Learning to Say No to Work!


Hello, my name is Emily and I have a problem – I can’t say no. If you ask me to help on a project my default answer is an univocal yes. I can’t help myself and it is a problem, because if you stretch yourself thin you can’t give your 100 percent to any one project.

I am not alone. GovLoop member Amber Hansen recently wrote a post, Overachievers Anonymous. I sat down with Amber to talk about her tips for overcoming overachiever-ness during GovLoop’s  Career Coach Corner.  (We have been talk to career experts all month long. Check them out.)

Overachievers are a dime a dozen in the government, because most federal, state and local government workers are incredibly mission oriented. They will work tireless to make sure that they are making a difference. It is an admiral quality, but it also leaves many govies open to the pitfalls of doing too much.

“One of the reasons people work for the government is because they’re very service oriented. People who want to do for others, I think have a harder time saying no.

Before you can treat the symptoms of an overachiever, you first need to diagnosis them. “Oftentimes, overachievers are people who aren’t very liked at work, because their standards are so high, they expect so much from not only themselves but the people around them,” said Hansen. “However, an overachiever who is aware of their tendency towards perfection can be an amazing team member, someone who will definitely go out of their way to make sure that things happen and get done in the way that they’re supposed to.”

The cure for overachiever-itis the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule originated from Pareto’s Law. Pareta was an Italian economist, who came up with the idea that 80 percent of what is accomplished is completed with 20 percent of effort. “I have lived part of my life thinking I need to be 100% all the time, which is exhausting,” said Hansen. “But knowing that it’s that 20% that I need to focus on, that’s where the majority of my accomplishments are going to come from. It gives me the assurance I need to relax a little bit.

Give yourself a break

One of the ways to help streamline your work is to prioritize goals and objectives. “I am very aware of how I plan my time. I make sure that I have time to get sucked into things, but also make sure that I have time to be present in meetings and take a break,” said Hansen. “The relationships that you build at work with your co-workers is so important, its not just meeting arbitrary deadlines.”

Be accountable

Hansen recommends that overachievers make their goals and priorities public for two reasons, the public nature of the goals makes you accountable and it keeps your goals from being too unrealistic. “I think as someone who is an overachiever and holds myself to a pretty high standard, sometimes my goals end up being something that are not achievable,” said Hansen. “It’s important to have goals that you can achieve, because if you never achieve them, you will feel like a failure.”

Find a buddy

You simply can’t go it alone. If you leave an overachiever alone, their mind will spin with the 1,000 of projects they could/need to accomplish. The key is to find a buddy or a mentor to help you prioritize. “You need to find someone you can have a constant conversation and someone who really will get what you’re doing and what you’re focused on. They can help you to make sure that it’s still in line with what’s important,” said Hansen

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