It's OK to Say No: A Guide to Boosting Your Career by Saying No
A few years ago I was awarded One Person Wonder by the Michigan Business and Professionals Association—for my work for my work/life balance between my full-time career in public relations, part-time freelance gigs, owning and designing jewelry for my own company, and my volunteer and community work including a Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan Troop Leader—and from that time on, I have consistently had to answer the question "How do you get everything done?!" And my answer had always been, "I have no idea! I just do!"
But the reality of the situation is that I was (and still am) struggling to say "No."
Do I want to be on the board of your committee? Yes. Do I want to start a new weekly podcast with you? Yes. Do I want to redesign your entire website? Yes. Do I want to commit to presenting monthly workshops to your organization? Yes. Volunteer more? Guest blog? Work an event? YES. YES. YES.
And on top of saying "yes" and making commitments to others, I made a lot of promises to myself: Clean out my closet and donate clothes? Yes. Paint the greenhouse this weekend? Yes. Deep clean the bathroom tonight? Yes.
The saying "there's only so many hours in a day" just isn't some proverbial metaphor said to keep us mindful of how we spend our days, it's the harsh reality of life. There are literally only 24 hours in a day!
I know this may not be groundbreaking for everyone but when I really started to look at how I was spending my time on an hour by hour basis, I realized I would have to start saying "no" more—there was no other option (unless I am gifted a time turner, which I'm not holding my breath about).
And even though I try to live in the mindset that I can have it all if I just work hard enough, I've started to understand that there are constraints that are outside of my control... like time.
How Saying "No" Improves Your Life and Work
1. Quality of Work Increases - Here is one of the most apparent consequence of always saying "yes." A lot of times I wish I had more time to really perfect what I am working on but since I have a plethora of other commitments to work on, I must move on. Now, as a self-aware perfectionist, I have to ask myself: was my work already top notch? Maybe. But the fact is, I wish I didn't have to rush it off to my client. There's a good chance that if I had more time, I could produce something better... or at least feel more comfortable with the end-product.
2. Personal Stress Decreases - This one is no secret: the busier you are, the more stressed you become. Not only is your brain revved up to 100% all the time, but you also don't have any downtime to spend on yourself. Say "no" to another project and say "yes" to more ME time!
3. Productivity Increases - The busier I am the more stressed I become and therefor the more I procrastinate. Not only am I busy for other things but I just kind of start to shut down. If I can plan to work for a few hours followed by a relaxing hour of reading before bed, rather than hours of working before more hours of working on another project, I'm just more inclined to get the job done well and on time.
4. "Work/Life Balance" Balances - I love having a full-time career plus part-time entrepreneurial projects but one thing that I've always struggled to find is real work/life balance. When you're at your day-job for 8 hours there's only so many hours left to spend with your friends and family plus get work on your side gigs. By saying "no" to some things, you'll begin to find balance in your life.
5. Resentment Decreases - Do you ever find yourself running from meeting to meeting, staying up late to finish projects, and passing up on fun times with your friends and family just to resent them all in the end? I know you want to succeed as a professional but chances are you want to live your life too and not being able to do one of these things will leave you resenting the other.
So do you get it yet? No one wins if you're always saying "yes." Not your clients. Not your friends and family. And definitely not you!
Reasons Why It's OK to Say "No"
1. Spontaneity can be a time suck. - This can be a tough one and I struggle with this one the most. I get really excited about a new idea and I run full speed. But it's not until I get too far in that I realized that this spontaneous thing is going to take a lot more of my resources that I initially thought. Unless it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, stick to your current obligations. Otherwise take some time to think about it.
2. Most meetings are unnecessary. - Time is not a luxury or resource you have in abundance. Can this commitment be taken care of or discussed via email, phone or even Skype? Your travel time plus time in the meeting could be better allocated to something else.
3. You don’t owe anybody anything. - Contrary to popular opinion, you are not really obligated to do something for someone. This includes your coworkers (even your boss), your clients, your friends, your significant other, and you family. It would be nice to do everything but if you're feeling resentful obligation, chances are you should say no.
4. You are your #1 priority. - A lot of people ignore this fact but it is the most important: you are the person who is going to be most affected by the decisions you make in your life. If you decide to do something and struggle to find time then you’re the one who’s going to be most stressed.
5. Life moves on. - Life flows, it moves and it progresses whether you say no or not. You can spend the rest of your life hurrying, fast-tracking and running around because you say yes all the time or you can spend your life moving at a steady pace and savoring every minute because you say no to the things that don’t really matter.
Ultimately it’s your call whether or no you want to say "no" or not. All that matters is that you live the life you want and are happy with your decisions.