I was burnt out and overworked my first 2 years as a lawyer. Then I learned how to set boundaries and say ‘no.’



For the first two years of my career as an attorney, I took on any extra work that was thrown at me.It was overwhelming and I quickly realized I needed to learn how to say “no.”I learned how to set boundaries. Here’s how I politely decline things I don’t have time for.

During my first week as a first-year attorney at a big law firm, I sat in a swanky conference room and heard the message loud and clear: It was my job to make every other attorney’s job easier. That meant I should never say “no” to work.

For the next two years, “yes” was my go-to response when asked to do something for someone else, even when it caused my workload to outstrip my capacity, put my ability to deliver on other work commitments at risk, and led to sleep deprivation.

Despite my awareness of this, I still didn’t know how to say no, so I kept saying yes.

That is until a wonderful senior associate taught me how to decline work — even when I “couldn’t.” Here’s her advice and other strategies I picked up along the way that helped “no” become one of this Midwestern people-pleaser’s favorite phrases.

Your first response should always be ‘let me check my calendar’

First, always respond to any new request for your time with something like, “Oh, that sounds great! I need to check my calendar first.” This gives you breathing space to evaluate whether you can and want to take the new project on and helps you not give a knee-jerk “yes” just because you feel too uncomfortable saying “no.”

It can be helpful to practice this statement. Say it out loud so if someone surprises you with a request on a call or when they’re just swinging by your office, you have the phrase at the ready.

The team player’s ‘no’

That senior associate also generously shared this advice with that overwhelmed past version of me: If you decide you cannot take on a work project, depending on whether you can give a firm no given your position and work culture, you can use these phrases to decline while still coming off as a “team player” (and tailor them to suit your personality):

If you can say no: “This project sounds really exciting. I, unfortunately, can’t take it on given my current work commitments. I wish you all the best putting together a team to help you knock this out of the park.”

If you can’t give a firm no: “This project sounds really exciting. Given my current commitments [consider listing out the main work projects on your plate to make your work visible], I can take this on in two weeks. I completely understand if you need someone who can jump on this right away.”

Again, you may want to practice these phrases and even consider saving an email template along these lines to save you time and anxiety.

It’s critical to find “no” phrasing you’re comfortable with so you actually feel comfortable saying it when necessary. While the idea that “no is a complete sentence” has motivational value, its practical application is unrealistic for many.

For example, if your boss asks you to take on a new project, can you really just say “no” and walk away? Or if a friend texts you to grab lunch, can you really just respond with a flat “no” and expect her not to be offended? This matters because to actually say no (which we must do to keep ourselves from feeling overwhelmed), we need to be relatively comfortable doing so.

Expect to experience some pushback

I used to gear myself up for the “no,” deliver it, feel anxious yet proud of myself for saying no, and then get surprised when people would push back. Because I wasn’t prepared for it and was reeling emotionally, I’d roll over and take the project on.

Especially in the workplace, people may push back against your no. While it doesn’t feel good and can be deflating, we’re all about realistic strategies here, and it’s realistic that you will get pushback. So let’s prepare for it.

While you don’t need to explain the details of your current workload when you initially say no, be clear on them yourself. This will give you more objective evidence to point to if you do get pushback. For example, if you said you couldn’t take the new project on for two weeks, be able to point to the three projects or deadlines taking up the bulk of your time over the next two weeks. Focus on the objective workload you’ve already committed to.

Saying no — frequently — is critical to creating boundaries around your time so you can show up strong at work and live a life you’re excited about. Make sure you feel as comfortable as you can saying no so you actually do it, and don’t feel embarrassed if you have to practice out loud by yourself to get there. It’s a critical skill, and the freedom it brings is worth a little awkward practice.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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