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Volunteer Overload? 5 Ways to Say No

When you're a working mother, there's enough guilt to go around without worrying whether you're on the community hit list of Moms Who Don't Do Enough. But if you just don't have the time, how do you decline? "If you can't say yes cheerfully," says Judith Martin, author of Miss Manners' Basic Training: The Right Thing to Say, "then say no  -- and stick to it." Some polite ways to do so:

STATE YOUR PRIORITY

Figure out how much time you actually have and how you want to use it. Susan Thomsen, a software engineer and mother of four in Dayton, OH, spends her five free hours per week in her kids' elementary school, planning its annual auction. She turned down a request to become the vice president of the Dayton Bar Auxiliary (her husband is a lawyer), since it didn't benefit her children.

You can say that you have only a few hours each week and your children's school/church/scout troop is where you need to put them.

CUT TO THE CHASE

If you know right away that you can't take on a job, say so promptly. Don't torture yourself  -- or raise the hopes of your caller, who hears "Let me think about it" as a potential "yes."

KEEP IT SIMPLE

The less wordy your explanation, the better. "You needn't say why you can't take on a task," says Martin. "Just keep repeating, 'I'm terribly sorry, but I can't.'"

BE KIND

Complimenting the cause or the caller can help you over the hurdle. Say, for example, "I have such admiration for the work you're doing, but I can't commit my time to it."

SAY NO, BUT....

As a last resort, turn down the Big Job (heading the school fair) but take on a piece of it (running a booth). Or make a donation  -- of a raffle prize, cookies  -- just not of your valuable time.

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