• Overdoing a “can do” attitude doesn’t bring success, just burnout
  • Saying “no” at the right times for the right reasons is smart and eases stress
  • Setting clear boundaries with a “can’t do” attitude can bring success
“Can you put together this Powerpoint presentation for me?”

“Have you got a few minutes? I need some notes typed up real quick.”

“Can you stay a bit later tonight and finish this up for me?”

You get these types of bullshit requests all the time and you say “yes” to all of them, even though they’re not part of your job responsibilities.

Your “can do” attitude was supposed to help you build a solid reputation and have more success at work. You thought it’d be great for your career but it’s having the opposite effect.

You’re stretching yourself way too thin and your most important deadlines for your most important projects aren’t getting the attention they need.

Your boss is on your case and the stress of trying to make amends means you’re taking on even more work.

You know it’s partly your fault that you can’t break free from this vicious cycle. You want to come across as a team player so you’re super scared to say “no” to anything you’re asked to do.

You don’t want to be “that guy” that suddenly starts pushing back on everything they’re asked to do.

You want people to like you. You also kind of enjoy feeling valued or needed. You don’t want to let people down.

But, it’s gotten the point where you feel like you’re drowning with all the tasks and can’t seem to get any one thing done right, well and on time. You've become overworked and exhausted.

And thanks to the cycle of overwork, there’s no end in sight.

Instead of putting everyone else’s needs first all of the time, you need to switch to a “can’t do” attitude during these phases.

Knowing how and when to say “no” to requests the right way will improve your productivity and success - not to mention your sanity. 

Corporate Culture Glorifies A “Can Do” Attitude But It’s Not Healthy

Corporate culture puts overwork on a pedestal.

Putting in 60, 70 or 80 hour weeks is often seen as a badge of honor, dedication and commitment to the company.

It’s like you’re somehow a better person if you can boast about the amount of work you needed to do yesterday and how late you ended up staying at the office to get all of your shit done.

We’re told that working incredibly hard is what’s needed for success. If you don’t overwork, you won’t be successful or so corporate culture dictates.

Here’s the reality - overwork damages productivity.

In this study from Stanford University, they found that employees working 70 hours per week were no more productive than those working 56 hours per week.

Just because you’re working longer doesn’t mean you’re producing more or better results.

But it does mean you’re on the road to burnout and the intended benefits of your hard work never arrive.

There’s also the idea of being socially accepted - being part of the team. We all want to be liked and feel popular.

It’s one of the big reasons why we find it so damn hard to say “no”, even when we know it’s good for us. And, according to this study from Rice University, women in particular have a tough time saying “no” to requests for help.

And if you’re a major people pleaser, you definitely need to check out this video for tips on how to be less of one.

VIDEO: 6 Steps to Stop People Pleasing
YOUTUBE: Vanessa Van Edwards
LENGTH: 5:38
Summary points:
  • You’re the most important person to please, not others
  • Look for validation inside yourself, not from other people
  • Start with small “no’s” to begin with and build up your skills
  • Don’t make a decision right away, instead buy yourself time 

When & Why A “Can’t Do” Attitude Is Better For Success

Saying “yes” to every single request that comes your way hurts your productivity and your wellbeing. It’s not going to bring you success, just more stress.

However, when a “can’t do” attitude is done the right way and for the right reasons, it has the opposite effect.

Sure, you can easily get it wrong and quickly gain a reputation as the office asshole or bitch. But that’s not going to happen to you.

Here’s what you’re striving for…

The balance of having challenging work that helps you
get in the zone at work without feeling like a hamster on a wheel.

Getting that balance right means you’re in control of how you spend your time and what you spend it on. You’ll be distracted less since you don’t need to keep switching your focus between projects and other random bullshit tasks.

Saying “no” to new tasks that you can’t realistically handle or that aren’t part of your core responsibilities will allow you to focus on the real work that needs to get done.

When you’re focused on one task and you see it through to completion, you’re actually more productive and efficient. This is why you’ll ultimately
do more by mono-tasking instead of multi-tasking.

And that means you can give more focus to core tasks and jobs and not scatter your valuable time and resources to other irrelevant shit.

Here’s another way to think about it.

In this sub 2-minute video, Amy Morin from Business Insider talks about why it’s so important to say “no” in certain situations - not least because it frees you up for other opportunities.

VIDEO: Here is why you should learn to say no
YOUTUBE: Business Insider
LENGTH: 1:40
Summary points:
  • Saying “yes” is a habit and it can be broken
  • Saying “yes” to something means you’re saying “no” to something else
  • Say “I’ll think about it” as a way to say to “no” in a roundabout way 

How To Develop A Smart “Can’t Do” Attitude

Saying “no” can be terrifying, especially when you’re used to pleasing people. It doesn’t come naturally for most of us so it seems easier to go with the flow.

Developing a “can’t do” attitude takes practice but it’s the only way to regain control and sanity in your work life.

Here’s how to start putting into action today. 

1) Imagine A Future Where You’re In Control

When your “can’t do” attitude is in full swing, how different will your work life look?

You’ll be in control of your workload and the vicious cycle you’ve found yourself in will be a thing of the past.

Imagine a workday where you actually finish all of your key tasks, each project is making great progress and everything is on pace to cross the finish line.

