As I sat on a plane through a second hour on the tarmac and watched the battery on my phone die, I thought about what I would say in this column and noted a huge irony that I probably should have said no to this trip. Old habits die hard but that’s not a reason to avoid fighting them.

When you’re at the start of your career it’s smart to say yes to everything, you learn a lot this way and start to find the direction for where you want to go. But beyond this stage, it’s a good idea to slow down, have a think and work on your priorities.

I’m indispensable – oh no.

Working hard and being valued in the workplace is excellent. It feels good when you know others rely on you and that you are appreciated, it might make you want to move towards being indispensable, but being indispensable also means you will get stuck. This is the start of your journey of saying no.

It’s not an easy one when people expect you to say yes to everything but it will move you on to better things. Saying yes to everything means career stagnation and it’s a sure recipe for burnout. Now that I run a team I want to be an example to them as a good leader who can manage to balance things, but as I ended up on a plane coming back from a meeting that I probably didn’t need to attend in person, it’s not always easy and you risk feeling like you’re being seen as obstructive.

Saying no the right way

There’s a perception that saying no will make you appear to be difficult or bitchy even. It’s worth remembering that this is other people and not you. The language we use to say no is important, you want people to feel they are being heard but you need to ensure they are not wasting your time. Here are some tips on working out how to say no.

Prioritise. Work out if the task you are being asked to do is a priority for the business and for you. This way you’ll know if it will be taking up time from other important work and if you can spare the bandwidth to give it some attention.

Find the right person. If you become a go-to person, you might not be the right person for the task. If someone else is leading a project or doing work that is better suited to the task then offer to introduce them.

Working out of this is going to be good for you. The business takes priority in most cases but you also need to ensure that taking on new tasks will steer you in the right direction. Doing lots of little things for other people won’t help you find the time to be more creative and strategic.

With these reasons in mind, you can find ways of saying no that make sense and hopefully won’t offend the people doing the asking. There’s no need to dress things up, it’s just being clear and transparent about your reasoning and workload. This will also help you to set boundaries.


When you’re working in tech there’s always a new project, a fun exercise or an area that you will want to take an interest in. This is fine if you can learn on your own time, but it’s also important to focus on what you are committed to and not give in to the fear of missing out – FOMO.

It’s really easy to feel FOMO and want to have control of the next new and innovative thing, but it’s also a good way to spread yourself too thin, have no focus and miss out on gaining in-depth skills on fewer things. You can still find out about the exciting things, but be sure you are giving other colleagues opportunities and/or that the work is set with the experts who can make the most of it.

Being a woman in tech can also mean you are invited into things as a tick-box inclusivity exercise. This can be interesting but it can also push you off your own course and take you to places where you have no interest or suitable skills to offer.

Overall, when you have a grasp of saying no in the best ways, you can shape your career movement, avoid burnout and appreciate the people you work with. As you become a leader, you’ll also be a better example to your teams.

About the author

Jessica Vo is a flexible and result-oriented visionary leader whose key focus is Marketing Orchestration; the transformative shift and approach towards how marketing synchronizes their teams, content, channels, workflows, and data.  She has a proven track record of successfully leading and delivering effective transformations and centralisations for global brands across the automotive and luxury sectors.

Her expertise includes developing data-driven strategies, managing complex production processes, and leveraging emerging technologies to create engaging and immersive brand experiences. With Content Production being at the heart of what she does, Virtual Production, Automation and Dynamic Experience are her key focuses for her clients at RAPP.

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