I say “no” a lot. It’s not always easy. But it’s incredibly liberating when you can gently, and graciously, decline something that would pull you from a priority, derail your productivity, or make you regret the commitment in the first place. Of course, there are times when we wish we could say “no,” but probably shouldn’t—for example, accepting an arduous assignment from the boss or going to your next dental examination.
But the aforementioned litmus test of activities and engagements should help you realize exactly what you should say “yes” or “no” to. Remember, if it won’t serve others or better you through the experience, it may be something you feel you have to do, but probably shouldn’t.
I’ve had plenty of offers that I’ve accepted that I wish I hadn’t. Social engagements, committee assignments, special projects, and yes, on an occasion a client or two. Looking back, I should have politely declined. It wasn’t that these were bad experiences, but they were unhealthy. And they caused me to worry and fret. Either the engagement wasn’t a fit, or the role wasn’t right for me, but I felt guilty about saying “no.”
What I discovered was saying “yes” to everything and everyone wasn’t always the best thing for everything and everyone. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. But I did.
And I learned to say “no” with grace. And I learned to be okay with saying “no” with grace.
To be clear, I love helping others and being busy. I also love being productive. It allows me to sleep better and have more time to do the things I want to do. But being busy by saying “yes” all the time was also pulling me away from what’s important—even if it wasn’t a big time commitment. What I learned was that I was trying to get more things done instead of getting the right things done. I needed to prioritize my priorities. So, I created a plan to focus on the most important goals.
And you should too.
Not only is this a great way to outline your priorities and establish your goals, but to figure out what you should say “no” to.
Start by listing out everything you’re doing (or should be doing) for the week. Then write an “A” next to your big three priorities and “B” and “C” next to the less urgent items, respectively. What’s left? Everything you need to say “No” to. Sure, there may be some “B” and “C” items you should also decline, but this really pares the list down to what’s most important to you.
While this is an oversimplification of this activity, we go deeper into this during coaching, it’s certainly a great way to get started. And it’s an easy activity to engage in to help you ferret out your “no’s.”
While it can be scary, it’s liberating. And your productivity will skyrocket.
“The result is that by investing in fewer things we have the satisfying experience of making significant progress in the things that matter most.”
I want to re-iterate that saying “no” isn’t easy. I have lost “friends” in the process. I have lost business too. But what I’ve reaped is deeper, unconditional friendships, more quality time with my family, the opportunity to give back and volunteer when I can, the time to be creative and of course grow a business and make my clients a priority. Sure, I still give the “I’m okay with saying ‘no’ speech” to anyone who will listen because in my twisted mind it greases the pavement for the inevitable “no.” Especially when I need to graciously decline all the “coffees” and “cocktails” invites that I just can’t commit to as a business owner with a family.
But when I do say “yes” I do so with all my heart and soul. And you can too!
It’s time to free yourself from the guilt-laden commitments that don’t serve you or the person asking you to serve. Otherwise, frustration and career burnout is right around the corner. Instead, keep your important commitments and say “yes” more often to the things that encourage you to live your life fully in what gives you pleasure, happiness, productivity, security, serenity and peace.
How to Be Career Happy? Say No With Grace