News & Opinion

Learning to Say No

by on May 17, 2013

When you’re working in a profession you love that provides numerous opportunities to grow and serve, learning to say no can be one of the hardest things.

As library employees, we work in a world that provides many wonderful opportunities to learn, serve, and collaborate. Emails come through almost hourly with requests for participation in various groups, putting in proposals to present at conferences, attending trainings, and new program ideas. On top of all these extra activities, you have your daily responsibilities. Suddenly, determining what to say yes or no to can be difficult.

Obviously, some requests cannot be declined because they fall within your job responsibilities. The other “extra” activities are where decision-making becomes trickier, especially when so many of them seem like great possibilities. Following are some questions I try to keep in mind before committing.

The first two involve considering your employer. Does this activity support the mission and priorities of your organization? And, does your supervisor approve of this pursuit? While you are working for an organization, your work time should reflect the views of that entity, assuming everything is above board. If you find that your views and your employer’s are constantly at odds, you may need to consider your options.

The next two questions deal with time and stress. Do you have the time to pursue this commitment? If you do, is the additional work and possible extra stress worth it? In answering these questions, many times your supervisor can help. They can tell you what their expectations are of your time, and look at your current responsibilities with you. Sadly, only so many hours exist in a day, so some great possibilities have to be declined.

Finally, ask if this pursuit will help you to develop professionally. New endeavors are great ways to develop skills that you can apply to future tasks. They provide ways to learn about yourself and what you enjoy. They are also something that can help you to feel excited about your job when you come into phases of compassion fatigue, which many of us fall victim to.

Several of my colleagues and I came into the professional world at about the same time, fresh out of library school. At the beginning of a career or new job, it can be tempting to take on anything and everything. You’re excited and wanting to prove yourself. Lately, I’ve been hearing several of these coworkers say, “I’m learning to say no.” As we become more aware of what our responsibilities are and how quickly we are able to accomplish tasks, determining what we can fit in becomes easier.

One of the blogs I try to keep up with is the Harvard Business Review. Many of the topics discussed apply nicely to libraries. While working on this post, I searched their site for “priorities.” Several of the results provided insightful information that I hope to keep in mind when working on my own professional pursuits and, as a supervisor, working with staff to set their goals and priorities.


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