Q: I have a great vision of where I want my life and my business to go, but I can never seem to get on top of it all and feel like I’m gaining any ground. Just when I think I’m getting a handle on things, five more things get dumped on my to-do list and I’m always playing catch up. How do you avoid always feeling buried by it all?
A: Ah, I feel for you as for years I suffered from the exact same affliction and to date, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the only sure fire cure is developing the ability to say, “no.” I have tried remedies ranging from avoidance, to over achievement to flat out evasion. And after so many years spent practicing the above mentioned tactics and so many more, I have realized that the only way to feel in control of your life is to actually be in control of your life. Now you referred to experiences like having “five more things get dumped on your to-do list,” so I am assuming these are not jobs, tasks or experiences you have willfully and wantingly signed up for, but rather obligations you would much rather be without.
So, the antidote to this feeling is so simple, but it takes an astonishing amount of practice. And I will fall toward that phrase that became part of our culture during the Reagan era I believe, “just say no.” If it’s good enough for drugs, it’s good enough for those of us who are addicted to trying to please everybody by doing everything. The reality I would ask you to think on is that every time you begrudgingly or not, say “yes,” to something, you are, by default saying “no,” to something else you could be using that time for. And you simply must get to the point where you value your time with such a sense of preciousness and urgency that saying “no” to those things which don’t add to your life, your joy, your memories or your bottom line is something you can do without conflict or apology. If I am being asked to work procurement for the school’s fundraising auction I need to weigh that against the other things I could be doing with my time and energy. If I am being asked to rewrite a business procurement letter for a client just because they’d rather have me do it than they…the answer is simple yet polite. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to do it for you, but I’d love to take a quick peek at it once you’ve finished your draft. “No” is not a synonym for rude, abrupt or selfish. Rather it is a statement of focus, priorities and intention. For what it’s worth, I have found that once you develop the ability to say “no” people begin to respect and value your “yes,” in much more meaningful and profound ways. If they know how deliberate you are about how and where you spend your time, when you do say “yes” they will realize and enjoy the fact that it is delivered with sincerity and whole heartedness rather than a sense of resentful obligation.
So start small and keep in mind that as with all things, practice makes perfect. Work at saying “no” to that which frustrates and overwhelms you, and saying “yes” to that which rewards you with laughter, momentum and accomplishment of something of value. I can guarantee that overcoming the fear of saying “no” is nothing compared to wrestling with the regret of wasted time. May the force be with you…