Many people I know are struggling with the balance of juggling work and personal life, yet they often find themselves saying yes to new requests, invitations and favours every single day.
In the past I have found myself taking on responsibilities that were not my own, attending functions or events out of guilt and having sleepless nights because my workload was overflowing.
If you're anything like me, you have probably felt at times completely overwhelmed with the amount of requests coming your way.
Have you ever stopped to take a moment to ask why you keep saying yes?
Is it fear of failure, disappointment, or perhaps even a display of weakness in our own abilities?
Whatever the reason, the stark truth is it ends up hurting your mental wellbeing, as well as your credibility and effectiveness by not being able to deliver on everything you promise as your plate becomes ridiculously full.
I resolved to change this in my own life, and it has made a massive difference to how I feel -- and I get to spend more time doing what I love and things that are important to me.
Here are seven tips to help you break the habit of saying yes:
Know your own boundaries
This is the first thing you need to do. How can you expect others to not encroach on your time if even you don't know what it is you are comfortable with? Only when you are consciously aware of your own priorities and limits can you consider others' requests in line with those, and make the decision as to whether it is something you can take on.
Never blame others for your poor planning or poor consideration of what is important to you. Take some ownership and then you can work on taking some control. It's then equally important that you stick to this and the consistency will help others to learn your boundaries and requests will reduce.
Ask for time to check your calender
When put on the spot with a request, I often ask that I get back to the person once I've checked my calendar. This is my go-to line when put on the spot. It's a vital business practice to review your schedule before committing to an answer, and allows the requestor to see that you value your time and you're organised and professional.
There is nothing wrong with taking a little bit of time to consider a request and it's much better than responding on the spot with a quick yes that you can't deliver, or a quick no that will ruin a relationship or leave someone feeling stressed. But don't forget to make sure you get back in touch once you have checked your schedule to give a definitive yes or no answer.
Say no to the task, but yes to the person
This is a great one and good politicians and salespeople will know it already. One of the reasons we don't want to say no is that guilty pang that hits us as soon as we've said it and the look of disappointment on the person's face. But it's important to remember that you're not rejecting the person, just declining this particular request. A way of saying no by saying yes is by saying "oh wow, thank you for the offer, I would absolutely love to attend that event, but unfortunately I'm not available that night". That response tells them that you were interested and grateful for being asked, so it's not the fact that you never want to go, it's that you can't this time.
Offer a solution
Following on from that, the most successful pattern I have found goes something like: "Yes.. but no.. but how about this..." So if I'm giving someone a 'no', I try to offer a solution anyway. As an example, I get asked to do a lot of speaking events and I can't always commit to all of them, but one thing I will do when declining is offer an introduction to a suitable alternative speaker. This allows you to feel good because you have helped someone out a bit, they have another action to progress on, maybe someone else get a win out of it, and you still said no. WIN WIN (and sometimes another WIN).
Be firm, but polite
In addition to saying yes too often, some people under pressure say no poorly. Don't tell me you haven't taken the 'avoidance' approach before (I have, many times)! Also if you're a bit stressed you might express your frustration at 'yet another thing to do' directly to the poor person who just happened to be the one asking this time.
Either of these approaches always make a difficult situation worse, you will always regret it and it might not leave the lasting impression that you're after. I always find it's best for everyone that you are professional and polite, but very clear in your answer. Ambiguity is never the best approach in these situations and it shows confidence and professionalism when you can clearly articulate a well formed 'no'. That way the person knows exactly where they stand and can move on with finding an alternative solution.
Decline those 'I probably should' offers
If you hear yourself saying "ahhh I probably should"... ABORT ABORT ABORT! This way of thinking is guilt driven and very dangerous as it will allow you to be pulled back into the frustrating cycle of saying yes too often and you will end up feeling regret and resentment. Don't feel obliged to agree to anything that is not one of your priorities. There is nothing worse than attending an event or helping out with work when you aren't able to offer the best of yourself. Instead, employ one the of the techniques offered here.
However, if you 'probably should' because it's in line with your priorities or goals and there's something else stopping you... you may want to delve into that a little deeper.
Focus on the outcome
Think back to that first step where you determined your priorities. Remember what they are, what they mean to you, and where they will get you. When you are choosing a priority over a task or action, this is a much easier decision to make and you will be much clearer and firmer in your response. For example, "do I choose this task that doesn't get me to my goal or spend that same time focusing on real value-add work?" Or, "do I go to that event or have Thursday family night with my children?" If you have determined that your family are your priority because you want to see your children grow up, or that you want to focus on high-value work this month to meet your targets and get your bonus, these decisions are suddenly much easier to make. So next time you want to say yes to something, just think "what am I really giving up here?"
So there you go, all you need to do is build a couple of well-placed parameters and resolve to say yes only to the things you enjoy, that advance your career, or that keep you moving towards your goals. Do it in a kind and professional way and voilà... life becomes more balanced and you get to live it more on your own terms.