How To Say No And Finally Stop The Burnout Cycle – 9 Powerful Strategies

So you joined a new company, eager to prove yourself and show the team how amazing you are.

When your boss asks if you want to join a committee, you’re honored and say yes. In fact, you never say no to opportunities, tasks, or invitations.

When your colleague asks you to help spruce up the presentation he’s working on, you jump at the chance to strengthen your ties.

When a call for someone to chair the holiday party comes through the slack channel, you raise your hand Hermione Granger style.

Hermione Granger

You are an all-star, a team player, a people-pleaser.

You’re starting to feel a bit overloaded but you’re confident that it will all pay off. Until…

The project you’re working on comes under a crunch time and now you’re working late and staying at your desk through lunch to stay on top of it all. Then when you have your quarterly review you score a mere “satisfactory” and there is no mention of your extra projects.

You’re maxed out on tasks that you now see will have no benefit to your promotional path but feel stuck doing them anyway. People see you as the “go-to” person for extra assignments and you only say no when you’re so overwhelmed it comes out as hostile instead of strategic and confident.

If this sounds all too familiar, you may be wondering….

How can you break the pattern?

Flip the Script: How to Say No

( & set healthy boundaries at work)

Make a list

List all of your projects, including the time-consuming tasks that might be more like office housework than actual projects – going for Starbucks runs, organizing the snack list for Fun Fridays, grabbing copy jobs for everyone on your way to the workroom, etc. For each one, note what skills and values you use while working on them, which pieces you enjoy, and what parts are frustrating or draining about each one. Check them against your personal mission and your vision of where you want to go with your career. How do they help or hinder your goal?

bullet journal

Check it twice

Once you’ve done a self-evaluation, bring your list to your manager. Ask for their perspective on which projects and tasks are a truly high priority and what projects can be set aside. Share your long term goals and ask for advice on which projects will help you gain the skills and experience that will lead you in the direction you would like to go in the company.

Get perspective

If you have a mentor, ask for their perspective as well. They may see an indirect path for some of your side projects that will help build relationships or lead to promotions that will be beneficial in the long run.

Use your intuition

Check the advice you’ve gathered against your gut. What makes sense logically doesn’t always fit emotionally or something may ring alarm bells with your intuition. Ultimately, if what doesn’t feel right can cost you more energy than it’s worth. Trust your own wisdom and KonMari the crap out of side projects that don’t spark joy.

Be strategic

Once you’ve identified which projects and tasks don’t serve you anymore, create your “no” strategy. Start with the side tasks and office housework that aren’t actual projects. Practice saying no so that you are prepared the next time Jim your cubical mate asks you to make copies for him since “you’re going to the copy machine anyway”. Or when the group looks at you when they ask who will type up the minutes from the meeting you’ll say “I’m glad to have been helping with this task for the last (x) meetings, but I’m ready to pass the torch to someone else.”

Don’t refill

When new requests or opportunities come your way, make your default answer “I’d love to help, but let me check my schedule and get back to you on that.” This will buy you some time to check in with yourself and your goals before you commit to any new activities.

Success Tips


Imagine the situation, the people involved and how you want to feel during and after the conversation. Think about the motives and desires of the other parties – how can you make this a win-win for all involved? Try to anticipate objections and how you will address them.

Practice with a friend, supporter, or coach

Tap someone who will be honest in their reactions and give you constructive feedback to help you with your delivery. Be clear that you are looking for feedback, not advice at this stage. It’s unhelpful to go around in circles over “should” related ideas. Use this as an opportunity to practice asking for what you really want and need while setting boundaries.

Set intentions before you go into the conversation.

What’s your primary goal? What’s your backup plan? “I will be confident and calm. No matter what happens, I will learn more about myself and my colleague that will help in future interactions.” Do a quick meditation, or even a simple set of cleansing breathes before you head in to talk so that you're showing up the way you want.

Want to go further? Grab 5 Steal-Worthy Scripts for Saying No

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