It’s Okay to Say No

Aug 02, 2011

“Often, he who does too much does too little.”
Italian Proverb

When’s the last time you said No to someone?

I met with the lead pastor in my church, Joel Kovacs, for lunch today. We had a great conversation around focusing on strengths and what strategic execution entails. He explained how he’s focused on three initiatives. He delegates the rest. This is a brilliant philosophy.

The church is just over a year-old. You would think the head man would be all over everything. Although he’s involved in many facets, he trusts his team to get the job done. He provides the direction and he relies on his tribe to step up and deliver. Whether it’s accounting or graphic design, Joel knows these aren’t his strengths. This gives him the freedom to think big picture.

We tend to have too much on our plate

From to do lists to over-committing, we tend to take on too much. When’s the last time you said no to someone when they’ve asked you for something? It’s hard to do.

Most of us want to help others when they need it. There are times, however, when we need to say no. I know I don’t like to say no. I like to help people. It feels good when someone wants you to do something for them.

We all need to start weighing that commitment against what we’re trying to accomplish in other facets of life.

3 Questions to ask yourself when faced with saying yes or no

Do you have the capacity to say yes? If you have the capacity, great, go for it. Say yes. Make sure you can commit 100% though. Committing and not delivering is much worse than committing at all.

If you say no, do you know how to do it eloquently? Saying no seems harsh on the surface so you need to explain why. An example is simply saying, “I have a lot on my plate and I don’t think I can give you 100% of my attention right now. I’d love to help in the future if you need me.” There’s not a lot someone can say to that. You’re being honest. Most people will respect that.

Are you the right person for the job? Just because someone asks you for help doesn’t mean you have the ability to help them. If you have no idea how to fix your mom’s dishwasher would you commit to fixing? I don’t know the first thing about fixing dishwashers (my expertise pretty much stops at changing light bulbs). Telling my mom that I can help would be doing her a disservice.

Same goes for work. Your boss asks you to compile some information on an upcoming project. He tells you he needs it by tomorrow morning. You’ve got three other projects you’re working on that are equally as important. Do you have the courage to tell your boss no? Again, doing it the right way and explaining how you can’t give 100% to it….and, offering a different solution, will help.

Why you need to develop this habit

When I look at my projects list today compared to a couple years ago, it’s mind-blowing. I used to have 80 plus projects on my list (personal/professional combined). Taking a look at my projects list today, I have 40 total. I think this is even too many. It’s been a success to cut these in half over time and has really enabled me to focus on the key 20%. I know I need to still improve this. There’s no magic number as it depends on what your role is, both personally and professionally.

My goals drive this and I’ve also learned to narrow my list of goals. Instead of 20 plus goals in the past, I now have fewer than 10. As I review these, I get focused. I’m not overwhelmed. Scott Dinsmore writes an amazing blog called Live Your Legend. He talks a lot about Warren Buffett and his philosophy on goals. Mr. Buffett says that you should have no more than five goals. Focus! Try listing everything you want to accomplish in the next year – you may come up with 25. Now, slash ‘em up and get down to five. Talk about focus. Do what you can. I didn’t quite get to five but I’m much more focused than I used to be.

Additional Reading:

Six Ways to get in the Zone

Are you Overcommitted?

What can you say no to now that will help you be more focused? Leave a comment and let us all know.

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