2017 should be the year of “No.”
Our culture encourages us to be more efficient and produce more and work harder. In theory, this isn’t a bad thing. But what’s happening is that we’re taking on too many goals and too many assignments. We’re setting ourselves up for failure and ultimately, achieving less. We work until we pass out just to wake up a few hours later and do it again. We forgo rest and exercise and sacrifice our physical and mental health for a few more work hours. Over 60% of Americans work more than 40 hours a week and 18% work more than 60 hours per week. This culture of overworking leads to type-II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions. We put too much value on ‘crossing things off’ and not enough value on achieving balance in our lives.
Saying “No” is the only way we can achieve that balance.
Saying “No” is not easy because we don’t want to disappoint our friends, family, and coworkers. We may fear that by declining an assignment at work, we will be passed over for a promotion or maybe even fired. Turning down a request without letting someone down may seem impossible, but you can do it. Your health depends on it. Here are some pointers.
Managing Expectations –
This starts with an honest assessment of your capacity and capabilities. It is often tough especially for highly motivated people to admit it but we are not limitless. ‘Doing anything’ and ‘doing everything’ are not the same thing and even the most accomplished leaders in any field can only achieve their greatest potential by knowing the limits of their abilities and prioritizing their efforts within those limits. Once you’ve got that down, you can communicate that to those that are requesting things from you or presenting opportunities for you.
“I can try to make time to help you move this weekend, but I have to finish my term paper. That may take me most of the day, so if I can come over to help you, it may only be for an hour.”
This approach lets your friend know that they are important to you and you’d like to help a lot, but in actuality, you can only help a little because you’ve got other, pre-existing obligations. You’re explaining that there are other important things in your life and it shows that you are willing to balance those responsibilities to try to accommodate your friend’s needs.
Offering Alternatives –
If you truly are capable of achieving an alternative goal to the one being asked of you, offer to do what you can. It’s crucial in when offering an alternative that you will be able to achieve it. Unlike Managing Expectations, where you are explaining that you might not be able to provide any help, in this course, you are promising to achieve the alternative.
“Boss, I can put together a proposal, but it will take me at least two weeks. With the number of other things on my plate, there’s no way I could finish a quality proposal by the end of this week. Would it be okay to get it done in two weeks?”
You’re doing a few things here. You’re explaining to your boss that you are operating at capacity”, that you’re eager to work on the proposal, and you’re offering a realistic timeline to get the proposal completed. This decline may open up a discussion about re-prioritizing your efforts. It’s important to let your boss know that you have a realistic view of your limitations and that you’re willing to work towards whatever is prioritized within them.
Being Honest –
Sometimes you may simply not want to do the thing that is being asked of you. In this case, honesty is most often the best policy. Perhaps your new friend has asked you to be their wingman and go out for a few drinks. If this isn’t something that you enjoy doing, then explaining your previous obligations, or offering to go out next week is only going to postpone the discussion. Be honest with your friend and explain that you simply prefer not to do what they’ve asked. Being misleading here would establish false pretenses and create misunderstandings that will only cost you more in the future. It is better to be genuine and face any discomfort immediately.
Saying “No” and saying “Yes” are both equally important. Balancing your time is just as important as balancing your budget. Each of us needs to know the limits of our capabilities and commit ourselves to working within them. That is of course until I finish my time machine. Until then, stay happy, stay healthy, stay productive, and keep improving.