Let me give you my take on saying ‘yes’ and saying ‘no.’
When I work with people on time management and organisational skills, I emphasise that in these days of constant connection and never-ending ‘to do’ lists, when it comes to managing our time and energy there will always be trade-offs. If you are saying yes to staying in work until 7pm, what are you saying no to? Dinner with the children? If I’m saying yes to an extra hour in bed, I’m saying no to going to the gym.
When it comes to how we are managing our time, the key is to be fully aware of the decisions we are making, the trade-offs, the opportunity costs and long term consequences of our actions.
A few years ago I read a terrific book by comedian Danny Wallace called Yes Man. (If you are looking for a laugh out loud book for holidays, look no further.) The basic premise of the book is that over the course of a year, the author would say yes to every request and invitation that came his way. (This included those emails saying some Ambassador has died leaving you his fortune!) Without a doubt, the book illustrates that our lives are richer when we say yes to the opportunities and possibilities that life presents to us.
Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook in her book ‘Lean In’ speaks about how women, in particular, have a tendency to hold themselves back, hence her rallying call to ‘lean in.’ I would equate this with the concept of a comfort zone, something I speak about frequently with audiences. As humans we are habit forming creatures, we form comfort zones wherever we can because it makes life easier. All our behaviour and attitudinal habits reside in our comfort zones. The only way we expand our comfort zones is acting in spite of feeling nervous or anxious, by getting curious about what’s beyond the border of our comfort zones in that great blue ocean of opportunity and potential. In short, we say yes, take a deep breath, show courage and try something new.
It is easier to say no to requests on our time and energy when we are clear about what is important to us. If we are seeking to place our own self-care and well-being higher on our agenda, this means saying no more frequently to other people’s urgencies.
One of the many joys about being in my forties is that I know my own mind; I know what I like and don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work for me. Somehow it now seems more legitimate to be able to say no to requests or invitations without having to explain or justify my decision.
Here are two situations where I say no purposefully (and politely.)
My work life balance is important to me, so I say no to the majority of requests to work with clients on Saturdays. By saying no to these requests, I’m saying yes to my personal life priorities.
Anyone who has studied marketing will know that you cannot be all things to all people. I’ve said no to some potential lucrative pieces of business because I felt I would not enjoy working with the client. I view financial remuneration as a reward, not compensation. By saying no to people I don’t want to work with, I have got the time, resources and energy to devote to my clients, the people I do want to work with.
So there are times when saying yes enriches our lives – seizing new opportunities, stepping outside our comfort zone, learning something new. Equally, there are times when saying no serves us best because by saying no we are really saying yes to what is more important to us. And of course, there are those occasions were ‘maybe’ is the perfect response.
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