Photo: Courtesy Subject/Illustration: Chloe Krammel
As a leader, I've come to know the importance of time, and directly managing the precious moments I have available. Early in my career, I had a yes mentality: I'd say yes to stretch projects, yes to additional work, yes to coming in early or staying late. I tried to fill my day so that I'd be highly productive and additive to my team. I was doing what I was told were all the right moves for someone looking to progress and contribute.
Having now worked for more than 20 years, I'm working to embrace no. The yes mentality that served me well early in my career is now at times an impediment. I simply don't have the time to take on more commitments and now need to shift to a no mentality.
With more responsibilities come more commitments and less bandwidth to take on what I might have once said yes to. As leaders, the shift to no must occur sooner than later. Here are the three reasons why saying no more can help you become more successful.
1. Increased Impact.
As a leader, you're no longer an individual contributor; it's about maximum impact. You may have teams you manage, budgets, large-scale deliverables, and responsibilities. You may also have personal responsibilities such as a family, civic, or philanthropic duties.
If you fail to deploy the word no, you will begin to see a decreased impact in all the things you have going on because you're over-committed. Not only does this impact you professionally, but people may think that you're ineffective and write you off as unreliable as well. The more you take on, the more it can potentially hurt you if you don't fiercely prioritize your time.
When someone asks for more of your time, let them know you have competing priorities or a deadline that cannot be missed. Be firm and resolute.
2. Optimized Prioritization.
People will come to you with problems and make requests of your time. But you have to delineate your priorities from their problems. If you have a pressing deadline and someone brings a problem to you unrelated to the immediate task at hand, you need to learn to say no.
If you work to solve their problem, you've de-prioritized yourself and your objectives. You may be letting down your team, your customers, your business, your family, etc. Every problem is not your priority, especially if solving someone else's problem then creates problems you didn't initially have.
Embracing saying no may at first seem callous or selfish, but it's the opposite. You're keeping your word and meeting your obligations, not only as a principle, but because it impacts your reputation if you can't deliver on what you've originally promised.
I make it a habit to have prepared canned email responses to decline, with a justification and an unequivocal no to close off conversation. If it's over the phone, be direct and use the previously prepared response.
3. Reclaim Your Time.
If you don't learn to say no and people know you are inclined to say yes, they may take advantage of your kindness. It's important to understand the consequence of being helpful or being hindered, and the endgame of your choice.
There's a quote I love by Henry Ford: "Givers have to set limits because takers rarely do." Takers will take advantage if you let them, and it takes a level of maturity to effectively close the door on those exploiting what you have to give.
If saying no is too difficult, enlist others like an assistant or colleague to decline on your behalf. Build in ways to set boundaries.
It's just simple math, you have 24 hours in your day and you have to figure out how to strategize your days, weeks, and months. So start now.