The biggest cause of work-related stress and overwhelm, without any doubt is our inability to say “no”. Not being able to say “no” is what leads to task overwhelm, overcommitment and missed deadlines. It is our desire to be liked and appreciated that leads to the feeling we don’t have enough time to do the things we want to do.
I have talked at length with many of my clients about this, and they all say the same thing, “I can’t say no to my boss”. Oh really? If your boss told you to climb to the top of a tall building and asked you to jump, would you? Of course, you wouldn’t. You would say no ( or words to that effect) So, you can say “no” to your boss. The difference between saying no to jumping from a tall building and saying no to another project or assignment is not as big as you might think.
Jumping from a tall building would likely cause your immediate death, stress, on the other hand, is a slow pervasive death. It’s difficult to attribute a direct cause, but it still leads to the same end.
Not saying no, has long-term consequences and not just to your health. It means your ability to be creative, to spend more quality time with the people you love and to focus on your goals also suffer. It means when you do have time to spend on things you want to spend time on, you are too tired and too stressed to enjoy them.
Yet learning to say “no” is easy. It comes down to knowing where you are right now with all the things you are committed to, knowing what it is you want to achieve in the short, medium and long-term and knowing what time resources you have for other things. It means you need to get a grip on your life and take control of it.
People are not judged by how busy they are. People are judged on the results they achieve. We are not remembered for the hours we spent in the office, we are remembered for what we created while in the office, what we wrote and for what we changed. It’s the quality of what we have done, not the hours we spent creating it that determines whether or not we are judged a success.
Once we understand that it is the results of what we set out to do that we are remembered for, we can start being more selective in what we say “yes” to, and more importantly what we say “no” to.
When I talk about learning to say “no”, I don’t mean being direct and just saying the word “no”. What I mean by learning to say “no” is learning phrases like: “I am sorry, I have a lot on at the moment, so I am not going to be able to start this new project until next month/year” or “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to do that at the moment”. It is very easy to politely decline to do something. In general, I have found people do not get upset with you for declining an event or a project. People usually respect your decision and understand you have other things to do. People do get upset when deadlines are missed or the expected quality of the work you do is not achieved.
When you become known for the quality of what you produce and not your willingness to say yes to everything, people will start showing much more respect for your time. Your colleagues will respect your time more and you will be asked to do less non-important stuff. But it starts with the word “no”. When you start declining tasks, projects and meetings and the quality of your work improves, even your boss will respect your time more. But it all starts with you making that decision. How much is the quality of your work worth?
You need to decide what is important and what is not. You need to learn where you are most valuable, and where you are just making up the numbers, and you need to set boundaries about what you spend your valuable time doing. It is no good complaining about attending a weekly project update meeting, that does nobody any good. Either you take action to change the way the meeting is held, or you politely ask to be excused so you can work on more important things. Complaining about it will not change anything. Complaining will only earn you a reputation for being negative and that is much worse than being known as someone who protects their time.
As always, the choice is yours. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and overstressed because of the volume of work you have to do, then you need to do something about it. You can learn to politely say “no”, or you can do nothing and remain stressed and overwhelmed. That’s the wonderful thing about life. We have choices and it is up to us to make those choices, or not. But there is no use complaining about it.
Learn to say “no” and start claiming your valuable time back.
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My goal is to help show you how to live the life you desire. To help you find happiness and become better organised and more productive so you can do more of the important things in life.