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Productivity tips, calendar hacks, & product updates from the Reclaim team.

How to Say No Professionally: 7 Work Examples
October 17, 2022

So you’ve said “yes” - perhaps even something along the lines of, “totally, absolutely no problem!” - to another project you definitely do not have time for in your busy week. Or maybe you’ve been hitting accept on every meeting invite that lands in your inbox despite an already jam-packed calendar, or are taking on extra responsibilities that are stretching you too thin.

And if you’ve been saying yes to everything long enough – you might have found your way to this article feeling chronically overrun, stressed, and mentally exhausted. Sounding a little too familiar? You wouldn’t be alone in struggling to create healthy boundaries around work and say ‘no’ to things you don’t have time for. 

In fact, 78.7% of workers report feeling stressed by increasing task loads and lack of time to get it all done every week, and a shocking 77% admit they’ve dealt with burnout at their current job. But despite the overwhelming statistics suggesting employees already have too much on their plate – why do professionals still have a hard time saying ‘no’ to things outside their bandwidth? 

In this blog post, we’re going to share how to professionally say ‘no’ at work in 7 practical scenarios, so you can better plan around your capacity for more productive workweeks and a healthier work-life balance

The benefits of saying no at work

Between juggling an average of 25.6 meetings, today’s individual contributors manage to complete only 53.5% of planned tasks every week. The reality is, when employees are spending their days sitting through meetings that could have been an email or context switching around a monstrous to-do list – it’s basically impossible for them to be truly productive, even when they’re super ‘busy’ every day. 

Instead, these teams end up with meeting fatigue and no time for high-value focused work – with exhausted employees who feel unmotivated and dissatisfied with their jobs. A staggering 60.2% of professionals reported being burnt out as of October 2022, and this doesn’t just negatively affect team productivity in the immediate future. The long-term consequence of this kind of work culture contributes to the rise in employee disengagement that has been fueling movements like quiet quitting and even The Great Resignation, which in turn puts even more stress on the remaining workforce. 

Ironically, taking on more than you can handle actively jeopardizes your productivity. Trying to manage an unrealistic workload leads to rushed, lower quality work, reduced performance, and increased time anxiety and stress. And when there simply isn’t enough time during the workweek to get it all done? It’s not uncommon for employees to sacrifice their personal time to try and keep up – with up to 26% of work being completed outside of standard working hours. 

Those same ‘high achieving’ employees actually saw some of the highest levels of exhaustion and burnout, with many of them reporting that they were ready to quit. Even though it can be difficult, there are many benefits in learning to say ‘no’ at work. 

Top benefits of saying no at work:

  • Improve your time management by more accurately planning your capacity.
  • Reduce stress by having enough time to get things done before deadlines.
  • Boost productivity and work quality by having enough time for focused deep work. 
  • Streamline performance by working towards true priorities with less decision paralysis.
  • Establish a healthy work-life balance by setting boundaries around work. 
  • Prevent burnout with sustained motivation and better job satisfaction.

But even knowing all of these benefits, why can it be so difficult to say ‘no’?

Why is it hard to say no at work?

Most professionals are aware when they’re stretched too thin at work, and yet still continue saying ‘yes’ to extra tasks, meetings, or additional responsibilities they don’t have the time or energy for. While it might seem counterintuitive, there are many reasons why it can be hard to say ‘no’ at work.

Reasons it’s hard to say no at work:

  • Not wanting to disappoint others
  • Believing it would be rude/lazy/selfish
  • Trying to avoid conflict or confrontation
  • Feeling like you have to prove yourself
  • Struggling with imposter syndrome
  • Dealing with hustle culture mentality
  • Fearing consequences or retribution
  • Wanting to genuinely help the team

Professionals who are inherently people pleasers or who struggle with imposter syndrome might have a more difficult time setting boundaries around work, and research has found women find it even harder to say ‘no’ than their male counterparts. 

Ultimately, your time and energy are a limited resource. Learning to identify urgencies vs. priorities, actually deprioritize tasks and meetings, and decline requests for your time when you simply don’t have any to spare is key to maximizing your productivity. And while it might seem impossible now - like anything - learning to say ‘no’ takes time and practice, especially when you’re deconstructing those pesky preconceived notions. 

7 examples of how to say no politely at work

There are many ways to decline non-priorities and strategically communicate what you don’t have time for. In some cases, you don't even have to say the dreaded two-letter word at all! Let’s take a look at some examples of how to effectively say ‘no’ and set healthy boundaries with these 7 common work scenarios.

