreman: 3 weeks.

    Eventually, he got it because DH was the only one who could legally do x.

  21. Phoenix Phan*

    I have similar issues with stakeholder time management and workload balance, but my stakeholders are mostly the c-suite within my firm. Any advice on (very politely) pushing back?

Comments are closed.