I have a hard time saying no to new projects, even when I know they’ll probably bring nothing but stress. The result is hectic days, late nights and the nagging feeling that I’m not getting as much out of my time as I could be.
Saying “yes” to everyone and everything is a habit I need to break, and many of you would probably benefit from getting more control over your own schedules. So let’s try this together.
Here are six tips for when, why and how to say no.
1. The deadline is ridiculous. Sometimes great opportunities come along that seem to require putting everything else on the backburner, but do they really? If it’s truly something you don’t want to miss out on, try to find some flexibility in the timeframe. This isn’t so much saying “no” as it is pushing back on what could be an exaggerated sense of urgency.
2. It’s something the requestor could easily do for him or herself. In these situations, don’t respond right away. Most people are pretty resourceful, so give them some time to figure it out.
3. Because the task doesn’t bring value or takes too much time away from your primary focus. You might feel pressured to say “yes” to something that brings zero value, but it will only take 10 minutes so what’s the big deal? Problem is, being too agreeable can lead to taking on five or six of these 10-minute favors every day. And just like that you’ve lost an hour.
Plus, it doesn’t take long to develop a reputation as someone folks can call for a quick fix, and that gets hard to manage very fast.
4. Because a project is not in line with your strengths. I’m all about trying new things, but sometimes a new venture just doesn’t make sense. Maybe it’s out of line with your company culture or personal beliefs. Or maybe it’s as simple as you not being the best person to tackle a particular challenge. Being aware of what you’re not good at can be just as valuable as knowing where you shine.
5. By explaining why without over-explaining. Your “no” can be as simple as, “This isn’t one of our strengths,” or, “I’d love to be involved, but I can’t take on anything new for at least two weeks.”
6. By applying the classic compliment sandwich. Structure your “no” as a Positive. Negative. Positive.
“That’s a great idea, but unfortunately we don’t have the resources to make it happen right now. We can put it on the schedule for next month, or you might call Joe to see if he can help in the meantime.”
Just be sure to check with Joe before you throw him under the bus.
I’m obviously not the first to struggle with saying “no,” because if you type it into Google you’ll get pages and pages of sage advice. Here are just a couple of them: