Your colleague tosses a last-minute, "gotta-have-it-by-tomorrow-morning" project on your desk on his way out the door -- and it's already way past closing time. Your friend forgets her wallet -- again -- and asks you to pick up the tab for lunch for the umpteenth time. And your pet-crazy neighbor keeps "forgetting" to make kennel reservations for her furry roommates when she goes on yet another of her weeklong business trips. Being a good employee, supportive friend or helpful neighbor is fine, but if people are constantly taking advantage of you, it's time to put your foot down.
Recognize the Signs
You're willing to help a friend out in a pinch, but after a while, you notice this same friend is always calling you for every little thing, until you've practically become her personal assistant. Your younger brother, who has trouble sticking with a job, never seems to have any money when it's time to pay the bar tab or pay his share of the group anniversary gift for your parents. If you're perpetually doing errands, favors or chores for others, paying for your friends' meals or drinks or doing extra work for a co-worker, you're being taken advantage of on a regular basis.
Learn to Say No
You may have to retrain your brain and unlearn some habits. If you've convinced yourself that you're just being a good friend by always acceding to your friends' last-minute requests, change your mental dialogue. You can say "no" to some of the requests without it making you a bad friend. Your true friends probably will respect you for it, in fact, since you won't be serving as a doormat for people all the time. If the people who frequently take advantage of your good nature are angered by your new, stronger approach, you may be better off without them.
Your Time Matters
Don't undervalue your own time. People who constantly take advantage of you are saying that their time, or whatever they have to do, is more important than yours. Just because you don't have activities scheduled in the evening after work, doesn't mean you should stay late because your colleague didn't get his work done but doesn't want to be late for his hot date -- again. Helping friends or co-workers occasionally is fine, if it's for someone you know would do the same for you or because you want to help him out of a rare jam. Otherwise, don't be afraid to say no to frequent requests that infringe on your private time.
Establish limits to protect yourself from being everybody's go-to-guy. Be polite but direct when declining their requests and don't back down. Tell the friend who always needs to borrow money, "I'd like to help, but I'm not able to do so right now." Remind the ever-needy neighbor that just because you work from home, doesn't mean you're available at all hours to pick up her child from soccer or let her dog out at lunchtime every day. Tell your slacker co-worker that you can't stay after work to do his part of a group project. You don't owe them explanations. You'll no longer be taken advantage of all the time, and it may even help the others become more self-reliant.