f time is your greatest asset then ‘No’ is a powerful word when it comes to your productivity. Ultimately, if you don’t schedule your priorities, someone else will schedule them for you.
It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. Deciding what not to do is just as important as deciding what to do. Steve Jobs.
Do you ever catch yourself wanting to say no, but end up saying yes instead?
I work with people who have too much on. I work with teams that are overcommitted. Businesses that take on too much let themselves down. We have to get better at saying no to good ideas and making trade-offs explicit, so that we don’t jeopardise resources away from the projects that matter the most. We also have to get better at creating environments that encourage people to speak up and share what they are really thinking. Stretching resources too thinly across big change agendas means everyone suffers.
How we discern what to say yes and no to is at the core of our productivity and results.
Saying no is hard. We want others to perceive us as smart, capable, team players who seize opportunity to learn and contribute. How do you say no and still manage these perceptions?
Tom, a high performer, didn’t want to miss an opportunity to position himself as a “go getter” ready to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in. However, when Tom felt he was being overloaded in a cross-functional project, he knew he needed to set some boundaries for his involvement in a constructive way. Tom realised that wanting to be liked was getting in the way of him being effective in his role.
The good news is that there are different “flavours” of no from which to choose, depending on the situation you’re in. You do have options, and your sound judgement is required:
Delegate: “No, it’s not for me, and there someone else I can assign this to who will be able to complete it”. In this case, you know who should perform the work, and ideally you are able to pass the task on. The work still gets done, it doesn’t take up a lot of your time, and you can choose to round back and check-in on how it went.
Deflect: “No, it’s not for me, but I can connect you with someone who can do this for you.” This is for tasks you know aren’t right for you, but you can still offer value by pointing the person in the right direction – without adding one more thing to your do-list.
Discuss: “No, I won’t be able to do that, but I will do this instead.” It’s not always yes or no. You could deliver something in between. Discussing the options means you can propose and evaluate alternatives, negotiate the scope, or even come up a solution that works better than what was originally proposed.
Delay: “No, I can’t do it right now, and I will be able to at a future specified or unspecified time.” No can come in the form of “I have other non-negotiable priorities right now” or “I believe this can wait” or a combination of the two. Learning to negotiate deadlines and schedule projects in advance is especially valuable when your plate is already full.
Decline: This is a direct no. “No, I am not going to do this”.
Discard: This can be the hardest of all because it can feel rude, but it’s a necessary tactic in today’s information age.
Bringing it all together
Saying yes to too many things is overwhelming and counterproductive. When everything seems important, choosing your priorities and tasks is critical. Learning to say no is an inevitable part of good leadership and staying on track.
What can you start saying no to that will give your focus, productivity and results a leg up?