There’s a lot of advice on how to assertively say ‘no’ at work and establish boundaries to avoid overcommitting and exhaustion.

Boundary-setting skills are essential, but I’ve noticed that advice givers frequently assume that you don’t actually want to take on the work and that you do it to people-please or for strategic, political, and other pragmatic reasons.

But, what about those situations when you feel super excited about the project, the learning, the growth, the possibilities? I’m talking about those times when your plate is already full and another opportunity sparkles in front of you, big genuine smile and all!  In many workplaces, there are an abundance of those.

You’re pretty darn sure you don’t have capacity, but oooooh, how can you resist?!! You convince yourself to take on the opportunity because ‘this may be the only time I get to…’, or ‘this is such a great chance to….’ or ‘I’m so flattered they asked me…’. Which could all be true. But, remember, your plate is already full.

Questions to ask yourself to help prevent overcommitting at work

Countless coaching clients have described how quickly they say “yes” when presented with an opportunity that appeals to them (it might be intellectually-stimulating, intriguing, an enticing collaboration etc).

Even when they know they are already maxed out, “yes” pops out of their mouth.

If you can relate to the above, it’s a good idea to pause next time you’re presented with an opportunity, and before you give a response. Below are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Am I worried that this is my last and only chance to engage in this type of professional activity?

  • If I know that’s not true, and I also know that this opportunity doesn’t align with my current capacity, how can I actively seek or create a similar opportunity in the future?

2. If I had to put everything else aside now to engage in this opportunity, would I be willing and able to do that?

  • Sometimes we say ‘yes’ to a future opportunity because we falsely (usually) think we’ll have more time at a later date.

3. Does saying ‘yes’ align with my life values?

  • For example, maybe your goal is to have more time with your family, but saying ‘yes’ would result in less time with them…Refer to your life values to help guide your decisions. (If you’re not sure what your values are, check out this resources/worksheet).

4. How much time and energy will this require?

  • Double your estimate. Yes, really. Then consider what the impacts would be on other parts of your life.

5. Who else do I want to talk with, to gain diverse perspectives and before making a decision?

  • This could be a friend, your partner, a coach, a colleague, your director.

6. What would I do if I knew nobody would be disappointed either way?


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