1. How to say no to your boss

Saying ‘no’ to your manager or boss can be particularly challenging, but communicating your limits to superiors is especially important. Your manager wants for you to succeed in your role, so being transparent about things like your capacity and availability can help them create more effective plans for both you and the rest of the team. 

A 1:1 meeting with your boss is a great opportunity to bring up your concerns about something you don't have the bandwidth for. Instead of just saying ‘no’ – actually walk your manager through the priorities you’ve currently planned your time around, and explain what you would need to punt to complete their request. It shows you’re not shirking responsibility or work, and also allows your manager to offer feedback about whether your priorities are aligned with their goals for you. With this approach, they can effectively give you permission to say ‘no’ when appropriate or help take some things off your plate to make time for a priority request. 

2. How to say no to meetings

Meetings have increased almost 70% across the board since 2020. Unfortunately this means many professionals end up sitting through a lot of unproductive meetings every week. Instead of just saying 'no' to meetings you’re not actively participating in – actually reach out to the organizer about whether your attendance is really required or whether you could get a readout instead. 

In reality, organizers might not review the attendance list for recurring meetings or even realize that the event might be pulling you from more high-value task work. This approach can clear up some non-priority meetings in your calendar, and moreover creates pressure for organizers to review the value of work meetings on the team calendar that might be pulling employees from productive independent work.  

Bonus tip: If meetings keep getting scheduled in your personal time, you can also try setting working hours for your meetings in Google Calendar. If you want even more scheduling control (to protect time in the morning for deep work for example) – try a productivity app like Reclaim.ai which allows you to set your working hours and unique meeting hours for when you’re available for collaboration. Suggesting a weekly company-wide no-meeting day might also be a good idea to make sure everyone has time defended for focused work to get things done. 

3. How to say no to work during personal hours

Constantly overextending yourself is not a sustainable solution. Putting in extra effort is fine every once in a while when necessary, but saying ‘no’ to extra hours at work when it’s exhausting you or compromising your work-life balance is important. If your workload is simply unmanageable in the work hours that you do have available in a week and you’re finding yourself burning personal time to keep up – it’s important to communicate the situation to your manager before you burn yourself out.

Share what priorities have been taking up all your time and what is left over. This allows for your manager to tell you where your work hours would be best allocated, and help resolve where the extra workload can be deprioritized or delegated so you're not overworking yourself. 

Bonus tip: This also means setting personal boundaries with yourself! If you’re already doing your best to be time efficient with a heavy workload, learn that stepping away at the end of the work day - even if you haven’t finished everything - is okay. You can only do so much.

4. How to say no to a project at work 

Saying ‘no’ to an extra project at work starts with you knowing your own capacity. If you haven’t already heard of time blocking, it’s a calendar management technique in which you schedule realistic time ‘blocks’ in your calendar for each individual to-do you have to complete including meetings, routines, and task work. This method allows you to better plan your workload around your availability every week, and identify whether or not you have time to take on a project with everything you already have going on.

Time blocking also allows you to actually show where your time is committed to support why you have to say ‘no’, and can help you audit your time to analyze your productivity. By learning how to effectively prioritize your tasks around your actual availability, you can align your efforts with  true priorities every week and decline non-priority projects.

Bonus tip: Being able to identify urgencies vs. important tasks is key here! Try using a tool like the Eisenhower Matrix to effectively sort your projects by priority when everything feels really important. That way if something important does come up last minute, you can reprioritize your schedule to accommodate without getting blocked by decision paralysis.

5. How to say no professionally in an email

While communicating face-to-face (or the virtual equivalent!) is usually preferred, sometimes an email is the best way to reach someone when you have to decline an invite or request.

A foolproof approach to politely saying ‘no’ in an email is to: thank them for reaching out, briefly explain why you don’t have the bandwidth for their request right now, offer an alternative time frame for when you might be able to realistically get it done, and then kindly signing off. If you’re looking for some email templates to help you get started in the right direction, you can check out these 7 templates for inspiration.

6. How to say no to more responsibility at work

Getting a promotion at work is usually something to be celebrated! But what happens when you’re getting assigned responsibilities that you can't manage or aren't being appropriately compensated for?

It's important to be crystal clear on the expectations of your existing role from the beginning. When new duties arise, consider negotiating the additional responsibility as an opportunity for career growth (if that aligns with your goals) or, alternatively, clearly set a boundary stating that you can’t take on more with your existing workload. 

