Learning how to say no can be hard, but it’s something that I feel can really help you be more productive, reduce stress and do a better job with the things you do say “yes” to. I’ve always been pretty good at saying no (hopefully at the right moments) and I’ve found that saying no to some things can actually help everyone involved.
Learning how (and when) to say no is something that takes practice, especially if you’re someone that is honestly interested in helping everyone you can, or one of one of the many who feels guilty every-time you turn down a request for help.
I did a little research and a lot of thinking and I’ve come up with a few tips and observations that might help you know how and when to say no.
* Getting to “yes” via “no”. There are situations (I see them all the time in my field) where projects seem to get more and more complicated. This is usually due to the addition of tasks, requirements and people. There are many times when putting your foot down and not letting a new feature creep into your project, or not allowing the addition of a new influence in, can really help you get something finished. Sometimes the quickest way to “yes” or “go” is via “no”.
* Try and lose the guilt. Sometimes the reason why people get in a situation where they are overburdened with work is that they actually feel guilty if they even think about saying no to a request. I know how this feels, but I feel that if you are taking on tasks you can’t handle just to appease your guilt, your actually not helping anyone. If you don’t have the time to do something, say so and try your best not to feel bad about it.
* Make sure you fully understand requests before you agree to anything. I know this is a hard one for me. Sometimes wanting to help can be your worst enemy and you’ll agree to something before you truly understand how it’s going to effect your time. Try and get all the facts before you start adding tasks and projects.
* “Yes” = Stress. Keep your tasks and projects manageable. If you’re overloaded, make a note of it and let people know. There is nothing wrong with trying to keep your projects and tasks manageable. Let people you work with know when they are piling to much on and if you start to feel stressed about your workload, look for things you can wait on or turn down.
* Avoid a culture of consensus. Often we agree with things to make (or keep) people happy and on our side. Unfortunately this isn’t always beneficial. I’ve seen many projects (both at Boeing and Seattle Children’s) stall mightily because there was to much effort put into making everyone and their mom happy. A few well placed no’s can help keep things moving forward.
* Stick to your plan. If saying yes to something throws your plan to get something done way off, make sure you question if it’s worth it. It seems that far too often saying yes to something just leads to more and more requests for your time.
* The best intentions might not have the best outcomes. Even if you feel you are helping by agreeing to take on a task you may be actually hindering. With many projects it’s better to take away than it is to add. Ask yourself if the task you’re agreeing to is necessary and beneficial in the grander scheme of things.
* The conditional yes. I know I feel like there are times when I feel that if I agree to something I need to do it right now. If it’s easily done, then fine, but for those larger tasks that I want or need to take on I sometimes find it helpful to put them off until I’m done with something else. This allows me to say yes, but keep my focus on what’s currently going on.
* Make no mean NO! Don’t quibble. When you say no, mean it. Stick to your guns and put the request out of your mind. Don’t feel bad about it. A task you agree to and never complete is worse for everyone involved than a simple, solid, no.
I think the bottom line here is that there are times when you simply have too much going on to stay productive. In order to keep moving towards your goals you need to know when to say no and when to push things off your plate. It can be hard, and you may feel badly about it, but in the end you’ll be happier, you’ll get more done and the people you live and work with will actually be better off for it as well.