Have you ever said “yes” to a project at work because you felt bad no-one else was volunteering, only to kick yourself later when the reality of the workload dawned on you?
Do you agree to help out friends and family only to be left doing everything on your own?
I use to find myself in these situations because I had the overpowering need to please others, be liked and act selflessly, but spending my time on someone else’s activities or extra workload was making me miserable, exhausted and stressed because I would run out of time to do what I actually needed to do, or worse, I wouldn’t give my priorities the attention they deserved.
Oh, I remember it well.
I would fall in to bed at night and create mental to-do lists of everything I had to complete the next day like Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Kate Reddy in the movie I don’t know how she does it.
There was never enough hours in the day to it all.
But was my ‘all’ really all mine?
I needed to take a long hard look at what I was spending my time on and cut out the clutter before I lost my mind.
Author Elizabeth Grace Saunders writes in her book The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: Achieve More Success with Less Stress; “if we viewed our time like we view our money we may actually be able to decide more effectively how to invest our time.”
This analogy was perfect for me to visualise time as a commodity and one I could easily gauge whether or not there was a sufficient supply to complete the extra tasks.
If not, I had these three replies up my sleeve for whenever someone asked me to help out, but I knew instinctively I wanted to say ‘no’.
1. Thank you for asking. I need to check my workload for the week as I have a few things on. When can I get back to you by?
In this response, you have neither declined nor accepted the offer, allowing breathing space to review your workload and feel in to your final decision. Check how much time you have realistically over the course of a few weeks (or length of time for the project) then decide. Leaving time before responding will also make it easier to say ‘no’ as you are not put on the spot. In a professional environment it may also be easier to decline via email.
2. That sounds like a good idea, but unfortunately I’m not able to make it/help out/cancel my plans.
Don’t feel inclined to extend this answer and give a reason why you can’t accept. Quite often we feel the need to fill the silence with an explanation, only to dig our selves in deeper and be guilted in to changing our minds. If there is uncomfortable silence, remain silent. You are not obliged to keep talking. They instigated the request and will naturally realise you are finished responding.
3. No, I can’t.
Simple, effective and to the point. If this approach is difficult because you fear hurting the other person’s feelings, change it to, “No thank you, this doesn’t suit me right now” and leave it at that. This way you are turning the negative response back on yourself which no one can argue with.
Remember, if you keep a tab on how much time you actually have for your personal and professional priorities each week, then you’ll know how much time you have spare to offer others, or not.
Just like your finances, if you don’t know how much time is coming in and out of your ‘allowance’ you will naturally over spend and wonder where all your time went and what you spent it on.
Now, I’d love to hear from you.
When did start declining offers to save time and stress and how did you handle it?
What is one response you’ve got up your sleeve that eases the bad feelings around saying ‘no’?