Sometimes we say yes to assignments or projects because we don't want to come across as incompetent or lazy. Or, we will say yes out of guilt or some external pressure.
No matter the reason why we say yes to things we shouldn't say yes to--typically things we hate doing in the first place--it's critical to remember that there is great power in saying no. Although the workforce tends to value employees who can multitask, what is most critical to your productivity (and mental health) is an understanding and acknowledgment of your limitations.
If you have trouble saying no, here are the steps you can take to reclaim your time, and effectively, reclaim your life.
1. De-romanticize burnout.
Working hard is important, but working to death is overrated. Total burnout won't get you anywhere--and the quality of your work is liable to suffer as well.
2. Say no to a late-night email.
Checking your inbox after hours means you are still willing to complete tasks, even when you're off the clock. Don't let this become a habit--turn off work notifications after hours, because making yourself consistently available for work severely reduces the amount of time you get to relax.
3. Make no your default answer.
When approached with a new opportunity to do work, make sure your mental default answer is no. When you begin at no, you are asking yourself to take time to assess what is being offered to you. This doesn't mean reject anything and everything immediately--instead, try responding to all opportunities with something like, "I would love to make sure I can devote the proper amount of time necessary for this--can I look over what else I have committed to and get back to you soon?"
4. Get to the root of why you want to say yes.
Past experiences, habits, and your emotional make-up are all factors when it comes to the difficulty of saying no. Take some time to look at why setting (and sticking to) boundaries is challenging for you--resolve this for yourself and saying no will be an effortless task.
5. Know your worth.
Realize you have worth, and that your thoughts and opinions are valuable. Saying no doesn't mean you're not likable, selfish, or mean. Saying no means your health is more important than the approval of others.
When you have a tight schedule, every minute counts. But if you constantly feel compelled to take on every task that comes your way, you'll find yourself pressed for time, stressed, and unproductive.