Thursday, 10 September 2015

On saying no, and its consequences.

Last week was a bit of a stressful week at work. Last Friday arvo, I was asked to do something that made me upset, and I cracked it a bit. I immediately set some boundaries, by group email. Nowadays I try not to make calls while acutely upset but sod it, I'd had enough.

The people it affected were gracious and contrite, and things have changed. This is good.

The first half of the year was so frenetic that I had promised myself that, once the PhD was finished, I would try not to work full time, to have some sessions free.

However, the frenetic pace went on, without me even realising it. One of my employers kept on asking me again and again to act at their bidding. The nocturnal tooth grinding continued. I was starting to dread the weekends, as I had to do work that I missed out on during the week. It took this blog post to get me thinking about my work-life balance, and finally I put it into action last Friday.

It bought up a couple of things:

I didn't know what to do with my spare time. 

There is so much emphasis on being productive and not wasting a moment that we forget that we don't actually have to schedule every minute. We wear busy like a badge of honour, but for what?

I have been thinking about some restorative things I could do. Not exercise; I do enough of that. Reading a book? Drawing a picture? Playing with the dog? God forbid, watching some telly - Series 3 of House of Cards is begging to be binge-watched.

There are things like the dentist, the tax agent, going to the bank.

Calling a friend. I had become more and more intolerant of talking on the phone, preferring to text. I have friends that need chatting with at the moment, so I have done this. 

But people might get angry if I say no.

It might have consequences, and I had to be ready to accept them.

Perhaps I was more angry with myself. That I "should" be up to working full time, plus the weekends. My kind of workplace appears to reward that type of work.

I find saying no stressful, such that I will say yes and do what I am asked as the stress of saying no is greater than the time expended doing the task. I am afraid of being passed over the next time an opportunity comes up, or worse, of appearing like (gasp) a cow.

I am finding that a. people are gonna bitch no matter what I do and b. worthy opportunities will still be available even if you occasionally be assertive.

I have read about the art of saying no for women. It said something about women always having to explain themselves and apologise, where men just say their piece and that is it. Hence I have been recently in the practice of saying no, and taking care not to apologise for standing your ground. I am practicing that too.

I am flexing my "no" muscle. It is scary but it feels good.


  1. It it tough to say no no matter what people say. I have tried avoiding because this is easier but a cop out I know. But I still get caught. I have no time with my free time and the time I doodle and faff around are when I get my brain spurts so I do not apologize for it at all. i think being productive is so flipping over rated. I watched series one and two yesterday of a tv show and enjoyed every minute of it. Yes I still have errands unticked but those piles of clothes to be ebayed can wait...

  2. I'm bad at saying no… I think it's my natural inclination to want to be helpful. It can erode boundaries too when you're never putting them up in the first place to the other person. Agree with you too about not apologising. I always feel like I need to justify saying no with a million reasons why.
    Glad you are saying no though - when you have come through a period of being so incredibly busy it actually takes quite a readjustment to having free time and hobbies/ interests. But don't fill up that time with errands! There will always be those. Just do something that makes you feel good, whether that's wandering through a museum/ gardening/ going to a movie in the middle of the day…

  3. It can take time, a lot of thought and prepared strategies to be able say No, whether in work or personal life.
    In work terms it's important to have a clear definition of which tasks in the organisation are yours. Document your work (this can take a bit of time initially to set up but can be worth it) by keeping your own work log - if you find there are too many tasks for the hours you are paid to work and you're given yet more on top, it's important to prioritise and to ask your boss for guidance on this. Make clear your boundaries - if you're not paid to work on weekends (even if this is at home) and/or you don't want to, just tell your boss you're not available, unless it's a rare emergency. They probably won't like this at first but if you do it courteously and calmly but firmly they may get used to it and accept your boundaries. But not every place will accept this approach - so many organisations depend on the readiness and commitment of staff to be "professional" and work whatever hours the managers require, usually without any extra payment or time off in lieu. I once worked in a place much like that. It was a great job and I loved it but difficult too - sometimes working all weekend and late at night, though not all the time. But we all knew our specific jobs and owned them and if an emergency came up it was our job to see it through. But it's not to be recommended in terms of any work/life balance.
    My particular beef in one location in the organisation was with middle bosses, one in particular, who didn't keep a proper assessment of their own in-trays and would suddenly rush out late in the day with something that had to be done for tomorrow - and expect me to stay however long it took (sometimes till midnight) to get it done. After a few episodes like this I went to her office and pointed out that she had received these task requests sometimes at least a week before and she had not produced them until the death knock. I advised her the next time this happened I would refuse to stay behind and would just pass it back to her. She was very angry and applied the deep freeze, but never did it again to me - though others continued to be subjected to the same treatment. Finally I went over her head and told her boss that I felt I couldn't work in this area anymore and had found another job in the organisation, I asked him to release me. He asked if it was her and I said yes. So he already knew there was a problem but had done nothing about it. I later heard (after the person who followed me into the job resigned from the organisation) that he and other more senior people had told her to find a job in another organisation. They gave her really good references to get rid of her, thus saddling some other place with a difficult incompetent manager.
    Good luck - it's never easy! Best wishes, Pammie