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Insights: How to Say No to Side Projects at Work

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Submitted by: WISE NYC Metro member | 6-15 years professional experience

I have been with my company for the five years and in that time, I have established myself as someone other departments can turn to for advice and help on a variety of projects. My writing and editing skills, coupled with a knack for the style preferred by our COO, has made me the perfect proofreader. I am happy to help, but I am finding that these “side projects” are taking away from the time I have to dedicate to my own workload. I rarely say no and am afraid that if I start doing so, I will appear unwilling to be a team player. Where do I draw the line, and how can I continue to help without compromising the quality of my own work?


This is a common issue for women. Our desire to be helpful causes us to expand the scope of our responsibilities, which can compromise our career progress, and potentially lead to burnout.

As you've discovered, just because you can do something doesn't mean your should. While I applaud your desire to be a team player, be strategic in how you help. Associate yourself with skills that position you for future growth &mdash unless you want to proofread for a living, being the "perfect proofreader" is not the best positioning. Keep in mind that your competence may be hiding real issues in the business, so it's in everyone's best interest if the work is assigned to the appropriate people.

Create a gameplan for handling requests for the "side projects" you typically encounter. If it isn't in your job description, start redirecting requests to the right people. If your supervisor is making the request, show the trade-off you'll have to make to accomodate the side project (for example: if I proofread, project X won't get done.) If it is a peer making the request, you don't need to explain or justify yourself — it weakens your position. Just state your boundary and stick to it. 

It will take time for others to understand your boundaries because they've become accustomed to seek you out for help. Be patient and consistent and eventually the work will return to its rightful owner.

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Amanda Mitchell

About Amanda Mitchell

Amanda Mitchell, Corporate Navigator at Our Corporate Life, helps people just like you find what they love to do so they can have more of it in their work life. You'll be happier, your employer will be happier and ultimately corporate suffering will be reduced.

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