6 “Selfless” Excuses to Use at Work for Not Getting Work Done

Kathy Klotz-Guest
4 min readMay 12, 2017

Because we need believable excuses that legitimize what we’ve done (or not) at work.

We’re all busy these days. Making excuses look legitimate has gotten a lot harder. You find an excuse and — boom! —others have grabbed hold of it and pretty soon that excuse is everyone’s go-to thing: ‘Traffic was horrible’ (code: I haven’t left yet); or ‘It went to my spam filter’ (code: I could not even deal with it).

Let’s face it, having go-to excuses that work in business matters. So here are my best go-to excuses that work at work when we’re behind. And these gems will have people feeling mad at themselves for thinking the worst about you. Plausible deniability has never looked so, well, adorable.

1. “I Threw Out the Presentation…”

Got a meeting Monday and you didn’t get to your presentation over the weekend? No problem. Tell everyone, “I thew out the presentation. It wasn’t worthy of your time.” They’ll think you are a humble hero who cares a lot about quality. You’re a perfectionist and only the best work will do — if you did any. And who has time for that during the weekend? You don’t. Heroic humility is your superpower.

2. “I Don’t Want to Step on Any Toes”

Nothing says respect like claiming an excuse riddled with empathy. When you tell people, “Hey, I don’t want to step on any toes,” that leaves people thinking you’ve thought about the delicate ecosystem of political work fiefdoms and you don’t want to cross that line. After all, doing that would make you look like a jerk. Now, by not doing the work, you are the most unselfish person in the room. In fact, you are downright respectful. Who are you to deny others the joy of doing the work? No, doing it would cross a line and you are a work saint.

3. “I am Confused…What’s Our Goal Here?”

How can you be held accountable when you are confused? Got marching orders you don’t like? No problem. When you say, “I’m confused..What’s Our Goal Here?,” people feel for you and not angry. That’s a whole lot better. I mean you’re looking out for the organization, so who can argue with that? Plus being confused doesn’t lead to great work. Who would fault you? That’s just heartless…. and confusing. I mean, “what’s our goal here?”

4. “I think We’re Rushing This…is This Even Realistic?”

No one does their best work under super tight deadlines. “I think we’re rushing this” tells people you care about customers and quality. And you care way too much. You even said so on your interview when it came to greatest weaknesses: “My weakness is I care way too much.” I get it. You’re humble. Stay that way — and then let everyone else know it. Humility requires a bullhorn.

5. “My Schedule Blew Up…”

Things happen all the time. You can’t predict it. Make sure you sound ominous and make a serious face when you say this. Shake your head in disbelief. Your co-workers — if they have any humanity at all — will feel sorry for you. Less is more with this one so don’t offer details. A vague “you know how it is” is enough. Damn straight they do.

6. “I Misunderstood…My Bad”

‘Wait…what..that was due today?” You are human and people make mistakes. You just make them a lot more and have great excuses when it’s convenient. And your “radical honesty” is endearing. Didn’t get that work done on time? “I misunderstood…I thought we said we would finalize it next week. My bad!” Who can get mad at your adorable vulnerability? Plus, now your coworkers and boss will take ownership of the miscommunication and ask themselves why they weren’t more clear. You’ll have them doubting what they actually said. Nice way to flip it.

What excuses have you used? Let me know!


My company is Keepingithuman.com. Join the community (sign up for my newsletter)!

I am a speaker, author (“Stop Boring Me!”- on Amazon), storyteller, improv comic, and creative excavator. I help organizations solve problems creatively and collaboratively. My 8-yr-old thinks I am hilarious. I know that window is closing soon. Follow me on Twitter. I speak on humor, improvisation, and organizational storytelling and how to generate new ideas. I also like to write occasionally about serious stuff too. My livestream show is #yesandbrand and you can catch that on my FB page every Friday at 10AM PDT.



Kathy Klotz-Guest

Author, speaker, comedian. I turn teams into thriving idea-driven startups who lead in the moment with humor and improvisation. CEO, Keepingithuman.com. MA, MBA