5 Ways to Politely Turn Down Extra Work

Why is it hard to say ‘No’ to a task you know you’ll regret later? Maybe it’s because you don’t want to let the team down. Maybe you don’t want to break your record as someone who is reliable and always meets deadlines. Maybe you’re trapped in a moment fraught with vulnerability, and you’re shunted into saying ‘Yes’.

But sometimes you have to turn down a task in the politest way possible, or risk stress, resentment, anger, and worse, burnout. When you set boundaries professionally while not seeming like a slacker, you show that you’re brave enough to put your well-being first without feeling ashamed about it, including your boss.

1.    Start With ‘I’ Not ‘You’ 

Say “I’d love to help out, but I need to focus on this other task now,” rather than a borderline-belligerent “You always ask me at the last minute.” Don’t pull up past resentments or rehash old grievances. If you feel there are too many unbalanced workloads or last-minute assignments, ask to have a separate conversation about it.

2.    Avoid An Unapologetic ‘No’

Always treat others how you’d like them to treat you. An unapologetic ‘No’ can come across as harsh. Instead, providing an explanation is more thoughtful.

3.    What To Say To Avoid An Event Or Conference

When someone asks you to attend a conference or event that you know you can’t fit in, be honest. Say, “This sounds like a great opportunity, but my schedule is full. I’ll have to pass this time.” If you’re pressed, stick to your word. It will help if you have thought out clear and concise reasoning in advance.

4.    Recommend Someone Else

If you’re a professional freelancer, you can say “Unfortunately I’m not taking any clients at the moment” and recommend someone instead.

5.    Suggest A Later Date

If the task looks interesting but you want to wait until you have the bandwidth for it, you could say: “I could do this by [a later, realistic date]. What do you think?”

A refusal comes across as more palatable when your statement starts with something positive. Express your regret for not being able to help out, and your refusal will go down easier.



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