Just Say No

Your Packed Schedule

You are a busy person. That just seems to be the way it is in the culture we’re living and breathing in. I’ll even bet you’re busier than you even realize, and that your job creeps into parts of your day that used to be sacred. We have email, meetings, email, packed work schedules, email, kids’ schedules, email, and then you have to try to figure out when to work out, do your hobbies, or just get away for a breather. This, my friends, is all too much.

As I’ve tried to diagnose the problem more clearly, I realized that it comes down to how easy it is for people to have direct access to you at all times. The barrier to entry is just so low. It used to be that a person had to wait until you were near a phone (the kind that was attached to the wall with a cord), write you a letter, or find a way to see you face-to-face in order to gain your attention.

Now, all it takes is a text, a tweet, Slack, an email, or a Facebook message, and you’re working on a project that you had no clue you’d be working on. Time to say goodbye to the carefully planned day that you thought you’d have.

Being unreachable is a thing of the past. Welcome to a day when anyone and everyone can put tasks on your to-do list from anywhere in the world, at any time of day, at the press of a “send” button.

It’s All Too Much

Admit it. It is all too much. And now that you’ve admitted it, you have to decide what you’re going to do about it. My suggestion? Learn to say “no” or “not yet” to others, and create spans of time where you are not accessible, times when you can put your head down and crank away at the important tasks at hand.

I know that it’s tough to say “no” or “not yet” to others, but learning how to prioritize what you need to do is an important tool to develop in today’s busy culture. It’s easy to get wrapped up in not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings at the expense of the important work you really need to accomplish.

When I do less-pressing work during daylight hours, my family reaps the consequences of me trying to keep up during the evening hours.

How can you navigate all of this better?

  • Create generic email drafts ahead of time. When the time for saying no arises, simply drop the drafted text into your email. Don’t write it out of emotion. When we spew out an emotional response, we usually have to follow it up with an apology and the situation is clouded with angst. Keep this message simple with something like:
    • “Hey, thank you for wanting to meet face to face; I appreciate it so much. Could we continue this conversation via email, though? I may be able to address your concerns more quickly.”
    • “Thank you for your request. While I won’t be able to get to this today, I’ll put this on my to-do list and get back with you by the end of the week.”
  • Say no to meetings you know you’re just going to hand off anyway. Make the connection without doing the transitional meeting. I’ve been so bad about this, but it’s okay to do this, because you’re saving time for everyone involved. Saying, “I may not be the best person to ask. Let me connect you with someone who can better help with this,” shows that you’ve given the situation some thought and are expediting the solution.
  • Block out spans of hours where you will close your email app, put your phone on do not disturb, put your headphones in, and crank away on the right work at the right time.
  • Straight up, be honest with people. I’m frequently contacted by people about sales, trainings, or partnerships. It’s easy to string a person along in the name of Protecting Their Feelings when you already know it’s not going to happen. Tell a person the truth, even if it’s difficult—they’ll appreciate it more. Remember, the person on the other end of that call or email is probably just as busy as you.
  • Have a plan in place that allows you to say yes when you really want to say yes. This includes a plan for saying no when you need to say no. If your schedule is full of the “no” crowd, you’ve filled up the space that would be better used by helping the people you’d like to help. We all know this, but time is limited. You only have a finite amount of it. I love my family too much to fill my nights and weekends by saying yes to more unnecessary work and no to having fun with my wife and kids.

Time to Take Action

Where do you need to say “no” or “not yet” more frequently? How will you build in uninterrupted times to get the right things done?

Have questions? Email or tweet at me and I’ll do my best to help you get focused on doing the right work at the right time.

Rex Barrett @rexbarrett