If you’re anything like 90% of my clients and friends, you’re struggling with burnout or over-busyness.

Let’s be real, it’s not easy to set boundaries, especially when you’re working hard to build your career and want to 1) be seen as a team player, 2) take every opportunity that comes your way to expand your skills or increase your visibility.

I’ve noticed that people who talk so clearly about your ability set boundaries and say NO…well, we’re a little older, not struggling to make our way up. We’re already there, where we want to be on the corporate ladder. Or we suffered some kind of illness or breakdown that made it more of a priority for us.

Look at Arianna Huffington who is the absolute queen (aka role model!) of this. She sold her business The Huffington Post after suffering a breakdown from exhaustion and then wrote a book and started a new business called Thrive focused on this very topic.

We’re looking at you and saying from our place up here, that you can do it differently than we did.

So, yeah, that’s me, too. I own it.

I made myself sick trying to be everything to everyone.

And when I had my son, I wanted to reprioritize and find ways to set boundaries that would allow me to continue to grow my career without giving in to every little request that came my way.

As I did it, I noticed that as I was clearly saying no, respect for me grew in ways I was not expecting.

Ooooh, gimme some of that please! 
Sara Holtz, the host of Advice To My Younger Me podcast and I have had a few fun conversations over the last couple of years. She interviewed me on her podcast and then I interviewed her on my Facebook Live series about this very topic.

We talked about how you don’t have a limitless capacity to say YES and still do the things you need to do, whether they’re things on your to do list, your career advancement or your personal life.

Once you create a vision of what you want in your life around relationships, health and community you can ask yourself, “Am I spending time on things that don’t matter?”

This will help you choose the projects and things that you do every day that will help you get ahead, get promoted, get noticed. vs the busy work or when people ask you to do that won’t help YOU toward your goals.

  1. Stop the reflex to say YES by just saying, “Let me think about that.” or “Let me get back to you.” We’re hard wired to please people and be focused on our relationships. Practice your NO muscle in low risk situations. Scientists say we have a “harshness bias” that we’re afraid people will judge us more harshly than they actually will do. In the other person’s day, this is just one more conversation that doesn’t hold much weight for them, but we spend too much time worrying about our no.
  1. Ask yourself, “Is this something that is consistent with my goals? Is it important to the other person? Are they too lazy to do it themselves or are you just the first person they asked to help?” Sara told a story about a law partner who asked her to participate in making the law library more technologically advanced. She looked at her goals and said, “I need all my non-billable time to go to my plan. I just can’t do it this year.” And the partner said, “I understand and think you’re right, that is a better use of your time.” She asked, “Then why did you ask me?” and he said, “I didn’t think you’d say no so I came to you first.” She was worried that he’d think she wasn’t a team player when all he thought was, “OK, Sara can’t do it, I’ll go to the next person.”
  2. Sometimes when you say NO, it can enhance your reputation. Having boundaries is a leadership skill. For example, when Sara said NO to the library project, it elevated her in the eyes of the partner as someone who had business goals and is investing in growing her business. I’ve found this to be true for me, too. When I say, “Let’s find a time on my calendar to work on that project” it subtly tells the person I’m working with that I’m good enough at my job to be busy and in demand. When we can’t find a time on my calendar for a week or two out, it subtly tells that person that they were lucky to get time with me. And if that time didn’t work for them, if they needed it sooner, I was still able to be helpful by suggesting another resource who could help.

I know what you’re thinking, “That would never work here! People would revolt!” 

So I dare you to try it out a time or two and see what happens.

Challenge your assumptions about how people will respond.

The bottom line
You want to be seen as confident and competent and a leader.

You may or may not want to be promoted to a leader of people, but you still want to be seen as a leader of your work, your job and your life.

In the next week, say NO to 5 requests. This is just about exercising your NO muscle.

Even saying, “No thank you” when a waiter asks if you’d like dessert is practice!

Leaders don’t say YES to everything. They learned how to say NO in ways that elevated their position and reputation. You can learn it to.


P.S. Want to know exactly what to say and how to say it? 
Here are two more resources for you:

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