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How to Say "NO" to Extra Work

Updated on August 9, 2014

Sitting at my desk waiting for all those concerned parents to come in during parent/teacher conferences, I look up to see our communications director walks through the door instead. He is carrying a stack of papers with small print that approximately equates to 16 pages. It looks like a 1930’s newspaper with narrow columns and small print. I look at it with dread knowing what is about hit. He asks, “Could you look over this?” Translation: “Will you spend several hours of your personal time to proofread and edit this?”

I try to joke with a tinge of reluctance in my voice, “Are you coming to me because I am the first English teacher in the hall way or is it because of my great skill as an editor.” I wish I had the nerve to say, “No, I will not do it because I already have several stacks of papers to grade, a college course to study for, and a family to take care of.”

“Honestly,” he states, “it is because the assistant administrator recommended you for the job.”


Obligation and Ego

The job? Doesn’t some form of payment come with a job? This is the part where I am supposed to say, “No, I have parents who will be coming in and papers that need to be graded. I am sorry I cannot help you, but you caught me at a bad time.” People do not realize how much English teachers must do in order to teach our children how to communicate properly, in oral and written form. There are constant stacks of papers waiting for our attention. Many people picture English teachers as little ole ladies with reading glasses attached to a chain riding down the tip of their noses ready to pounce to correct any bad grammar that is spoken.

Since I am the college level instructor at our high school, the administration believes I am qualified to edit and proofread either work for their graduate and/or doctorate work or work that will go to the public. Most of our experienced English teachers could have taken on this task, but he came to my door first. Many do not realize how time consuming it is to edit and proofread, especially when you have to wade through a piece produced by a poor writer or several poor writers, which constitutes most cases. It is not that I mind helping them, but it bothers me when it is simply taken for granted that I will do it.

I could easily write this as a commentary on the lack of emphasis that has been placed on language arts the past decade because math and science has taken precedence, but the truth is that the issue is far too large for me to take on in a mere article. No, this is about having the backbone to say no even when you have been recommended by a superior.

Once our communications director said the assistant administrator recommended me, yeah, I admit, I was flattered and felt my ego growing with pride and self-adoration; this was short-lived. These feelings of grandeur lasted until he left the room about two minutes later and I was holding a thick stack of small typed articles that were due to go into the county paper in two days.

The Reality of the Work and No Appreciation

What I should have done was look at the reality of the situation: there were stacks of papers I needed to grade, there were the parent/teacher conferences I had to deal with, there were other areas in my personal life that needed attention, there was lack of sufficient time, and there would be no compensation for my effort or time - - either monetarily or verbally. Instead, I said yes to a job that took me 5 hours to complete - - there were many punctuation errors and diction problems in this parent-oriented paper that administrators across the district wanted to go out to the public.

The next afternoon when I had completed editing each article in the paper, I took it to the communications director’s office because I wanted to clarify some of my markings and express my concern over some statements that would be understood by educators but might cause offense to some parents. He was not in his office. The secretaries did not know where he was, the administrators did not know where he was, and other office personnel did not know where he was. I went back to my room and e-mailed him, expressing my need to speak with him about concerns and clarifications. He did not reply to my e-mail. I placed the paper on my desk and went about my work hoping he would drop by so we could discuss the paper.

After returning from lunch, I noticed the paper was missing from my desk. I assumed he had dropped by to pick it up. I thought that he had some audacity to enter my room and take the paper. He left no note and did not e-mail me later to let me know he had taken it. I was irritated. The time and thought I had put into the editing was disregarded and my concerns were treated as unimportant. At the end of the day, I went to the office area to look for him one more time. He was not there. Because some of the concerns I had were valid in keeping parent/school relations on a positive note, I felt I needed to discuss the paper with someone in charge. I went to my head administrator and told him my concerns and ended it with, “I have done everything I can do.” Still, I did not have the nerve to say, “I will not edit work again because of lack of time, lack of respect, and lack of consideration for my professional opinion.” The backbone I needed failed me and I melted away.

