Have you heard the phrase “When you want something done ask a busy person to do it?” That’s why people come to you. They know you can do it, get it done correctly and in a quick, orderly fashion. If you’re overwhelmed and can’t do it, here are a few ways to say “no” without losing your job or the respect you’ve earned.

I’ve always lived by the phrase, “If it’s not beyond a reasonable request, there’s no reason why you can’t”. I like to say yes because I feel like I’m a kind, agreeable person who doesn’t want to hurt feelings, miss out on an opportunity or be perceived as uncooperative but sometimes you just can’t and if you can’t, say you can’t.

When your boss comes to you and asks you to do something last minute because someone isn’t able to meet a deadline but you’re already swamped, your boss may not be aware of just how swamped you are. Tell your boss, “Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to help with all of it, but I can do part of it if someone can help me.” Be firm but polite when saying no. Your boss will understand that you’re sympathetic to their situation; they know you’re swamped, but you’re happy to assist if there’s someone else who can split the work. If this happens a lot, make them aware. Tell them you can help, but then ask if after so and so comes back if it’s OK to chat about putting a plan in place in case of last minute emergencies or vacation.

If you’re asked to do something you know you can do, but aren’t sure if you have the time, ask if you can get back to them that way you can look at your schedule and work ahead if you need to. It also gives you time to do the “yes versus stress” test. By saying yes, how much extra stress are you putting on yourself? How long is the time commitment? Is it a week so someone can go on vacation or is it going to be a long term commitment? If it’s just a week or two, that’s a no brainer, but if you know it’s going to be too much for you to handle and other things in your work or personal life will suffer say no, but ask for other ways to be of help. Then, don’t forget to follow up. If you have to say no and you’re asked why you can’t help, just a firm “it doesn’t fit with my schedule” should suffice.

If you’re being asked to turn something around in an incredibly short amount of time and you know there’s no way you can get it done even though you know you’re the exact right person for the job, don’t push everything off until later and stay at work until 8pm to finish what you’ve already been assigned to do. Tell your supervisor that you’re happy to pitch in, but that you have other work that needs to be completed and you’re concerned that there isn’t enough time to get both projects done. If you’re honest with your boss, one of three things may happen: They’ll assign it to someone else, they’ll team you up with someone else, or they’ll be flexible with deadlines so you can get everything done.

We all have to do things we don’t like to do. It’s a part of life; so when you’re asked, just grin and bear it. If it’s an unreasonable request or you’re being asked to do something that makes you uneasy, you don’t have to agree to do it, no matter where the request comes from.

However you say no, make sure you’re honest about why you can’t, but don’t be defensive or angry about why you can’t.