As we can see from yesterday’s posts, there are days where there is simply too much to do to get everything done. When we take on more than we can handle, we must learn to trim the excess out of our lives in order to keep ourselves sane and balanced.
Learning to say ‘no’ is possibly one of the most important skills one can possess. Far too many of us get caught in games of saying ‘yes’ to tasks that we clearly are not able to juggle and find ourselves stressed, overwhelmed and- all too often- unable to perform any of our tasks to the best of our abilities.
Following these basic tips can help you identify which tasks you should be taking on and which ones are simply beyond you at this time.
When should you say “Yes!”
There are several times where saying ‘no’ actually isn’t an option. If you identify these times early and make them priorities in your day, you will save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.
Here is a list of “Automatic Yes” moments:
- If something falls within the acceptable, reasonable and time manageable expectations of your job.
- If something falls within the acceptable, reasonable and time manageable expectations of your family/social/self activities.
- If something is urgent and cannot be accomplished by anyone other than you. (Now, don’t get confused between pressing and urgent: something urgent is something that cannot wait, has immediate, dire consequences and generally impacts more people than just yourself.)
- If you have already agreed to something: Unless it is absolutely impossible for you to do, keep the commitments you’ve already made. Yes, you may be tired but the damage to your reputation from not keeping your promises could be permanent.
- When the cost of saying No outweighs the cost of saying Yes. This is a tough one. In business, we ultimately are responsible for the success or failure of our company. When we say no, we are usually losing out on advancement in some form or another. This is called “opportunity cost” and will be discussed more in later posts.
While this seems is a pretty long list of “yes” moments, many of our daily commitments actually fall outside of these parameters.
That committee you were thinking of signing up for? Probably not on the list.
The social that falls on the same night as your child’s Christmas concert? Not there, either.
The pro-bono speaking engagement that you were asked to participate in? Unless there is a significant gain to be made, let it go.
And the coffee-play date that got thrown together on twitter this morning? It probably shouldn’t outrank your work, no matter how much you want it to.
When to say ‘No!’
As difficult as it is to do, there are times when saying ‘no’ is an absolute necessity. If you fail to identify these, you wind up biting off more than you can chew and this can impact every level of your professional and personal life.
Here are some examples of when ‘no’ is the only option:
- When your existing commitments are at risk: Do not risk your current obligations to take on new ones, even if the new ones could be of greater personal gain to you. Keep your commitments or you will pay for it them in the long run.
- When saying yes would be detrimental to you or others: Do not agree to taking on commitments that are unnecessarily risky. If you are physically, emotionally or psychologically incapable of taking on a new task, do yourself a huge favor by turning it down at the get go. Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not accept tasks on the behalf of others without their explicit approval; this is grossly disrespectful and could impact your relationships.
- When the cost outweighs the gain: Opportunity cost works both ways and often you must decide if the cost of saying ‘yes’ to a new project will cost you more in the long run. Time is money, so don’t forget to account for your time when factoring opportunity.
- When you aren’t actually capable of accomplishing the task: This should be a no-brainer, but it must be said: DO NOT TAKE ON TASKS THAT ARE BEYOND YOUR CAPABILITIES. No one wins if you are under-qualified and/or do not have the necessary skills needed to accomplish the project. This is particularly true for those who are in business and have inherent legal obligations and liabilities attached to their roles.
- Another no-brainer: Do not take on tasks that are illegal, immoral, unethical and/or that could be otherwise detrimental to you and/or your company’s reputation. While some may have accomplished this, it is surprisingly difficult to succeed from jail. They do not always provide reliable internet access.
Learning to say “Yes, but not now”
When presented with a choice, we often look at it only from the perspective of “yes” or “no”. However, there is a third option that is far too seldom utilized but could provide you with the much-needed middle ground between these two. Instead of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’, try saying “Yes, but not now…”
Much more effective than just saying ‘no’, saying ‘yes, but not now’ shows an openness to the possibility of being able to engage in the project in the future. This is a far preferable answer to those who are hoping to work with you as it demonstrates that you are ready and willing to be there for them, but only when you are equipped to do it the right way.
Recognizing that most opportunities either a) come around more than once, or b) have flexible deadlines and entry points, allows you to pick and choose what your priorities will be on an ongoing basis.Just because you are too busy to take on a new engagement at this particular moment doesn’t mean that you will always be that way, and keeping the door open to “next time” shows vision and forward thinking, two skills that will serve you well in business.