Saying No

ARTICLE | Apr 27, 2017
By Jeff Davidson

By Jeff Davidson

Are you taking on too much and enjoying it less? Here is a look at this issue in a Q&A format, including some solutions:

Q: Saying no at work can be risky. How can one effectively say no?

A: Practice saying no with grace and ease as often as possible. Often, the larger your organization is, the more impediments you'll face in managing your calendar. Even in an entrepreneurial setting, there are many activities that we volunteer for that end up hindering us from doing the things we've identified as important.

Sometimes, it's important to drop things without remorse. It might be useful to look at your to-do list and cross out an item or two as you tell yourself, "It would be nice, but I've only got so much time in a day, in a week, and in my career. I have to stay focused on what's important."

It's ego boosting to have the image of being someone who can take on every challenge. In the end, though, it can be exhausting. If you haven't occasionally, respectfully said no or crossed out an item from your calendar without remorse, now might be the time to develop the habit.

Q: What if we can't say no?

A: As often as possible, try to delegate at the office, or even at home. When you can hand off something to another person and stick with the few tasks that you need to work on because of your expertise, background, or skill, you open up a world of possibilities.

When practical, give a task to someone else, hire someone, retain someone, or find another way to get the task done. Reexamine every activity for its potential to be delegated to someone else.

Q: What if we're simply handling too much?

A: At all times, keep your frustration level low. This is an era in which many professionals in a position of responsibility are managing too much. Most people are in the same boat.

Organizations have gone through years of slimming down and asking more of their workers, often with fewer resources of staff, equipment, or budget to provide to them. Approach your situation with grace and ease. You've made it this far and done a reasonably good job; you'll go even further.

Maintain control of your spaces. Keep your work area clear so that you can focus on the task at hand. A single file folder or screen in front of you makes it easier for you to concentrate on a given task.

It's important to work on one thing at a time. You might have six priorities, all pulling at you at the same time. What's the fastest way to get through those six? Believe it or not, taking each item one at a time is the most effective solution.

Determine what item is the most important, work on it as far as you can—or complete it—and then go to the next item and proceed in the same manner.

Q: So not all tasks are created equal?

A: Many people mislead themselves by treating all of their assignments as if they have the same importance; therefore, they jump from one project to another, dabbling a little with each one as they proceed.

They're not working this way because they have a strategic plan or because they&'ve gone as far as they can on each individual item; rather, they feel that gradually making progress in each of the six areas means they're effectively juggling projects.

Yet, study after study shows that the fastest way to finish six projects is to work on one at a time, taking each one to completion before moving to the next.

Q: Are there any other techniques when faced with too much to do?

A: A useful technique is to make choices through silent self-acknowledgment about what is really vital to accomplish and how you want to proceed. We all talk to ourselves in our heads all day long, and studies have shown that we unfortunately tend to tell ourselves negative things--about being late, about botching a project, or about what others will think.

We tend not to tell ourselves we're wonderful or even that we're good and that we did the best we could under the circumstances. By nature, we tend not to give ourselves positive messages.

Psychologists have found that more than 80 percent of the self-talk in which we all engage is negative. Replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk enables you to change how you react to the challenges you face. Also, you can maintain a balance between long- and short-term tasks and respect the objectives of others, especially if you work as part of a team.

By making choices about what you want to accomplish, you develop a mindset that allows you to tackle challenges more effectively.

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is principal, Breathing Space Institute, Raleigh, North Carolina ( or An author and presenter on work-life balance, he holds the world's only registered trademark from the United States Patent and Trademark Office as "The Work-Life Balance Expert."

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