Being asked to do something because you are gifted with a specific skill is not enough of a reason to say yes to the job. We cannot be doormats. We must decide how and when to say no.


Some helpful questions to ask yourself may be as follows:

  • What is the purpose of the task?
  • Is the task something that only you can do or can someone else just as capable and less busy do the same task?
  • Is there a time limit and is the person asking you to perform the task giving you a reasonable amount of time to complete the task?
  • What else do you have on your plate at the time?
  • What inner motivation do you have for doing the task? If it is for your ego, remember it will probably be short-lived once you are emerged in the task.
  • Are you going to be compensated or appreciated for your work? If not, is it worth it? Our time is worth something to us.
  • Are you being taken for granted or taken advantage of by the person or persons asking you to perform the task?

With all the things we must do in this life, we should have respect and consideration for ourselves even when others do not. If you are asked to go beyond your job requirements which seem to be more and more demanding, then you must weigh the mental and timely toll it is going to take on you. Most of us want to do the good and right thing for others, and most of us go above and beyond without being asked, but we do not want it to be at our professional expense or the expense of our health or family lives. Our lives are filled with all different types of stress and details, and we have to learn our limits which means we must learn to say no at the appropriate times.

Yes or No to Extra Work

Do you have problems saying no to extra work?

See results

© 2011 Susan Holland

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    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 6 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Amen..I too was an English teacher for Miami Dade County, and on countless occasions I was presented with situations such as yours. Probably because I had a knack for solving issues quickly and a reputation for bringing level 1 (the lowest) up to level 3 (passing) students on the FCAT. Until one day I just said sorry I can't.

    • your cybersister profile image

      your cybersister 6 years ago from Just relocated from Florida to the mountains of North Carolina

      Great article. I could feel your pain. And you are absolutely right. For years now I have found it interesting that although "no" is one of the first words we utter as children (often at the top of our voice), we seem to lose the ability to say it as we mature. Even when our brains are screaming "No,no,no!" our mouths say "Yes." I think in many cases we are afraid to say it out loud, especially to a boss or supervisor, even when we undoubtedly have the right to do so. Maybe we need to practice saying it in front of a mirror or something. If you find a way that really works,without guilt afterward, please share :)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Luis, I know what you mean. I am willing to do many things to help students and colleagues, but I am also aware of how valuable my time is with my family. I am still not quite there yet.

      Cybersister, yes, I think I will go practice in the mirror!!! Thanks for the advice! :-) It is so hard to say no to someone who is in a higher position than you (and I am only talking about the above and beyond the above and beyond - if that makes sense). It also feels different when they "ask." A colleague could ask, and it feels like we are working together. An admin person can ask or an condescending colleague can ask, and it feels like I am being judged as a bad teacher if I don't get right on it. I have to balance it. I think I am getting better.

      Boy, if I figure out a way that REALLY works and all are happy, I will definitely write about it. Let's put our heads together and maybe we can brainstorm a best selling HOW TO SAY NO book! :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 6 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      A COLLEAGUE, not "an colleague"... GEEZ!!!

    • justateacher profile image

      LaDena Campbell 5 years ago from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz...

      It seems that, as teachers, we are often asked to do things that are above and beyond and for some reason, we feel that we cannot utter that two-letter word...I find that as I get older it is easier to say than it once was, but, as you can see, I have not even used it in this comment! (What is wrong with me!) :)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hey JustaSUPERWOMAN!! I hate to tell ya, but you are normal. That is what we teachers do. We give ourselves to our students and community, and we never shy away (when maybe we should) when asked for help from someone else. I wrote the hub, but I still have a problem with saying no when asked for help. If it weren't a genuine need, I could say no but then I would feel bad. I guess the same thing that is "wrong" with you is "wrong" with me, too. ;-)

    • robyna profile image

      robyna 5 years ago from Michigan, USA

      I'm a pastor's wife and have the worst disease a pastor's wife can have..."can't say no." :( It's awful!

      I know how frustrating this must have been. I have a journalism background and have been asked to do similar tasks and never quite know what to say when I read something bad. You correct it but then realize the person really wanted praise instead of true critique. Very annoying!

