In an earlier blog post, I wrote about how I gained a new perspective on the art of saying “no” to the endless demands on my time and energy when I learned to pause and ask myself what I would be saying “no” to if I said yes to the current request. But that is only the first step to making good decisions about whether to take on a new task. It’s important to ask yourself several other questions when you evaluate whether to say “yes.”
Because thinking through the implications of saying “yes” can take a little time, I have found it helpful to learn to say “can I think about that and get back to you?” in response to a lot of requests for my time. And then I really do think about it.
I ask myself, “What is the potential reward for saying ‘yes’?” Is this a lucrative opportunity that compensates me adequately for the time it will require? If so, then I’m a little closer to saying yes.
But what if the potential reward is limited? There still might be a reason to say “yes.” Perhaps the request will allow me to learn something new—something that might pay bigger dividends down the road. Or maybe it will let me make new contacts that could be important to my professional life. Heck, it might even involve serving a cause I feel committed to serving, and so I might be willing to accept a more limited reward. Or maybe it doesn’t offer financial rewards at all, but I feel really committed to helping with that project? Maybe it will be just plain fun. Again, answering one of these questions in the affirmative will get me closer to agreeing to take on a project.
But suppose the request will offer poor financial compensation without commensurate rewards of some other kind? Then I have to ask myself a different question: CAN I say “no” without incurring some kind of penalty? It may be that there are some requests made by my boss that don’t offer the option of saying “no.” In those cases, it may be appropriate to negotiate the terms of the assignment. For example, it might be helpful to say, “Yes, I can take on new project 123, but remember that I am still working on project 88 that you gave me last month. Which project is the priority? Is there a way we can shuffle the work and the deadlines so that both projects can be completed in a timely fashion?”
If I am able to say “no” to a request but I believe it will offer adequate rewards of some sort, should I say “yes”? Not necessarily. How much time will the project take? This is where I often get myself into trouble because I badly underestimate how much time a project might consume. So it’s important that I really try to think through the time commitment for the request. I try to ask a lot of very specific questions about what the project involves. Then I assume it will probably require twice as many hours as the initial estimate (that way, if it takes less time, it feels like a wonderful gift of time.) No matter how much I want to take on a new project or accept a new opportunity, if I take on too much, I’m going to find myself stressed—and maybe on the edge of burnout. The truth is that we usually can’t do everything wonderful that comes our way; we have to pick and choose.
If I have worked through this sequence of questions, and I believe I want to take on a project, I pause for a final “gut check.” In other words, I stop and try to listen to what my inner self is telling me. Call it your gut, call it your intuition, call it whatever. But sometimes, even when someone has offered me what looks to be a great opportunity that I want to jump at, there’s some little voice inside me saying, “Uh, maybe not.” And when I ignore that voice, I’m usually sorry.
What about you? What strategies have you found useful in evaluating whether to say "yes"?