Many of us struggle to effectively manage our time. With an inundation of emails, phone calls, and meeting requests, we must keep finding ways to protect our time for what matters most.
That often requires becoming better at saying “No.”
This can be hard to do. We all have a fear of missing out, of saying no to an opportunity that might just change our lives. Maybe this lunch is where we hear the idea that comes to define our career. Maybe this connection will be a lifelong friend.
If you let that thinking rule your actions, you are bound for failure.
Why Saying “Yes” Is A Gamble
One of my pro-bono clients is a very giving woman.
She’s often so giving to the non-profit that she founded and runs that she takes a lot of time away from her young kids to travel and promote her cause.
I love her mission and her absolute dedication, but as the man who’s trying to make her 10X more effective, I hate the way she wastes her time.
She’d stay in a deadbeat hotel in a dangerous part of town before she would “waste” the charity’s money on a nicer hotel. But, before questioning that choice, I questioned why she took the trip in the first place.
“You never know.”
She doesn’t want to miss out on opportunities, but she doesn’t realize that every time she says “yes,” she’s rolling the dice with her time.
Don’t Be Afraid of Missing Out—Be Afraid of Wasting Time
“You just never know when that one meeting or event or person might be the ‘one’ that takes you to that next level,” she told me.
She’s right. You never do know, but it’s likely that the “one” is never coming.
Success rarely works that way. Sure, some people seemingly hit the jackpot and become the illusory overnight success, but most success is the result of consistent, methodical actions.
That comes down to how use your time. I asked my client whether she plays the lottery. She said of “Of course not.” So I pointed out to her that every time she takes a meeting that is of questionable value, she is gambling her time.
“If a meeting may possibly, perhaps, maybe lead to something that might be valuable, then you should never be in that meeting to begin with,” I told her.
She defaulted to her old answer—“You just never know”—but actually you do.
You know in a heartbeat whether what you’re doing is a good use of your time, and unless it’s of clear and present value, you should stop doing it.
Why A “No” Mindset Will Help You Succeed
Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity, in the past when an offer came her way, my client had defaulted to yes.
But now that she sees saying “yes” to questionable meetings as saying “No” to the highest value tasks that demand her time, she sees it differently.
Now that she sees saying “yes” to taking business trips of questionable value as saying “No” to spending time with her husband and kids, she sees that differently too.
And now seeing she was already defaulting to “No” on the highest value tasks and her kids, it made it easier for her to default to “No” on those questionable uses of time.
All you have is your time. Every minute, every day, that’s all you have. Nothing else.
And if you’re freely giving your most precious resource away to other people, then you are robbing it from yourself.
How To Say No—Even When It’s Hard
I know. For many of us it is hard.
That’s the truth of it. Most good people, and especially those like my client who have devoted their life to serving others, want to do “everything” they can “all” of the time for “everyone.”
It’s a do-gooder mentality that keeps most non-profits broke and ineffective, and many leaders like my client running themselves ragged just trying to stay afloat.
Instead, she is learning to make the “harder” choice and hold firm on what matters most to her.
This means getting beyond the crap feelings like guilt and letting people down, and focusing on how taking ownership of your time enables you to best drive your most important mission.
That’s what she said, so we came up with a 5-step process that would help her determine how to better say “no.”
She knew the obvious events and meetings to say “yes” to. And it was clear which to say “no” to, but it was often hard for her to distinguish those on the margin, which were, ultimately about 70% of them!
When confronted with those situations, she now follows these five steps:
- What’s her gut instinct? She’s very intuitive, and she typically likes to go with what feels right.
- What’s driving that instinct? The problem with the gut instinct is that it can be driven by fear vs. what she calls “that wise voice.”
- What does this event resemble? e.g. a trip that was hugely valuable or lower value?
- If still not clear, deliberate for 24 hours. This enables her brain to process the learnings from steps 1-3, and come up with a new gut instinct, or otherwise-based decision.
- Take decisive action and put it behind you.
This process has been working very nicely for her, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
Notice that her process doesn’t begin with an obvious and logical question like, “What specifically do you expect to get from this meeting?” Instead, it begins with where she typically has gotten stuck in the past.
If you’re serious about nailing this topic, I suggest you build your own process that enables you to best navigate these types of decisions based on how your brain works. If you need help building that process, I have a team of advisors who can help you.