Bonus tip: A big part of learning to say ‘no’ - at work, and in every other area of your life - means learning to respect your own worth. The rise-and-grind mentality has ingrained in many professionals that personal boundaries must be sacrificed for success. This hustle culture has led many employees to run themselves into the ground, while creating work environments that don’t support sustainable productivity or a positive company culture. Saying ‘no’ to responsibilities outside of your job scope or compensation sets a boundary about how you're willing to be treated. And that’s powerful not only in protecting your own wellbeing at work – but also in paving the way for future professionals to have a standard for their value on a team. 

7. How to say no without saying no

Even with these tips, saying ‘no’ might still be uncomfortable for some of us. The good thing is that there are ways to actually build out a system that works for you in avoiding meeting conflicts and over-scheduling.

Time blocking your calendar with all of your commitments is a great start in sharing your actual availability with others who are trying to schedule with you, or gauge your capacity for new projects. Reclaim can automate the process by syncing tasks right to your calendar with integrations to your favorite project management apps, and even find the best time to schedule your important recurring habits. Another tip is to add your personal commitments to your work calendar to help avoid awkward scheduling conflicts. Reclaim makes syncing all of your calendars easy with the Calendar Sync feature so you can avoid having to say ‘no’ to another double-booked meeting altogether.

Say no at work without feeling guilty ❤️

Saying ‘no’ to extra work is an appropriate time management technique to help you stay aligned with your true priorities and create healthy boundaries around work. Unfortunately, many professionals have been falsely conditioned to believe that setting boundaries at work makes them rude, ungrateful, or lazy. 

The truth is, protecting your time and energy by deprioritizing tasks and meetings outside your capacity actually allows you to be more productive and motivated in the long run which is a win for employees and employers. And by creating transparency around your availability and effectively communicating it to your team and managers – you can start to create a schedule that works for your success and protects your wellbeing.  

How do you feel about saying ‘no’ at work? Any tips we missed that you’d like to share? Tweet us @reclaimai to get in on the conversation! We love hearing from you.

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Less than 50% of issues get completed every cycle, or sprint. Learn how to connect your Linear.app issue tracking projects with Google Calendar so you can make time for important tasks every sprint.
Top 14 Project Management Skills for the Remote Work Era
November 24, 2021

Top 14 Project Management Skills for the Remote Work Era

Which project management skills do you need to lead a remote working team? As the coordinator for a highly complex show, project managers need an arsenal of people skills and technical skills.
Team Meetings: 5 Types & Best Practices for Scheduling
November 12, 2021

Team Meetings: 5 Types & Best Practices for Scheduling

What is a team meeting? A gathering to build relationships, collaborate, share updates, and align your team. But with 50% of the workweek in meetings, orgs need to consider if they’re overscheduling.
Productivity Trends Report: One-on-One Meeting Statistics
November 2, 2021

Productivity Trends Report: One-on-One Meeting Statistics

Meetings have increased 69.7% since before the pandemic. Professionals now average 21.5 hours in meetings each week, with over 500% increase in one-on-one meetings due to the shift to remote work.
Effective 1:1 Meetings: How to Better Prepare & Schedule
October 26, 2021

Effective 1:1 Meetings: How to Better Prepare & Schedule

One on one meetings, or 1:1s, are a recurring check-in between two team members to discuss priorities, projects and goals. But are you using them effectively?
Calendar Heroes: Chris Parsons, Co-Founder & CTO at Lollipop
October 20, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Chris Parsons, Co-Founder & CTO at Lollipop

In this edition of Calendar Heroes, we talk to Chris Parsons, co-founder and CTO of Lollipop, to learn his style, tools, and methods for balancing priorities while leading an early-stage startup.
Calendar Heroes: Vishwesh Jirgale, VP of Engineering at Mindtickle & Angel Investor
October 14, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Vishwesh Jirgale, VP of Engineering at Mindtickle & Angel Investor

VP of Engineering at Mindtickle and Angel Investor, Vishwesh Jirgale, shares how he gets things done and achieves a productive workday. Check it out!
What is Focus Time? How to Prioritize Productivity
October 13, 2021

What is Focus Time? How to Prioritize Productivity

Focus time is a dedicated session for uninterrupted productive work. But with each meeting, Slack message, email and social media distraction, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on track.
Calendar Heroes: Philippe Mesritz, VP Customer Experience & Customer Operations at Khoros
October 6, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Philippe Mesritz, VP Customer Experience & Customer Operations at Khoros

