For many of us who’re both distracted and compulsive people-pleasers, a journey toward true productivity often starts with saying no to projects and tasks that don’t really matter to us.
As you define your purpose and begin Lifescaling, you’ll be confronted by a lot of situations in which you need to say ‘no’ – to additional work that doesn’t further your main objective, unessential meetings, side projects you know will sap your energy, etc.
In my new book LIFESCALE I share the story of Facebook VP Fidji Simo, who was forced to narrow and sharpen her focus when doctors sent her home on bed rest during the last half of a difficult pregnancy. To get the necessary work done while protecting her health, Simo had to ruthlessly eliminate nonessential obligations and time-sucks. Once returning to work, she continued to implement this rigorous approach to her schedule and shared it with her team.
Pick up a copy of LIFESCALE (pg. 274) to learn Simo’s techniques for refusing lower-priority requests. Below I’ve included some bonus thoughts that, though not featured in the book, I endorse. These are tips for mastering the art of ‘no,’ determining when to say it, and becoming known and respected as someone who sets boundaries.
- Be Nice, but not too nice.
One key to saying no is finding a balance between withering disapproval and an overly cheerful ‘no’ that might be misconstrued. “The manner in which you say no is so important. Don’t make the other person feel bad for asking you for help,” recommends Karen Dillon, coauthor of HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? Remember, while you’re training yourself to focus and prioritize, you’re also training others to respect your boundaries. It won’t happen overnight.
- When to Say It.
The goal of saying no isn’t to eliminate opportunities, it’s to help you focus more on the most important things. When presented with a request, ask yourself “If it clearly contributes to your goals and responsibilities.” When an ask sounds like drudgery, it’s fairly easy to pass. But even smaller projects that sound ‘interesting’ or ‘fun’ can take time away from larger projects that will advance your career and be more deeply satisfying when completed.
- Take a Pass When Offered Projects With Unrealistic Deadlines,
especially when these deadlines are attached to unimportant projects. We all want to be the hero who comes in at the last minute and saves the day. But often this attitude results in mediocre work that takes away from our prime objectives. A lose/lose situation.
- Set Boundaries Around Email.
Americans tend to denigrate the ‘lazy’ French, but in this arena they’re definitely on to something, having passed a law in 2017 to ban after-hours emails. While most of us will never go all-in on this practice, even top CEOs have recommended ignoring nonurgent work-related emails that come through at 3 AM or on a Sunday morning. Begin setting parameters that work for you.
Again, as you begin the process of winnowing out the unnecessary in your life, you’ll learn that saying ‘no’ isn’t easy, especially at first, but, over the longterm, it’s definitely worth the effort.
1. 9 things you should never be afraid to say no to at work By Devon Delfino, Jun. 8, 2018/Business Insider/
2. How to Say No to Taking on More Work. by Rebecca Knight, December 29, 2015/Harvard Business Review