Three Tips for Deciding When to Say, “No.”

“No”. Why it so difficult for so many of us to say such a little word?

It seems like such a small gesture, and yet, it can have a huge impact on our productivity, focus, and happiness.

As our work and home lives become busier, being confident and willing to say no is more important than ever. It’s essential so that we don’t burn out. It’s the key to staying in love with our work or business. It enables us to keep time for the things and people that matter most.

Now, on the surface, some might think folks struggle with a lack of assertiveness. In actual fact, the individuals I coach more often express that they worry they won’t appear professional, they’ll seem disloyal, or they’re not a team player.

Besides this not being the case, there are other consequences of saying yes to the wrong things. You can get burnt out. You can get resentful. You might get so buried in work no one notices you and the extras you’re doing (this is particularly true for women; for more on this check out Women of Influence’s research 7 Pitfalls of Women in Business)

When we say no, especially when we say no to the right things, then we can do a better job on the things we say yes to. When we focus on the things that are most essential, we can get them done more efficiently and faster, providing that positive dopamine hit in our brain allows us to move on to the next thing. Not only that, we role model for others as well as discern and evaluate the most effective and important things you need to do with your time.

The question is: How do you know what to say no to?

I know this dilemma all too well.

About four years ago, I had a meeting with my business mentor. It was a challenging point in my career. I had climbed the corporate ladder, had a great job and title, a healthy pension and pay cheque, and stimulating work. However, my family needed more than I was giving them. One of my kids had been struggling with mental health challenges for years and it reached the tipping point. But what could I do? I was in a senior leadership role and had a huge workload, carrying a pager 24/7 and feeling the weight of a growing workload on my shoulders. This was what I signed on for, though, and it was non-negotiable.

Or was it?

My business mentor said to me, “If you had to cut out 15% of your time what would you give up?” My immediate response was, “nothing,” but she said, “I don’t believe it. I’m the CEO of an eight-figure company and I could cut 15% of my time from work if I needed to, so why can’t you?

So, I did. In that moment I realized – with my expectations, desire to contribute, and attempt to become indispensable – was putting the 15% on myself.

How can you cut back 15%? Well glad you asked! Say no in order to say yes to what matters most by:

1. Evaluating What’s MOST Important

If you or someone in your family became seriously ill, if you moved jobs and you had to cut out 15%, what would you cut out? Make a list. If you don’t know, start keeping track of the things that don’t matter. As soon as you add it to the list, start making plans to cut it. If you could do it for someone you love, you can do it for yourself.

2. Hire and Ask for Help

Decide on and list the tasks that you don’t need to do. Tasks that eat up a lot of time, are fiddly and take you away from the things you need to focus on in your work and business. Unless you are the only one who can do it, you love it, or it’s your superpower, consider a plan for how to pass it on.

Remember, it may not be your talent and strength, but it’s someone else’s. Give them a chance to shine. Give them a job. Give them a stretch assignment. Keep track of those things that you’re doing that you don’t love, things someone else can do better and more efficiently for you, and find the right person to take it off your hands!

3. Creating a Prioritization List

When I get a client request, I go through my Greatness Priorities. It’s my prioritization list that helps me decide if it’s a job I should say yes to or no to (often helping the client more by referring it on to someone who is a better fit in expertise or cost). It’s a mindset of “earning the yes” rather than scarcity thinking of accepting work out of fear.

To give you a sense of a list, here’s mine in order of most important:

I get asked to do a lot of things for free or at a seriously discounted fee. Not only will that mean I can’t stay in business for long, it takes time away from the people that motivated me to start this biz in the first place (my family). There’s only so much of me to go around – time and energy-wise.

What are your priorities? What makes a request an easy yes and what, when you think about it, makes for an easy no?

Would you like a few more tips to help you decide what you say yes and no to? Jump over to the Cool Stuff tab on my website for an infographic (you may want to share it with your colleagues and spouse!)

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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