VP of customer experience & customer operations at Khoros, Philippe Mesritz shares how he optimizes his time to get things done. Check it out!
Calendar Heroes: Megan Killion, Founder of Coven Cloud & MK Consulting
September 29, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Megan Killion, Founder of Coven Cloud & MK Consulting

Megan is a full-time working mother of four who runs three successful companies, Megan Killion Consulting, newly launched startup Coven Cloud, and a property rental business. See how she makes time!
More Calendar Control for Meetings! Reclaim Free & Busy
September 28, 2021

More Calendar Control for Meetings! Reclaim Free & Busy

Add more productivity and control to your smart calendar with advanced Reclaim free and busy event hashtags. Block time for no-meeting days, focus time, meeting times, and clock-out of task scheduling
Top 7 Time Management Tools (for Busy People)
September 23, 2021

Top 7 Time Management Tools (for Busy People)

82% of people don’t have a time management system, but there are hundreds of apps available to improve productivity for every working style. Find your best fit in the top 7 time management tools list.
Job Burnout: How to Fix at Your Workplace
September 21, 2021

Job Burnout: How to Fix at Your Workplace

Over two-thirds of employees have experienced job burnout recently, and more than 50% of all annual turnover results from burnout. See which signs to look for and how to prevent them at your company.
Top 5 Work Habits to Boost Productivity
September 14, 2021

Top 5 Work Habits to Boost Productivity

See the top 5 work habits to try to boost your productivity. If you’re seeking a promotion, trying to pivot your career, or just simply looking to step your game up in the workplace, this is for you.
Calendar Heroes: Chris Hunt, Staff Site Reliability Engineer at Stack Overflow
September 10, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Chris Hunt, Staff Site Reliability Engineer at Stack Overflow

Working on a team that is spread across 10 different time zones and our Calendar Hero, Chris Hunt lets us in on how he is able to do it. Check it out!
Durable Identity: Employee-Friendly SaaS for Life Changes
September 7, 2021

Durable Identity: Employee-Friendly SaaS for Life Changes

The average person changes jobs every 4.1 years, but you shouldn't have to re-sign up for every SaaS app that often. The future of work will be more durable - your identity will survive life changes.
Weekly Status Reports: 3 Steps to Reduce Meetings & Boost Productivity
August 31, 2021

Weekly Status Reports: 3 Steps to Reduce Meetings & Boost Productivity

"This meeting could’ve been an email.” We're all thinking it. Even 71% of senior managers feel their meetings are unproductive. Reduce meetings and boost productivity with weekly status reports.
The Best Time to Meditate? Prioritize Self-Care
August 26, 2021

The Best Time to Meditate? Prioritize Self-Care

The best time to meditate depends on your intention and your schedule. But no matter when you meditate, you can reap the benefits. The important thing is that you make time for this healthy habit.
Top 6 ADHD Organization Tools
August 24, 2021

Top 6 ADHD Organization Tools

Staying organized can feel like a constant battle for people with ADHD before you find your ideal rhythm and workflow. Here are the top ADHD organization tools to help you become more productive.
No-Meeting Days: Top 4 Advantages & How to Start at Your Company
August 19, 2021

No-Meeting Days: Top 4 Advantages & How to Start at Your Company

Are meetings consuming your workweek? 78% of people feel their meeting schedule is out of control - see how one no-meeting day a week can improve your productivity, team morale and prevent burnout.
Calendar Heroes: Ben Hutton, JSON Schema Specification Lead at Postman
August 17, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Ben Hutton, JSON Schema Specification Lead at Postman

Working as JSON Schema Specification Lead at Postman, Ben shares how he balances priorities while developing the JSON Schema strategy and it's tooling, and supports the open-source community.
Calendar Heroes: Shay Kingsbury, Program Manager | Go To Market at Hootsuite
August 11, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Shay Kingsbury, Program Manager | Go To Market at Hootsuite

Shay Kingsbury at Hootsuite shares how she balances priorities while leading merger and acquisition integration and Go To Market for Sparkcentral at the social media marketing and management platform.
Using Slack ‘Scheduled Send’ + Reclaim.ai to Schedule Messages
August 10, 2021

