In my very junior years of advertising, everything that I ever did was not only out of great love and passion for the profession but also to prove to my seniors that I had it in me for them to trust me with bigger responsibilities. More often than not it kept me going and I loved what I did. However, there were times when I would find myself getting bogged down with the sheer volume of work, getting overwhelmed and running against time to meet deadlines. There were two things I realised – first, the deadlines weren’t going to change and second, that the bosses weren’t going to stop breathing down my neck. I had to find a way to manage such situations better.

Prioritising what was more urgent and focusing on that was project management. Letting the bosses know that work was progressing and everything was under control was people management. It worked partially. Despite being completely aware of how overloaded I was, I was often approached to do more. In the fear of being reprimanded or being considered incompetent, I would reluctantly accept the extra tasks even though I knew I didn’t have the bandwidth to do so. The fear also stemmed from a time when I did refuse a weekend task as I had to work on a college dissertation and that hadn’t gone well at all. As a result, I found myself working overtime, working on weekends very often and not being able to do anything apart from office work. And that was becoming an unhealthy way of living.

In due time I realised that saying no when I absolutely couldn’t take on more was actually a wise thing to do. I remember one such instance when I had worked for three weekends non-stop (that’s 21 days incessantly) and there was still more work anticipated over the weekend. I intimated my manager about it well in time only to be turned down and told that I had to do it no matter what. We had a showdown, I was relentless and neither of us left work on a happy note that day. We spoke about it the next day and managed to resolve the workload issue. This incident boosted my confidence a little, although nothing about it had been smooth. But it made me feel better as there was a solution to the problem I had raised. It was a small win. 

What I also learnt was that not being able to say no was keeping a lot of negative emotions bottled up inside, making me resent the people who were piling all that work on me and somewhere also affecting my self confidence. But saying no reasonably was actually developing a better working relationship as it helped my managers and I to earn mutual respect for one another apart from finding solutions to manage the workload better. Most importantly, it helped to regain that self confidence. 

Saying no is hard but it can save you from being taken for granted, build boundaries and also improve productivity. As long as it’s done delicately and objectively without shirking responsibilities, there’s no shame or fear in doing so. Make that wise choice when you know you need to.