At the end of the day, you’re tired, but it’s a good kind of tired - like a kick-ass workout. It’s that awesome feeling of accomplishment.

You can feel the stress lifting already, right?

Now, visualize how stressful things will be if you keep on going with your “can do” attitude for every single request.

You’ll be stressed out putting everyone else ahead of your own needs and pissed off about being last on the care list. And, none of your real work gets done and you’re constantly playing catch up or falling behind.

When you feel tempted to say “yes” to something that’s only going to stress you out more, think about how much better it can be if you say “no” and create that ideal scenario. 

2) Ask Your Boss(es) To Prioritize Projects

These days a lot of us have informal “dotted line” bosses in addition to our direct boss. Having to juggle and handle multiple bosses can drive you insane. But, it is absolutely critical that you do so.

If your direct or indirect boss is the biggest culprit for dumping “urgent” projects on you, asking them to prioritize their requests, tasks and projects is an important and critical thing to do.

Help them understand that if new tasks are given urgent attention over what’s already been agreed to as priorities, then all of those other projects will be further delayed.

Guess what happens when they have to weigh what’s most important?

Those so-called urgent tasks usually can wait until tomorrow or even next week.

You can sideline less important tasks without feeling stressed or guilty that you’re not powering through the to-do list. 

3) Redirect Non-Core Requests

It’s likely that you get extra work that’s not directly related to your job dumped on you because you’ve agreed to it before.

You’re an easy target.

To change things, you need to give them something to think about.

Ask if someone else could take it on, then explain why it’s not part of your core responsibilities and that it makes more sense for you to continue with what you’re doing and not be derailed by the new task.

You don’t need to go overboard here.

Just a quick response like “I’ve typed up these notes the last two times so perhaps someone else could do it this time? I need to get [current task] done and fully focus on it this afternoon.”

This type of comment subtly lets the other person know there are bigger benefits if you don’t accept the new task - especially when it’s your boss.

You’re not outright refusing to do it. You’re just appealing to the other person’s common sense and better judgment.

And next time, they might not automatically dump it to you.

4) Build Up Your “No” Skills By Starting Small

There’s a lot more focus on saying “yes” but saying "no" has strong benefits too. Most notably, it gives you more time and freedom.

It gives you more time to push those big projects forward another inch and more freedom in making smarter decisions on which core tasks to complete for the day. Or, the freedom to set aside some real “me-time” for recovery and self-care.

Starting small is the way to go here.

You won't learn a new skill overnight but racking up small and quick wins will help you get there sooner.

It's like when you learned to ride a bicycle.

There’s a lot of trial and error.

Eventually you got there, with lots of cumulative small wins under your belt.

It's the same with learning any new skill.

Every chance you get to say “no” to a small irrelevant task is another easy and quick win. It’s another step towards mastering the skill of saying “no” to bigger requests and tasks that don’t have anything to do with your job. 

5) Use The Right Tone & Body Language

How you say “no” is just as important too.

You might be super tempted to roll your eyes or sigh dramatically when you’re hit with another request to help but this is the kind of attitude that will get you talked about for all the wrong reasons.

Plus, it won’t do you any favors in improving your personal brand at work.

Your “can’t do” attitude needs to walk a fine line between saying “no” and not making the other person feel terrible.

However, trying to be too nice with your “no” can also be a bad thing.

As much you may want to soften the blow, being overly nice with timid body language can give false hope to the other person that you’ll backtrack and give in.

Being firm but polite is the way to go and make sure your body language matches the tone.

State your responses like you're a news anchor stating facts in a report. Or, like a judge reading a courtroom verdict. These personas can help you set the right tone and body language.

6) Block Off Commitments In Your Calendar

Want to make sure that you don’t compromise family mealtimes by staying late? Or finally giving that yoga thing a try?

Start using your calendar to block off personal time in your schedule for essential to-do’s whether it’s a dinner with friends, date-night with your spouse or just chilling solo at home.

Then, if someone asks if you can help them out tonight with a project, you can more easily stand firm about saying “no” because you’ve marked down that commitment.

If anyone asks why you can’t oblige, just tell them you have a personal commitment that you have to stick to. No need to mention that it’s with your family, friends or even with yourself. 

Setting Boundaries Is Key For Success And Sanity

dominoes hand dominos
Those endless requests for extra work that you keep taking on have been seriously screwing up your productivity and causing a ton of stress.

Until now, you’ve been your own worst enemy - scared to upset people or be seen as not being a team player.

We get it.

Saying “no” and adopting a “Can’t Do” attitude at work can be super scary.

We all worry that we’ll look like an uncooperative asshole and/or tank our career and job prospects.

Here’s the thing: setting solid boundaries and standing your ground at work isn’t as hard as you might think. And it doesn’t make you a work jerk.

It just signals to others that you’ve got your priorities straight and that you’re focused.

It’s good for your mental health and even better for your productivity.

So start small.

When that next “Hey, got a few minutes?” inquiry gets thrown your way, you can confidently say, “Sorry, can’t right now. I’m working on something.”

Bam! There’s your first small win.

Once you get more confident in your ability to manage your workload, you can cut the vicious cycle of stress, guilt, and overwork. And start putting your priority tasks and projects ahead of other people’s.

And when that happens, your productivity on the shit that really matters will soar, leading to progress, which leads to fulfillment and happiness. For real.

Feel Better,

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