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Robyna! Yes, it is awful because we tend to neglect our lives and loved ones to do for others. That is also a good thing that speaks highly of you. There is just not enough time in a day. I think in my case, the piece was just put together in a hurry and the person did not want to edit and proofread it. That is what makes it frustrating.

      Hang in there, and take a little time for yourself. Thank you for dropping by! :-)

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 5 years ago from Thailand

      I know exactly how you feel lol. I often get emails requesting the same thing. If they are short, then I will do them quickly, but if they are long articles, then I have a better approach, which you may want to try. My way is to simply answer "Sure, my usual rate for editing is ?? per word, but as we are friends, how about just ??? per 500 words ... good for you?". It will either land you some extra cash, or ensure you are not bothered next time ;-).

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Brett,

      After the third time of being asked to edit (REWRITE) the newsletter, I did say I wanted an hourly stipend. He stopped coming to me, and whoever he has "editing" is not catching everything. Oh well... I am looking at a desk of papers that I have to grade, and I don't have time to fix a newsletter that I am sure they do not even reread to try to fix their own mistakes.

      Thanks for dropping by!! :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I CANT say no and sadly the people who would take advantage of that are the first ones to learn about it. I constantly feel like the woman in the last picture hahah This is something I will work harder on.

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      I think most of us feel that way at times. I also feel that those who know we can do the extra work and won't say no, take advantage of us. We have to stand up at times to keep our sanity. Good luck!! :-)

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I never did understand folks who boasted about having to do all their extra work. Saying "No" is a necessary skill to learn. And I'm sorry to hear about your efforts being disregarded. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Actually, Alocsin, the efforts being disregarded is what taught me I can say no to extra work. So, it was a learning experience. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by and voting!! :-)

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 5 years ago from Texas

      When the person wasn't available, I thought you were going to say they were out playing golf or something. That does happen... unfortunately. I am glad you are able to say no now. I am getting better at it also.

    • Alecia Murphy profile image

      Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      As they say, no means no! So that's what I go by. Great hub!

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      You know - these are the exact reason why I am not on PTA this year. Last year - I ran a copy shop for the teachers and I had a few ladies who helped me out a ton - but it seems like the more you say YES the more is asked of you. Then a few people would even get miffed when some of us couldn't or wouldn't do an additional thing.

      I always LOVED English - and was most fond of my English teachers. I remember them all being young and fun - except my college Honors instructor - while I got an A she wasn't very encouraging to me and it really changed my course at the time - but maybe she did me a favor, life is good:)

      It is so hard for me to say NO - always been one of my major problems...but it is kind of hard to practice and get perfect! lol

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      HSB, I am better about saying no than I used to be but occasionally, I will accept a job if I think no one else will be able to do because of other obligations. I am much better about weighing what I can and cannot handle at one time though, and I do mind speaking up for myself. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thanks, Alecia! Yes, no means no most times. LOL

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Kelly, it is a hard job being so darn perfect! LOL A copy shop!! Wow, you would have been treated like a queen at our high school. If you didn't get to a job, nobody would say a word because we would be so appreciative to have someone doing the copying for us. I do my own copying, and I would probably bring you a little gift if you were helping me!!

      I really don't mind helping others out, but I don't like being given a major job and then being treated like it was no big deal or ignored. The story above taught me to pick and choose.

      So glad you dropped by!! :-)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

      Just say No! Sometimes it's not that easy to do, but I found as times goes by it gets easier. If you weren't so darn good at what you do you wouldn't be asked to do more! Good luck:)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hey Linda! Sometimes it is not easy to say no, but I have to weigh the task at hand now because of so many other things on my plate. I think when someone is good at something, that is the person who is asked over and over again. My husband and I have had this discussion... the responsible ones get "rewarded" with more responsibility. That would be nice if the paycheck came with it. LOL

      Thanks so much for dropping by!! :-)

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Believe me, you did the right thing doing the extra work. At my job, if I say no to anything, I am told I am not a team player, asked if I like keeping me job, and basically told to do it anyway. It annoys me that anyone even asks me for anything anymore because obviously I do not have the option of saying no. They should just tell me to do it.

