9 Polite Ways To Turn Down Work When You’re Busy

Whether you’re doing an internship and all the work is constantly passed on to you, you’re self-employed and currently have more clients asking you to work for them than you have time for, or whether you just have a feeling that you’re the one person in the office who always has to help others – we’ve all experienced this kind of situation.

I believe that it’s great to be the person that helps others, but there will be moments when we have to turn down work and it’s not always easy to find a way to do so. Here are some tips to turn down work while also making a friendly, polite and helpful impression.

#1 Set priorities.

Don’t turn down work light-headedly. Think carefully about what you have left to do and if the tasks which keep you busy are important. I have experienced that especially during an internship, you often get the opportunity to do tasks you wouldn’t normally do when someone else is too busy to do them.

#2 Know what you’re worth.

If you’re an intern, you might get to the point where you will be asked to make coffee for someone – even if it’s probably the one cliché we all know about internships. Even if you’re the boss, you have an important meeting coming up and everyone else in the office is busy, you might have to make coffee yourself one day, so it’s definitely not wrong to do so. Personally, I appreciate people very much who are so down to earth that they are willing to truly work for their own success. If making coffee is the only task you’re ever asked to do though, you might want to reconsider if the company you’re working for appreciates that you’re also trying to bring in your own ideas and contribute to their success.

#3 Know when it’s the right time to be helpful.

Just like you should know what you’re worth, you should also know when it’s the right time to be helpful. Again: don’t be light-headed about deciding that your favorite colleague’s heartbreak is currently more important than working some extra hours to get your current project done, but if this is a person you want to be friends with, taking your colleague out for lunch might be necessary.

#4 Be aware that everyone is busy at some point.

You have to understand that turning down work doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person. You’re a human being who has to balance a lot of things in life and you should not think bad of yourself because you don’t have an unlimited amount of time to do all the things you could possibly do.

#5 Be honest about why you don’t have time.

If you make the decision that you need to turn down work, make sure that the other one knows why you don’t have time. Your colleagues are only human and so are your clients. If you’re a self-employed social media manager who is moving to a new city this weekend, your client will probably understand that his new Twitter account can wait until Monday  – as long as you make sure that your client understands that you’re happy to keep him as a customer and that you have your reasons.

#6 Be clear about when you will have time again.

Especially if it’s a client I’m forced to turn down, I find it very important to make sure the client knows when I will be free again. Make a personal waiting list for clients you cannot take on at the moment and assure them that you will get back to them once you have time again.

#7 If it’s an emergency, hand it over to the enemy.

Never leave a client unsatisfied, that is one of the greatest advice someone has ever given me. In case you are unable to commit to a new client, suggest someone else who could be a better fit for the client. This way you may be forced to pass work on to a rival working in the same field as you are, but at least you are able to leave your client satisfied and give them the impression that you’ve helped as much as you could.

#8 Ask another person to do something for you.

Most offices have someone who likes to pass work on to everyone else. Personally, I am the typical kind of person who likes to be friendly and tries to help whenever possible. When you’re constantly doing work for your colleagues it will get exhausting. The next time you’re asked to take on new tasks which could actually be done by someone else, take a look at the tasks you have left to do and ask another person if you might want to switch tasks. They might not just want to save time by passing on work left to do, but might actually have difficulties with certain tasks and be glad to do others for you.

#9 Remember who has helped you and whom you’ve helped.

It’s important to network: Remember who you’ve helped before so that you know that you shouldn’t feel bad about asking that person to help you at some point. Also, remember who has helped you before, so that you think twice about turning extra work down if it’s from someone who helps you out a lot.

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Written by Marie Menke. Inspirational Photos: Pinterest & Collage Vintage

  • camille

    Great post

  • Pam McCray

    Excellent solid advice. Shared

  • Zee

    very helpful thanks!!

  • Marcelle

    I feel like 90% of people do not know how to do this because they are so scared of losing their jobs if they do. But it is SO important to set these limits..

    Great post!