Just say no!
It was a big problem for me as it is for so many of us. I couldn't help myself. I couldn't say no. The 'Yes' would fly out of my mouth before I'd even given my brain time to consider whether I actually wanted to do what I was being asked of me and, more importantly, whether I had enough time. I didn't want to let anyone down and I didn't want them to think badly of me. I'm sure you've been there. Probably many times. But although saying yes is the easy option in the moment, it often ends up in feelings of regret, self-loathing and frustration. Oh and it usually means you end up with a pile of work that you just don't have the time to do. Your work life balance becomes distinctly unbalanced and you start to feel the stress kick in. So how can you start saying no without feeling like you're offending whoever's asking and without the guilt?
The first thing to do is give yourself time to consider whether you actually want to say yes or no. Remember, that you don't have to respond straight away. Tell whoever's asking you're going to need some time to think about it. Make it clear how long you need by being specific - you'll let them know later that day, the day after or by the end of the week. Just make sure it's an appropriate amount of time based on the request being made. That way, you give yourself time to consider whether you have the time, energy or inclination to do what has been asked of you. It also gives you time to plan how you can deliver your response in the most effective way.
So, once you've had enough thinking time, if you've decided that the answer is definitely no, the first thing to do is let whoever is asking know that you're grateful to them for considering you in the first place. Try starting with, 'I'm flattered that you would consider me for...' or 'It's great that you think I'm capable of...' And follow this by letting them know that you really wish you could help. Follow this with sadly, regrettably or unfortunately. This way, even though the recipient of your no might not be happy, you make it sound like it you're disappointed too. Put together, it might go something like this, 'It's great that you think I'm capable of putting a new rewards system in place. While I'd really love to be involved in a project like this, sadly I've thought about it and I'm not able to.'
If that's too blunt for you or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always give a reason by adding a 'because' and stating why you're unable to say yes. So for example, an ability to prioritise is a highly sought after skill in employees, therefore your reason could be that you have other work that is more important to the organisation at this moment in time. Explain what it is by saying something like, 'My priority at the moment is to make sure all of our clients get their deliveries on time' or 'The pupils' GCSE results are the most important thing to me at the moment so I need to concentrate on delivering high quality learning for the pupils.'
If your thinking time has clarified that what you've been asked to do is something that you'd like to be involved in but you just don't have time for it in your schedule right now, use a delaying tactic. Tell whoever's asking, 'While I'd love to be involved in a project like this, at the moment I've got X,Y or Z going on so I'm too busy. Come back to me in a couple of weeks and I might be able to help you out.'
Or you could offer an alternative - something that will keep whoever is asking you happy but won't take as much of your time to complete. You'll definitely need to think carefully about this so make sure you get the thinking time you need to decide on what you are able to offer instead. Come back to them with, 'At the moment, I'm not able to do that but I could...' By starting with 'At the moment' you leave the door open to the possibility of taking on the work at some point in the future when it suits your schedule better
Remember, that all of the strategies above are about taking control of your own workload and your time. Be confident in your ability to say no. Stand up straight, look the other person in the eye and speak clearly. It will take practice and you might feel awkward or uncomfortable at first, but trust me, you'll be glad you did it.