There is a skill that many, many busy folks lack. A skill that if they could master, their lives would be easier,
simpler and more rewarding. A skill that would reduce waste, get rid of headaches, improve their sex lives and give them time for that candlelit bath they keep promising themselves. A skill that could help them to wake up feeling refreshed, energized and ready to face their day. It would benefit them more than a massage, a babysitter for the evening or an hour of yoga. And yet, most women (and quite a few men) refuse to learn this skill. They don't think it's possible to have.
What is it?
The power to say "no." A simple "no" to the extra project, to staying late at work, to being in charge of the bake sale, to helping a friend move. Why is this so hard for us?
I believe it's because we tend to feel genuinely excited about helping out. We're generous folks and social creatures. We want to help out the boss and finish up the project. We want to support our kid's school with brownies. We genuinely want to move our friend's sectional sofa across town. Human beings are social creatures, and one of our primary forms of interaction is doing favors for others. We recognize that we are part of an interactive society; we help each other.
All that being said, in our busy lives, we are miserable when we don't set boundaries for ourselves. Our true values and priorities will be lost if we don't set some limits on the activities we say "yes" to. I recommend taking a week to plot out exactly how you spend your time. Track it like a lawyer. For every 15 minutes of your day, make a note of how you spend it. How much time do you spend on your best client's account? How much time do you spend prospecting? How much time building relationships online? How much interacting with your kids? How much exercising? How much catching up with friends? How much on your favorite hobby?
After a week, you might be surprised to see that your stated priorities don't match how you actually spend your time. Are you spending a disproportionate amount of time with one client or one energy-sucking friend or activity instead of doing things that support your business and personal goals?
OK, now that we've looked at how we're actually spending our time, here's the quick and easy way to say "no" when you need to. For example, your boss asks you to take on a new project you have no interest in, but you still want to be seen as a team player:
- Repeat the request:
"So what I'm hearing is that you would like me to take on the Jackson case."
- Get more information. Don't be afraid to ask lots of questions to find out what kind of commitment you would be making:
"How much extra time would I be committing to? Would this take away from more important clients/activities? Would this include evening and weekend commitments? What skills are required for this? Would I have any support for this?"
- Pause. Don't be afraid of silence. Saying an instant "yes" can get you into trouble; taking time to really consider the option makes you look thoughtful.
- Say no without apology. If you have a suggestion for an alternate choice more suitable for the project, suggest it, but a firm and assertive, "No, I don't believe I can commit to that right now" is your best phrase for clearing your life of energy clutter.
For women in particular, the first few "no"s can be a bit painful. Truly, the guilt can be overwhelming every time we say "no" when someone asks us. However, you're no good to anyone if you're spread so thin that you don't remember what your priorities in life are. Say "no" and feel good about it--every "no" is more time and focus for your best clients, your personal growth, your kids and your "me" time.
What do you think?