IT Employment

Learning to say no!

Harping again on the subject of stress and burnout, I recently learned about the art of saying no. You will find that regularly taking on any job that you are asked to do will result in more tasks and projects coming your way.

Harping again on the subject of stress and burnout, I recently learned about the art of saying no. You will find that regularly taking on any job that you are asked to do will result in more tasks and projects coming your way. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, don't be tempted to agree to everything that is thrown at you. Remember, nobody is indispensable when they are dead.

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Sound familiar? Have you ever noticed that some of your colleagues seem to work the normal 9-5 and you get to run around for 12 or 14 hours?

Does your office have a long-hours culture? At one of my previous employers the culture was very much geared toward proving one’s commitment by working longer hours than the next person. There was even a system of appearing to be in the office -- a jacket left over the back of a chair, PC left on, and files open on the desk were intended to give the impression that the person had just stepped away from his or her desk for a moment; whereas in reality the employee had gone home. It was all a game that people played to try to appear busy; there was a lot of fear about job security.

Bitter experience has taught me that working longer does not necessarily mean that you will be more productive. I was told by my present boss that my job had been designed to be achievable in the hours I was paid to work. If I wasn’t able to complete all my tasks, then it must be my lack of organization rather than a shortage of time that was the problem.

I took this advice on board and rearranged my working day. My priority is my own health and well-being; the work comes second. I reviewed the jobs I was doing and pruned the ones that it was not possible to complete in the hours allocated. These days I work until my contracted time, and then I go home. Unless there is a good reason I don’t start in the morning until 9.00 am, my scheduled start time, and I finish at 5.00 pm.

I don’t worry about the things I can’t change, and things have gotten a lot better.

I’m working about twelve fewer hours each week, yet at my recent review, I was surprised to see that my productivity was one of the highest in the company. It means that work is going well, and I still have time to spend an hour on the beach each evening. As I am field-based, I am at the mercy of a mobile phone. A friend of mine regularly complains about the intrusive nature of his mobile, but the answer is simple. Record a suitable voicemail message and remember the single most useful feature of the mobile phone, the on/off switch. Mine goes on in the morning and is turned off at the end of the day.

I urge anyone who is finding it hard to keep up with the demands of his or her job to learn to say no to jobs that you can’t complete in the time allocated.

25 comments
mmk.alsulami
mmk.alsulami

We can't say "No" if we are looking for a better position...!

BankenJosephA
BankenJosephA

I work in academics. What is said here is just as true in academics. If we say "yes" to everything, then by default we end up saying "no" to other things that might even be more important in the long run. Learning to say "no" helps preserve the most precious commodity that we have: Time. Learning to say "no" is part of Life Management, and most us could do better! It takes practice and patience, but is worth the effort in the long run.

jeff.rahaeuser
jeff.rahaeuser

"I was told by my present boss that my job had been designed to be achievable in the hours I was paid to work. If I wasn???t able to complete all my tasks, then it must be my lack of organization rather than a shortage of time that was the problem." So what if your job was not designed to be achievable in the hours you are paid to work?

Joe_R
Joe_R

We can't be consumed with work. We need the time off, the vacations, etc. You put it quite nicely.

insan4it
insan4it

Yeah ! Quite true ... Everyone's human after all. But then again, there are still the Everybody, the nobody, the somebody and the anybody ... just that these bodies have forgotten to be human again.

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

i worked for oen company where I strove to be the best, to be the one who kept it all together. I'd say goodnight to everyone as they left and I was also the morning greeter when they came in. I just worked all the time. I would never go home if there was something I needed to do, it had ot be done then or it would add to my already busy day tomorrow. And then I got ill, really ill, REALLY run down, depressed, frustrated, worn out and sick. When I got myself back together, I took it easy for a while, realising that 5PM is time to leave, tomorrow's another day and all that. Funny enough, everything styill got done, everything still worked and it seems that my job simply took less time for some reason. I didn' tcut back on work, I didn't take on less, I just learned to work from 9-5. True bliss! Several years layter I worked for a company vased out of Eastern Canada. Thier sales reps would work until 8PM every night, while my 3-man office in the west shut down witha jolt at 4:30. when teh boss was visiting from the HO, he encouraged us to work late and get more done, I laughed and held out my hand. If I wanted to work those hours I'd work for myself, but I am sure as hell not signing a contract based on 40 hours an be EXPECTED to work 50+. So we still came in at 8:30 and went home at 4:30 everyday and even took full hour for lunch. By that time, nobody had any interest in putting in volountary overtime. They just doidn't get it, so we all left and they shut down out west, still not fully understanding the issue of people not wanting to work forced overtime for nothing. oh well, at least I had my health and, as always, moved on to bigger better opoortunities too.