      When I am not at work, my favorite word is no. I use it all the time, with friends, family, and anyone else I might run into when I am not at work. Hopefully, I will find a new job soon. After all, I think maybe I am using to word no too much in my personal life just because I can't say it at work. I am not sure I like the person I've become.

      Great hub and voted up!

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Oh Jeannie, I hate to see this. It sounds like someone is taking "team player" out of context and abusing it when they tell you that you need to do the extra work. All of us do extra work - ain't no getting around it - but sometimes our plates are so full. There is a story called "The Company Man," the author escapes me, and the scene is his funeral. In one corner is his family in mourning; in the other corner are his business associates discussing his replacement. I have given that a lot of thought when it comes to adding to my already full plate, and I can't be replaced in the lives of my family and friends. Good luck with your situation. I hope it improves one way or another very soon.

      Thanks for dropping by and the vote!

    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      Not many things rile me, but lack of appreciation and gratitude are things that do. If we do take on the task of doing things for others then a genuine thank you and appreciation goes along way to repaying us for our time.

      You are so right when you say that we must learn to say 'No', and not always because we don't want to help out, but sometimes just for our own sanity. Time is valuable especially when we have families.

      Another well written and interesting hub.

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 5 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Thank you, Debbie! You are right, appreciation does go a long way. We just have to weigh the importance of the task to our job vs personal life. If we get too stressed out, we can't do a good job in either areas of our life.

      I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. Thank you so much for commenting and your kind words. :-)

    • nancynurse profile image

      Nancy McClintock 4 years ago from Southeast USA

      As a nurse I too know the dangers of doing things for people to help out even small ones but at some point you just can't do another thing no matter how small. Thanks for writing. Enjoyed your hub.

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      note: At a site of old this means hugs (((( sholland10 ))))) I empathize while saying "forgive me" I did not know you were still teaching. My heart goes out to you. My sis or (in-law) is a teacher, then principal and now works under a superintendent. I have learned so much here from the teachers who contribute their this and that's that it goes beyond amazing and fantastic. I only hope I have been a good student. Thank you.

      Oh, how is that dog anyway? Still getting into mischief . . .

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Nancy, my sister is a nurse, too. I think nurses and teachers are stretched very thin. You are right, we have have our limits of breaking - been there, done that.

      Thanks for dropping by! :-)

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      (((HUGS))) back to you, Tsmog, for understanding and a (((HUG))) for your sister-in-law. :-) I admire her so much for being an administrator - talk about taking on a full load THEN SOME! I could not do it, but I admire those who do. Yes, I am still teaching. Getting ready to start my 21st year (who said that?? LOL). It is hard to believe the time has flown by so quickly.

      My pups are always into mischief, which makes me love them even more! LOL

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • shea duane profile image

      shea duane 4 years ago from new jersey

      sholland, the story of my life... I got my 'dream job' as the editor of a local lifestyle magazine and was constantly getting my assignments at the editorial meeting via statements like, "our new editor will have those catalogs / lists/ updates / articles / research drafts available for us in the morning." sometimes 20 to 30 hours of work. I would sit up all night working and crying... then if i made even the slightest error, i was housed in front to the entire staff. a warning to you, sholland, keep those emails because if there is a backlash, you have to CYA...

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 4 years ago from Escondido, CA

      YW, but more I thank you, for opening these eyes . . .

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Shea, I cannot even imagine being an editor. Grading papers is bad enough. I don't advertise that I am an English teacher for this very reason: everyone who walks in wants me to read their "manuscript" or edit a letter or an article that is going out to the public. Sometimes I say yes and sometime I have to say no, especially to the manuscripts. I hope you are over that hump in your career. When I retire in 7 or 8 years, I will never look at another "bad" paper or piece again. LOL

      Yes, I keep all e-mails. :-)

      Thanks for dropping by!

    • sholland10 profile image
      Author

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Awww... Thanks, Tsmog! You just gave me a warm fuzzy! :-)

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