Overwhelmed? Sometimes you have to say no

LIKE plenty of others in the City, Julie Meyer is a busy lady. Ever since she appeared on the BBC’s online Dragons’ Den she’s been bombarded with requests from everyone: entrepreneurs who want investment, businesses who want her to join their board and pesky journalists wanting quotes. All that, of course, on top of her day job as chief executive of Ariadne Capital. “It’s very nice being in demand. However, it’s important not to let your inbox drive your personal work or business strategy.” That’s even harder, of course, if you aren’t your own boss. What is the answer when a manager turns up your work pressure?

Rachel Brushfield, a careers coach at Energise, says that feeling overwhelmed makes you less productive: “The stress makes even the best of us procrastinate.”

But what can you do if the boss keeps asking for more? “It’s a tricky one,” admits Personal Career Management’s Corinne Mills. “You will be judged by what your boss thinks, so you have to manage their expectations.”

“The best approach is just to sit them down and explain that it’s too much. It might be scary, but he or she will probably respect you for it and – you never know – it might even increase your chances of promotion. It demonstrates that you can tackle problems head on.”

But how do you break it to them? Career coach Peter Botting says: “Put it to them simply: you can either do these tasks or those tasks. You can’t do them all. What would they like you to do?”

It’s not easy though. Meyer says it takes “charm and determination, but you have to fit others around the execution of your work rather than fitting your work around the demands of others.”

Rupert Lee-Browne of Caxton FX has a similar view: “I rigidly structure my time, allocating time for my direct reports.”

Brushfield says it’s easier to explain if you express that the quality of your work might dip if you take it all on.

“Above all, be confident saying no. You need to say it with conviction, offering alternative ways to get things done.”

Botting has similar ideas: “If things become truly unmanageable, suggest they hire a junior member of staff to help.” If the management agrees, you’ve effectively bagged yourself a promotion.

Lee-Browne says that this blunt approach builds trust: “You have to be pragmatic in business. Being firm and honest about what’s achievable goes a long way.”