Over-committing is a huge time management problem. I find myself constantly telling perfectionist over-achievers to “just say no” when faced with the offer of a new responsibility. However, when I say this, a tiny part of me winces because I know that a lot of the cool things I’ve done in my life are a result of just saying YES. I think I’ve figured out how to balance these two answers…
Why We Over Commit
Just to be clear: over committing is a terrible thing. Sometimes we say Yes when we very much need to say NO instead. Here are a few examples:
- We don’t want to let the other person down
Sometimes we say yes because we really like the person asking for the favor and we don’t want to let them down. Here is the problem. If you say Yes to something you don’t have time for, you’re just going to end up letting this person down anyway, except it will be MUCH later, giving the person little time to develop a back up plan. Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.
- When it’s not your job
There is a difference between being helpful and being taken advantage of. If a colleague at work asks you how to do something, absolutely be a good coworker and help them out! But if you find yourself consistently doing someone else’s job, direct that coworker/customer to the appropriate resource or person. You don’t want to let your own work slip while doing someone else’s.
- When you don’t know how
Sometimes we KNOW we should decline a request, but we don’t know how! We’re afraid we’ll sound rude so we say yes to just make it go away. You train people how to treat you and if you always say yes, that’s what people will come to expect. If you know you can’t handle the request, be clear, kind, and direct while declining.
What About Saying Yes?
Those are some situations it’s entirely acceptable to say no. Here is one when you should say YES.
…when you’re scared.
Sometimes we’re faced with an offer that we decline because we “don’t have time,” except that’s not the real reason. The real reason is we’re scared. We’re scared it will have been a waste of time. We’re scared we won’t know what we’re doing. You never know where those things are going to lead until you take a chance.
A few examples from my life
- I saw an email last year from my synagogue looking for cast members for their annual play. I initially dismissed it as an “I don’t have time” situation, but then I realized I was just nervous I wouldn’t know anybody so I signed up anyway. It was SO much fun! Sure, it was one evening a week, but the enjoyment I got out of the experience far outweighed the time commitment.
- During my PhD studies a professor asked if there were any volunteers to teach an online class on Garage Band. I had used the program before, but knew NOTHING about teaching online and was really scared that I would fail. Year later, it has been a wonderful experience, I’m learning SO much about teaching in an online space, and it’s led to many other cool opportunities.
- After one of my workshops a few years ago, an attendee came up to me and said, “Emily, I don’t really need help with time management, but I REALLY want to learn to speak like you. Do you do public speaking coaching?” My first thought was “um, absolutely not. I have no idea why I’m good at this let alone know how to teach you to be good at it!” But instead I said “Why, yes I do!” Now, three years later, I know exactly why I’m good at speaking and have gotten really good at coaching others to do the same. Thanks random workshop attendee!
And finally, one that didn’t pan out:
In my graduate studies, I saw an ad asking for people to have a regular column in the school newspaper. I was a little nervous about the time commitment, but it sounded like a cool opportunity, so I applied and got the job. Except…it didn’t turn out to be a cool opportunity at all. I kind of hated it. It didn’t lead to anything else and the newspaper ended up completely changing its format the next year anyway. Bummer. But really, what’s the worst that happened? I wasted a few hours of my life while improved my writing skills? Oh well.
Moral of the story: learn how to say No when you need to. Learn how to YES when you need to. Constantly evaluate your priorities and make sure you’re doing things that support them.
Like the blog? You’ll love the books! Check out these titles by Dr. Emily Schwartz