rfolden
rfolden

"At one of my previous employers the culture was very much geared toward proving one???s commitment by working longer hours than the next person. There was even a system of appearing to be in the office ???" All TOO familiar with this, as it is almost a pissing match where I work to stay the latest. I've yet to figure out just who they are trying to impress, as the boss is in another state, and he goes home promptly at 5...

Ian Thurston
Ian Thurston

knows enough about your workload to be able to say "yes" or "no". That's you. If you haven't got a clearly articulated work plan that lays what you're doing, when, and why, then you can't defend your decisions. If you do, it's up to whoever wants to bump you off the rails to justify why your current project should suck hind tit.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...I don't say no all that often, but I certainly reserve, retain, and exercise the right to do so. Often, my wife isn't all that happy with the evenings I spend on the couch with a laptop, but since it assures the bills are paid so I get reletively little complaint.

C'Town LarryMac
C'Town LarryMac

Of course this is all predicated upon your systems only crashing during regular business hours and only servicing clients that exist within your time zone. I'm certainly not on the verge of burnout (as evidenced by the fact that I can read this article and post a reply in the middle of the afternoon) despite working occasional 14 hour days. Someimtes, saying NO and turning off your cell hpone is more a testament to one's work ethic, loyalty and reliability. It isn't always about taking a stand for what's right in the office place.

reisen55
reisen55

NO - when to avoid a project. A co-consultant I work with became legally involved with implementing VoIP for a lawyer's office. Problem was tha the never did it before but trusted his (brilliant really) technical knowledge to guide him along the road. Turned to be a disaster that ALMOST went legal against my friend (who I began to distance myself from) as he really hurt a KEY BUSINESS COMPONENT of the lawyer's business. NO - Learn when to stop becoming involved in projects you know nothing about. ***** NO - It cannot be done quickly or easily. I have done overnight and weekend migrations on servers and know the value of planning. Even small work can have big implications. Just upgraded a patient management system for a small office account, but I took every possible paranoid precaution to avoid any issues at all. NO - it is not easy and should be carefully planned, do not promise magic on the QT. ***** NO - to Home Computers. Home users have a world of issues and love to pay nothing and then argue about it. Let GeekSquad have that world, thank you very much. ***** NO - I have a life, thank you and as I am a survivor of one of the great server crashes of our century (101st Floor of 2 World Trade Center), I value time much more effectively now. Do not let your work follow you home, and NEVER let it come along on vacation if possible. ***** LASTLY - NO TO MICROSOFT VISTA. ah, that felt good.

network
network

At least at my job. If these jerks don't get their way (right or wrong, good or bad for the company, finances available or not), they go behind my back to whichever boss will listen to them. I then have to fight with the boss(es) to make them understand what is really going on. Someday very soon, this will cost me my job. I guess I just have too much integrity to be one of those "yes" people.

oscar.onorato
oscar.onorato

I am completely according to the author of the article.

bob
bob

Its been pointed out a few times in previous posts, but you not only have to learn how to say no, but how to know the right time to say yes. As a field engineer, many times I could've said no to an after-hours service call while on standby, but by saying yes I gained valuable knowledge the proved helpful in successive calls.

cgc1213
cgc1213

I was told that management expected not "just" 40 hours but at least 50-60hrs a week...that was from my previous Yes manager. I now have a new manager. Previous Yes manager is still putting in the long hours to impress management.

richstgmgr
richstgmgr

The correlative to saying NO when it is appropriate is to make sure your bosses, coworkers, clients, etc. know what a vacation is, and what it's meant for - to recharge your batteries, to spend uninterrupted time with your loved ones (or yourself, if that's your choice), and to return to your job relaxed and refreshed. If you take along your business cell phone or laptop, you're just ASKING for trouble.

