This blog post is adapted from an episode of my podcast, Crazy Busy. Listen in and subscribe or read below.
A colleague sends you a message asking for help on a project. You can feel your stomach start to tense and your anxiety rise at the mere mention of adding something else to your plate. But what do you say? “Yes, I can do that!” even though you really don’t have the space or energy.
Are you one of those people who says yes when you really want to say no? Are you having a hard time declining tasks and favors and end up suffering because of it?
If you answered yes, then you are not alone. This happens to a lot of people. We want to say yes because it feels great to say yes. We want to be the problem-solver and save the day. However, the challenge is that when we’re saying yes immediately, we’re not truly thinking. When we automatically say yes, we’re driven by our emotions rather than our logic or our sense of practicality. We end up spreading ourselves too thin, doing everything we’re asked, but failing at prioritizing our most important tasks. So, how do we fix this problem?
Do it one day at a time. Start with these tips:
Tip #1: Press Pause
Whenever you are confronted with this situation, before you say anything, you need to pause and think! You don't have to say no immediately. You can always say, "Hmmm. Maybe. Can I think about that and get back to you later?" "I don't know, let me take a look at my workload and see if I can say yes to that." "I'll let you know tomorrow morning, would that be okay?" This is how you can bridge the gap between yes and no and it will help you start the process of going into thinking and strategizing rather than an automatic response based on emotions just because someone will appreciate you for saying yes.
Even though it can feel good in the moment to just say yes, whenever you say yes when you really mean no, don't you feel like you're dissing yourself? You're breaking a boundary and a commitment you have with yourself. That feeling seeps in your life or your business and makes you feel out of control, which lis not how you want to operate.
Tip #2: Refer to Your Calendar
If you don’t know how much work you have on your plate, you don’t have data to back up saying no. So when you pause before saying yes, you need to have data on your calendar that you can look at. I outline how to do this in this blog post and episode 1 of my podcast Crazy Busy. This is the planning method you need to be able to truly know how much time you can spare in any given week.
Remember, the more you say no, the more you're protecting yourself from failure. Each success you feel after not overextending yourself and overloading your schedule will encourage you to always think before you say yes.
So, what happens if you feel that you really can't say noUsually, when this happens, it's because it's a task that's really important to your boss, your biggest client, or your colleague. In this situation, you could say, "I'd really like to say yes. Here's what that would entail." "Maybe, we could get someone else to work on this other project that I've committed to furthering by Friday? Then, I could fit it in."”Let’s look at my calendar and see how we can make this work.”
That way, you take care of this VIP, but you don’t do it by sacrificing your own health or well-being.
Tip #3: Learn to renegotiate or redirect
There's only a certain amount of time allotted in a work day. When your workload does not fit into the 40-50 hours that you've allotted in a week, you’ve got a problem. Again, go back to this post to learn how to plan your day and week for success.
When you want to say yes and fit something new in, but that means you have more work than hours in the week, you need to start the renegotiation process on all your projects and deadlines.
Some deadlines you can adjust yourself, but others you may need to inform or ask your co-workers about. If you need to renegotiate something with your boss or superior, do so politely, but get into the habit! Showing them what’s on your plate and seeing what can be moved around to put the priority work first starts to train them to think ahead also. It shows that you work with intention and have your tasks plotted out. For something new to come in, you have to remove what doesn’t fit by delegating it, deleting it or deferring it to another week.
You may also be able to redirect the ask. If you show the person who’s asking what you’re working on and that you have a real passion and vision for it, you can make the case for focusing your energy there. Perhaps they can redirect the task to someone who has more space and needs a focus.
While being the person at work who “picks up all the pieces” can feel good in the short-term, it isn’t a long-term strategy. Use these tips for saying no, plotting out your work and renegotiating when you must say yes to help you have a smoother workweek. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but will become the healthy new normal as your clarity ripples out to the people you work with.