Using Slack ‘Scheduled Send’ + Reclaim.ai to Schedule Messages

Slack released a much-anticipated feature in June of 2021: scheduled sends for Slack messages. This, paired with some awesome Status syncing capabilities from Reclaim, can help you become a rockstar Slack communicator and role model for your team.
Calendar Heroes: Michele Wiedemer, Manager of Customer Education at Snyk
August 9, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Michele Wiedemer, Manager of Customer Education at Snyk

Michele Wiedemer at Synk shares how she balances priorities while developing the education training program for security champions and developers at the open source security platform.
Best Time to Exercise? Morning, Afternoon or Whenever
August 4, 2021

Best Time to Exercise? Morning, Afternoon or Whenever

Exercising for as little as 15 minutes a day can increase your lifespan by as much as 3 years, and you’ll sleep better and feel less stressed too. Here's how to optimize your workouts for the best time of day.
Make Time to Read: 5 Practical Tips for Busy People
July 28, 2021

Make Time to Read: 5 Practical Tips for Busy People

Reading has amazing benefits, and 35% of people want to do it more. It increases verbal intelligence, makes you a better leader, reduces stress, and fends off Alzheimer’s. Here are 5 tips to try out.
Calendar Heroes: Rohini Pandhi, Product @ Square
July 26, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Rohini Pandhi, Product @ Square

Rohini Pandhi, a Product Lead at Square, shares her style, tools and methodologies for balancing priorities while leading the product efforts for one of the top digital payment companies in the world.
15 Best Slack Apps for the Future of Work
July 22, 2021

15 Best Slack Apps for the Future of Work

Check out the top 15 Slack apps productive teams are using today to build and support the future of work at their organization across calendar management, project management, status updates, HR and team building.
Calendar Heroes: Q&A with Connor MacDonald, CMO at The Ridge
July 19, 2021

Calendar Heroes: Q&A with Connor MacDonald, CMO at The Ridge

Connor MacDonald at The Ridge shares his style, tools and methodologies for balancing priorities while leading the marketing vision for the brand that brought the world the first RFID-blocking wallet.
Clockwise vs. Reclaim.ai: 8 Key Differences in these Smart Calendar Tools
July 7, 2021

Clockwise vs. Reclaim.ai: 8 Key Differences in these Smart Calendar Tools

We get asked almost every day: what's the difference between Reclaim.ai and Clockwise? While we're both in the smart calendar space, there are some key differences to consider.
Naming Calendar Events: 5 Calendar Etiquette Tips
July 2, 2021

Naming Calendar Events: 5 Calendar Etiquette Tips

Need to create better calendar event titles to communicate context to your invitees, colleagues and incoming schedulers? Calendar communication starts with the first thing people see: the event title.
Lunch Breaks: 5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity
June 22, 2021

Lunch Breaks: 5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Want to improve your quality of work, energy level, and creativity? In this article, learn 5 ways in which taking a lunch will actually boost your productivity.
Effective Meetings vs. Pointless Meetings: How to Tell the Difference & Prioritize Your Own Time
June 17, 2021

Effective Meetings vs. Pointless Meetings: How to Tell the Difference & Prioritize Your Own Time

Learn the 5 key differences between effective vs. pointless meetings, and 3 tips to avoid unnecessary meetings getting booked on your calendar.
3 Ways to Find Work-Life Balance in the New Normal
June 10, 2021

3 Ways to Find Work-Life Balance in the New Normal

You want work-life balance, but work and life can't separate into equal halves. Forget balance, here are three ways to make work-life harmony a reality.
Reclaim just raised $4.8M in seed funding! 🎉
May 26, 2021

Reclaim just raised $4.8M in seed funding! 🎉

We're excited to announce that Reclaim has raised $4.8M in seed funding led by Index Ventures. Here's what comes next.
Pareto Principle: Using the 80/20 Rule for Priority Management
May 25, 2021

Pareto Principle: Using the 80/20 Rule for Priority Management

How to use the Pareto Principle 80/20 rule to block time for your priorities.
3 Single-Tasking Tips to Improve Your Focus
April 28, 2021

3 Single-Tasking Tips to Improve Your Focus

While you may think multitasking is a skill you can master, only 2.5% of people can do it effectively. Your brain performs best when “single-tasking”, focusing on only one thing at a time.
How to Create a Smart Calendar
April 22, 2021

How to Create a Smart Calendar

A smart calendar can help you simplify calendar management and boost productivity. Here's how to create a smart calendar so you can take control of your busy schedule.
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