david.shane
david.shane

Most backstabbers are trying to get the boss to focus their attention on you so that the attention is not focused on them. Try having a one on one with your boss. ask them to look at the positive things you've done and ask them nicely to consider the premise of this response. One way to figure out what your positive accomplishments are is to rewrite your resume. Then if your boss doesn't hear what you're trying to say you can always post the resume somewhere.

ken.meyerkorth
ken.meyerkorth

Problems with large companies and other places of employment is that managers seem to get kudos for the amount of crap that is carried up the hill, not the quality of the crap. That leads to backstabbing when there is a perception that you are nothing but a speedbump. The object lesson is to provide ample evidence to the contrary of what the backstabbers are reporting and point those other managers straight back at them. Make the backstabber fumble a bit and suddenly they leave you alone to work regular hours versus slave hours. Works for me.

iainwrig
iainwrig

I work with a bunch of people who just "go with the flow" as to not step on anyones toes. Lots of politics and "yes" people. However, compare your job to one where can you be a prick/outspoken but if you are wrong you will fired immeditately. Every workplace has its pros and cons, you just have to weigh out what works best for you. I think you integrity is great though, you should start a consulting firm and I will come work with you. Resume available on request. : P - iain

RWOCIT
RWOCIT

The key I have learned to saying "no" is to set priorities. If you have no priorities, then the simple routine tasks of your day will consume you and you will never get anything done. My particular priority places my family (I have 3 kids and one on the way) at the top of the list. While I love my job and the people with whom I work, the reality for me is that success is not measured by how much work I complete in a given day, but by the health of my family and the relationships I have with my wife and children. There will always be projects to complete, service requests to be addressed and calls to be returned, but once I miss an opportunity to spend time with my family, it is gone forever. It has taken much time for me to learn this discipline, but I've learned to prioritize my day just as I do trouble tickets. I find that as a result of this, I can work much more efficiently and effectively within the constraints of my 8-hour work day. This may not work for everyone and it was a HUGE paradigm for me, but at the ripe "old age" of 37, I feel much less stress and enjoyment in every area of my life!

Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

Not all, but many times when IT professionals are in the position where they have to say no, it is typically a symptom of a larger root cause. In software, there are deadlines that have slipped. Once in a while is OK, if it happens on every project, there are some systemic issues that need to be addressed. In IT Operations or help desk, it could be a PC crash or accidentally deleted file. Or maybe the coffee cup holder/CD ROM tray is stuck or a report isn't being generated. All of these are symptoms of IT having to react. Reacting and firefighting, although you get kudos for it, is what you want to avoid.

glgruver
glgruver

I accidentally left my work cell phone on my desk one weekend and that worked so well, that I keep it there all the time now. Love those quiet evenings and weekends!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

I hate that, I fin that it's an old myth that power hungry noobs try. I don't know about down there but here it is usually seen as a weak a$$ed attempt at sucking up. Whenever I have had staff stay late to impress me, it really doesn't do anything for me. I would rather see someone who could get in a full productive 8hour day than need to work overtime to show their stuff. Having been a mechanic I recognize that it isn't how much time you put in, but how efficient you are each day. Yes, I understand that you do need to work late sometimes; I do whatever it takes too, by choice but not when expected. If you can only fix cars for 8 hours a day, your performance is completely based on how many services you can perform in that time slot. If you can take care of jobs that are alotted 3 hrs but you only take 2.5 hrs, and do just as good a job, that's far more worthwhile in my mind. It's like when I was a network admin and had nothing to do, I used to tell the manager that it was a good thing. If I was a crappy admin, I'd be busy taking care of problems all night instead of having everything running well and not requiring so much of my time, which really makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

svasani
svasani

One has to be aware of the backstabbers and put them in check from time to time. Keeping silent or not reacting to backstabbing attempts makes life difficult and stressful at workplace.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

After all, our bosses pay us for a set number of hours, then expect ten more for free. Maybe we should ask the supermarket for ?20 worth of free food each time we go shopping, or for five free litres of petrol when we buy 20. Surprise surprise, it ain't going to happen.

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