It’s a simple word, but one that far too many of us have trouble saying: no. Perhaps it is because you’ve become successful by saying yes to every business opportunity, every request that has come your way, in order to grow your business.
However, as you become more successful, new opportunities inevitably emerge and more people vie for your time. Your success no longer depends on your ability to prove yourself, but rather your ability to prioritize the many opportunities and requests that come your way. As Steve Jobs once said, “I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”
If your gut reaction is to automatically agree whenever a client has a last-minute request, a co-worker needs help, or a new project comes your way, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your goals and priorities.
For example, let’s say a colleague or client requests your help. It’s a quick task and will probably take only 20-30 minutes of your time. You want to help and it seems rather harmless to pitch in. However, over the course of a day, week, or month, these requests can add up, potentially steering you astray of more important, strategic tasks.
If you’re looking to take more control over your time and schedule this year, here are a few tips to help you hone the powerful art of saying no:
Identify Why Saying No Is So Hard
There are numerous emotional triggers behind our reluctance to say no. For example, maybe you don’t want to let anyone down. Or you might worry over the lost opportunities or burned bridges that could result from saying no this one time. Will you stop getting additional chances in the future? Or perhaps you’d just prefer to avoid the discomfort and potential conflict associated with not being a team player and pitching in.
It’s important to understand and manage the underlying emotions driving your actions. Keep in mind that saying no to one project isn’t about rejecting opportunities; rather, you’re weighing your priorities for a better result. Likewise, saying no doesn’t mean you’re not a nice person; it simply means you have to set your own priorities and boundaries.
Identify Your Core Priorities and Objectives
In order to say yes to what’s truly important, you need to have a firm understanding of your core priorities. Well-defined near-term and long-term objectives can help you frame your daily decisions and to-do list. Will a new project or request help you move toward these short-term or long-term goals, or will they just distract you from your ultimate destination?
Another approach is to set your two must-do goals for the day. Then, say no to any other new request until you’ve crossed those two goals off the list.
Say No and Keep It Simple
Once you’ve gotten a better handle on which opportunities to accept and where you should take a pass, the next step is learning to say no gracefully, yet firmly. This takes practice. Saying no may feel awkward and difficult at first, but becomes more natural as time goes on.
The most effective way to say no is to be as direct as possible. A wishy-washy response (“I don’t think I’ll have time, but maybe I can fit it in”) only leads to confusion and the wrong expectations. Rather, be brief and direct: you don’t need to apologize or over-explain. A simple “I can’t commit, since I have other priorities at the moment” can suffice. Or, if you’d like to leave the door slightly open for the future, you could say something like “I’m in the middle of something else right now, but we can reconnect at x time.”
When it comes to managing your time, career, and business, overcommitting yourself isn’t a sign of success. If you’re struggling to say no, think back to all the times when agreeing to take on something new distracted you from your own priorities. How much time, energy, and stress might have been saved if you had just been able to say no?