turn down work

9 Ways to Turn Down Extra Work Politely

You just got a message from your manager about reaching out to a new client, or a teammate asks if you could pick up some of their slack when they go on vacation. But you’re already stretched thin, and you’re worried that you’ll have to say yes just because you can’t figure out how to say no. Luckily, turning down work doesn’t have to be done in a way that puts your relationships at risk. Read on to learn some great ways to turn down extra work politely.

1. “You know, I could do this if…”

Before you turn down work definitively, make sure that you’re not saying no to a project that could be interesting or engaging. Even if you have a lot on your plate, this might be a project where you can have the opportunity to think creatively and innovate something exciting. You can always delegate some of your other desk work or bump other items down the priority list.

Also, you should know how much your “no” will cost your coworker and how much your participation would mean to them. If they’re just as overloaded as you are, you can work together to pick up the slack for each other.

Pro tip: Project management tools like Hive are a great way for you and your teammates to manage priorities and see how individual responsibilities fit within the broader team workload. Try Hive for free and start taking control of your workload today.

2. “I don’t know enough about what this would entail.”

Maybe part of the reason you’re hesitant to take on new work is that projects are constantly evolving. You know a task will probably start small, but who knows about the blockers or snags you might hit along the way.

Be sure to ask questions about the project’s scope, goals, and importance before accepting it or turning it down. If they can’t give you a clear answer, this task could be a lot more work than you’re bargaining for.

3. “I actually know someone else that might be a better fit for this.”

Next, if you’re really going to turn down someone’s offer for extra work, you can always recommend someone else who might enjoy the opportunity more.

Think of someone working underneath you who might want an opportunity for advancement or a teammate that’s looking to foster new skills. That way, your coworkers can benefit, and you can have less on your plate.

4. “Sorry, but my schedule’s already full.”

If you’re invited to a meeting or a conference that you just can’t squeeze in, you can use the tried-and-true method of referencing your packed schedule.

If your manager or teammate stresses the importance of the meeting, don’t feel guilted into tagging along – they could record it for you to watch at your leisure or send meeting notes and follow-up items after the meeting concludes.

5. “Is there another way to solve this problem?”

Sometimes, the person asking you to take on extra work might be trying to solve an issue by working hard and not smart. You can offer your problem-solving and critical-thinking expertise by taking a few minutes to cut the problem down to one or two main questions. Then, develop resourceful solutions that don’t take up any more time than they need to.

By minimizing busy work for both you and the other party, you’ll be able to bond more as teammates over your shared ingenuity.

6. “I can’t do that because my priority is on something else.”

This is a great response to give if you’ve been signed onto a project by another person who only lets you know after the fact. Interestingly, research from the 1970s shows that when you add the word “because” to a statement or request, the other party is more willing to oblige.

Explaining your rationale allows the other person to empathize with you, creating a convincing argument in your favor. Just try not to go overboard when you’re explaining yourself, or else you might come off as defensive instead of descriptive.

7. “I might be interested in this if we could rethink the timeline.”

Next, rather than turning down someone’s request, you can compromise. Rethinking the timeline is another way to suggest that you might be able to work together toward accomplishing this task in a more reasonable way.

This response isn’t a firm no, as it allows you to potentially be involved in the project when you have more free time. But if there’s no sense of urgency, then this project won’t be at the top of your priority list – and a question about the timeline of the project is a great way to gauge how urgent it really is.

8. “Thanks for thinking of me!”

Another great way to politely turn down extra work is to let the other party know how much you appreciate being considered. This is an especially great statement to use with a manager, as you may have been hand-picked by them to take on this particular task. If you come off appreciatively and respectfully, you won’t leave the exchange feeling like you’re letting the other party down as you’re recognizing how special you feel for being chosen.

Responding in this way is also a great lead-in for suggesting someone else who might be a good fit for the role. It gives you the chance to think of someone else after someone thought of you, creating a chain reaction of inclusive company culture.

9. “Sorry, I just can’t do that now.”

Last but not least, you should feel empowered to say no without any other excuses, options, or reasons. If you say no too gingerly, the other party might think that there’s a chance to change your mind and bring you on board. You know your bandwidth best, and you know when people are placing unrealistic expectations on you in terms of workload.

So be straightforward, and say “no.” However, you’ll want to shy away from being too stern, as you don’t want to damage your relationships, especially if a manager asks you to take on more work.