As a teacher, you know the meaning of the word “overextended.” According to the NEA, educators spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties. This can include an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising. Teachers tend to have generous personalities, so it’s hard to know how to politely decline when you’re asked to give more of your time.
Stretching yourself too thin is a disservice to everyone. When too many activities are vying for your attention, you may find that your sleep, health, work, and interactions with your students begin to suffer. So, next time you’re asked to take on a leadership role, serve on a committee, volunteer at school events, supervise a club, or coach a sport, follow our advice on how to say no to extra work.
Budget Your Time
There is only so much you can accomplish within 24 hours, so start by creating a budget that shows how you spend your time. You’ll need to budget 7-8 hours for sleep and 8-9 hours for your in-school duties, plus time spent with your family. What remains each day is the time you can realistically commit to saying yes to other requests. When you can visually see how many hours are filled, it becomes easier to say no to more responsibilities.
Say Yes to What’s Important
We all have things we feel passionately about and that’s usually where we choose to dedicate our extra time. It’s okay to say no to one request if it provides you more time to say yes to something else that you feel strongly about pursuing.
- Maybe you love soccer and would jump at the chance to coach a team.
- If you want to get kids to love reading, you’ll save time for running a school-wide book club.
- When your goal is making sure all students shine, you may volunteer as an after-school homework tutor.
Declining the requests that don’t align with your priorities is the key to saying yes to those that do.
Don’t Feel the Need to Explain
When you’re trying to figure out how to politely decline a request, you might feel the need to over-explain your reason for saying no. Offering a follow-up explanation, however, gives people the opportunity to change the circumstances and ask you again. When you say, “I’m sorry, I can’t. This is a very busy time for my family,” it opens the door for them to approach you at a later time. When you say “I’m afraid I can’t help. That’s not something I have experience with,” you’re allowing the person to offer up training. Instead, keep your response simple.
Use “I Don’t” Instead of “I Can’t”
A quick turn of phrase gives your answer more power. The phrase “I can’t” is perceived as reluctant. What others hear is, “I’d like to but…” The phrase “I don’t” is far more definitive. When you say, “I don’t take on more than two volunteer positions,” your response is non-negotiable and you establish boundaries for your personal time.
The Greater Good Science Center from UC Berkeley provides even more ways to successfully say no. Find one that works for you here.