You are swamped. Four weeks to finish this project will barely be enough time. You're working late every night and still don't seem to be making headway. The boss comes over and asks if you have time to do this simple task. What is your response?

There are only two possible responses, right? Yes or No.

Either you tell the boss 'No', you cannot accommodate his request because of the amount of work you have; or you tell him 'Yes' and commit to not seeing your family until after the holidays.

But are those the only two responses?

Consider telling him "Yes, but".

"I'm happy to do this boss, but it will cause the schedule to slip on the other tasks I've been assigned. Is that OK? Can you help me to prioritize so I know which tasks to drop or defer?" Often the boss had no idea his "small" request would have such an effect.

If someone other than the boss comes by, a similar response works.

"I'm happy to do this, but it will impact the delivery schedule of the other items I'm working on. Let me verify that the boss is ok with letting the schedule slip."

In both these cases, the response is close to saying “no”, but the delivery puts the decision back into the hands of the one making the request. It also politely calls attention to the fact that your time is not unlimited – a fact that is easy for others to forget.

There is no guarantee this will be effective (tyrannical bosses do exist), but generally people are reasonable and, if they make unreasonable requests, they don’t realize they are doing it. Sometimes, it’s up to us to provide that perspective.

You can maintain a positive attitude without killing yourself by being honest with those around you.