Congratulations, you’re the office super star! You always meet your deadlines. Your boss is constantly emailing you with fast-but-welcomed praise (“Great work on this!” “You rock!” “How did I ever survive without you?!”). And your coworkers regularly want your “input” on things.
The only teensy little problem here is that your workload is bursting at the seams—everyone knows you’re good, and so you’re the first draft pick for the new project, the big pitch, the Anything New That Seems to Be Going On Lately. You’ve heard of burnout, and when you look down at your once pristine Milly pencil skirt, you can practically see the singed edges. So, this article is your exit strategy.
The next time someone pulls a Bill Lumbergh and tries to sign you on for a project that you know you could help out with, but is just so not on your (or your boss’s) priority list, these comebacks will make you sound polite and professional—but will keep you out of the weeds.
1. “I’d love to help out with that, but my concentration needs to be on [insert task] right now.”
2. “My priority is [insert task] until [insert date]. Afterward, I’m happy to discuss taking this on.”
3. “I wish I could help, but I know I couldn’t give it the time it deserves right now.”
4. “I know [insert name] is really eager to take on a new project—perhaps we could spread the love?” Use this one if you really, actually do know of a star intern or assistant who is hungry to take on a new assignment, but needs a sponsor like you to mention his or her name.
5. “I could get this to you by [insert a date that’s actually realistic]. Let me know if that works on your end.” Only use this one if you don’t have the bandwidth to take on the assignment right now, but it sounds exciting enough that you’d want to work on it in the future.
6. “I’m under strict orders to focus on [insert project] at the moment. Next time!”This is a more casual response for sure, so only use it for a true outlier ask—like brainstorming with a peer whom you know could get a second opinion from plenty of other people.
7. “Unfortunately I’m not taking on extra work at this time, but thank you for thinking of me!” This is a nice, succinct response if you’re a freelancer with a very full plate. Work in an office? Skip this one.
8. “Unfortunately I’m not taking on extra clients at this time, but I can recommend [insert person].” Similarly, this is a good response if you’re a therapist, photographer, wedding planner, or any type of consultant. Recommending someone else = sweet, sweet karma.
9. “This sounds like a really exciting opportunity, but my schedule is full and so I’ll have to pass at this time.” Perfect for when someone wants you to attend an event or conference.
The trend here? Start with something positive—you wish you could help or it sounds like an exciting opportunity, and then turn it down without feeling like you need to offer much detail. You don’t. You just need to say no—that way you both can move on.