I read the above quote in the September 2012 issue of More magazine, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I have a terrible tendency to over-commit to things that are important to other people and then kill myself playing catch-up on things that are important to me. It’s taken most of my adult life to learn the power of the word “no” and when to use it. I am sharing a few tips, gentle reader, so that you may learn from my mistakes:
Protect your time. People will spend every second of every minute of every hour of your day if you let them. Don’t let them.
Analyze the motivation. When someone (editor, spouse, friend, neighbor) asks you to do something, ask yourself if they’re doing it because they need your expertise, or if they’re simply trying to get out of doing it themselves.
Beware of Trojan horses. If a friend asks an open-ended question like, “What are you doing next weekend?” you might be thinking the person is about to ask you to join them on a trip to the beach, but instead they might be planning to ask if you can water their plants while they’re at the beach…and check their mail…and feed their cat. The best answer to these sneaky queries is, “My plans are up in the air—why do you ask?”
Delay, deflect, defer. Until you master the art of saying “no”, your best response to being ambushed for a favor is to postpone your answer. A simple, “I’m not in front of my calendar, so I’ll have to get back to you” will suffice.
Go off the grid. If you know you simply won’t be able to say no, then limit your exposure by not answering the phone or your doorbell! If someone really wants to reach you, they will leave a voicemail or send an email, which will give you time to decide how you want to respond.
Operate on your own time-line. Just because someone asks a favor, you don’t have to get back to them right away. In fact, the longer you take to respond, the less likely they are to ask another favor in the future.
Analyze your own motivation. Do you say “yes” to things because you enjoy being the go-to gal? Getting pats on the back? Receiving the “best volunteer” award? If you want your time back, you might have to give up some of the glory.
Meet them in the middle. Sometimes you DO want to help, but you simply don’t have the time to commit to everything that’s being asked of you. In those cases, I try to employ the “No, but…” response: “No, I can’t coordinate the PTA holiday party, but I’ll donate the ham.”
Don’t offer up excuses or apologies. You don’t owe the person asking for a favor a reason for turning them down. “I can’t work it in right now.” will suffice.
Stand your ground. People who are accustomed to people (like you) doing things for them are master manipulators who depend on your guilt to make you give in. Surprise them.
I confess I’m not completely there yet, but I’m working on protecting my time out of sheer self-preservation. If you do/have mastered the art of saying, “No.” as a full sentence, I am in awe. As is the person on the other end of the request—the dead silence that greets you is the person marveling at your aplomb.
What’s the one thing on your plate right now you wish you hadn’t agreed to do?