Are you feeling stressed because there’s just too much on your plate?
Do you wonder if you’ve taken on too many projects at work, home, in your community – or all of them combined?
It’s flattering when new opportunities or requests for help come your way. It says a lot of good things about you – namely, that people you respect value your talents and strengths and also value your problem solving skills and contributions.
Yet many of us struggle to decide which of the opportunities to take on and when to say no.
It’s not always straightforward as to what our answer should be. When we automatically say yes or no without thoughtfulness, we encounter frustration, confusion, resentment, and even diminished confidence.
If you say yes to too many projects, you will inevitably feel stressed, and distracted from other, more important projects. At its worst, saying yes too often can mean you have less down time to refresh and renew, causing you to feel irritable and resentful.
On the other hand, if you say no without thoughtful consideration too often, you may miss out on extraordinary opportunities for growth, fulfillment, and advancement.
Many capable, talented, professional leaders and aspiring leaders have emailed me lately about this dilemma. Here’s a classic example many of us can relate to:
“Folks see me organized, desk orderly, available for lunch, to walk around the block or discuss creative ideas and then request that I work on additional tasks, help with projects, research information – and I say “Yes!” because it makes me feel valuable, like an asset, helpful – a team player. I’m starting to feel bitterness toward those people and falling back into old habits, so I have an excuse to say “No”, which is leading to those feelings associated with stress… It’s a vicious cycle!”
Be encouraged today to see the many positive options you have. You are fortunate to be valued and in demand and you are lucky to have many opportunities available to you. Just remember that you have the option at the end of the day to say yes or no.
Below are six effective ways to consider your options. These can give you peace and confidence in determining whether your answer should be yes or no.
We are all continuously learning and growing! There is no one-size fits all way to discern when to say yes or no to an opportunity. What works for your friend (who is VP of Operations) may not work for you. When a new request or opportunity is delivered to you, give yourself a bit of time to think and say something like, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Good people respect and appreciate your thoughtfulness, even if/when they are impatient for your answer.
2. Know your goals
You should have a solid understanding of your goals for the week, quarter, and year. Of course, these evolve and shift over time for many reasons, but you should revisit your goals often, as these will guide you in your decision making and remind you what you’re aiming for.
3. Be strategic
Be strategic about answering yes or no. Give yourself time to think. Establish a few key questions to help you vet and decide whether this opportunity will help you achieve your goals. Remember, some requests are actually happy surprises that will add valuable skills, relationships, and a whole new platform for you.
As leadership expert Suzi McAlpine says:
“How often do we stop at peeling back the first layer of the proverbial onion, only scraping the surface of a problem or opportunity? Rushing from the first right answer straight into action mode?”
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How does this help me achieve my top three goals?
- Will this build a relationship that will help me achieve my goals?
- Will doing this activity (with this person) give me information that will advance my goals?
When you have considered your purpose, what you want your life to count for, you can set goals based on these. An essential step in homing in on what you were born to do and achieve also includes understanding what you are not meant to do. Understanding your purpose gives you a roadmap.
Being strategic about my purpose came into play for me when I was living in Australia. I had the opportunity to interview for the VP of Communications position for a major brewery.
It would be a really fun job with travel, overseeing advertising (some of the best ads are by breweries) and exciting marketing partnerships with sports teams.
Yet, as I thought it over, I realized that just having fun wasn’t motivating for me.
I love to have fun, and even enjoy a cold beer with chips, salsa, and a few friends. But this opportunity didn’t intersect with my purpose. I’m much more motivated to help people and businesses get from one level to the next on a continuum of their innate potential.
That is what I want my life to count for.
Ultimately, as appealing as the job sounded, it didn’t resonate with me, motivate me, or inspire me.
A lot of people wonder about opportunities or what they should aim for in their work (where they spend so much of their lives). Knowing and considering your purpose and goals can help you make both large and small decisions much more easily – and can inform your yes and no decisions.
4. Do not get hung up about hurt feelings
People respect a no, even if they don’t understand or agree with your answer. You build trust when you speak the truth. When we say NO, when we speak the truth (with diplomacy and respect, even a generosity of spirit), we build trust.
As leadership expert Lolly Daksal recently wrote:
“But the simple act of saying no has power and can often be an act of great courage, and most likely many of us should probably do more often. The next time you’re tempted to automatically say yes, remember there is great power in saying no and sometimes it’s the best answer for everyone.”
5. Be flexible
Not dogmatic since you cannot plan for everything in your life. Several of my biggest career opportunities landed on my doorstep through someone reaching out. In fact, all of the boards on which I now serve came through an invitation of a leader, not by my seeking them out.
I was fairly committed with other work, but it had been a goal of mine to serve on boards. After considerable due diligence, I decided to let go of a few other projects so that I could invest my time and talents in contributing to these boards.
These opportunities are rare and that is a factor you should consider when you are decision making.
When I said yes to these board opportunities, I also understood that for a season I would be stretched in my work – and I had to be flexible and okay with this. I had to recalibrate some of my other goals – for example, I had to extend the timeline of some of my goals, as these will take longer now that I am serving on boards. However, saying yes to these boards aligns with (and advances) my current and future goals.
Sometimes you will be stretched when you say yes. It will be hard. You do the hard things because they make your goals more possible – Just like an athlete in training. In the early days of my most successful start-up, we worked long and hard. I kept thinking of President Kennedy’s speech about putting a man on the moon and he said, “we do these things because they are hard…”
Of course, my team and I weren’t putting a man on the moon, but for us, our goal of growing our start-up into a global company was seemingly just as hard!
Your most important goals will put you out of balance for awhile. Trust yourself; you will find a way to manage it when you have decided to say yes.
6. Try new approaches
Keep tweaking and improving. In her book, Mindset, Carol Dweck says to consider this when you feel like perfectionism and fear are causing you to procrastinate in decision making:
“If you do this activity, you’ll probably learn a lot. You may make some mistakes, maybe even fell a little dumb at times – but you’ll learn some useful things. The useful things that you learn are what give you fulfillment, make you unique, enable you to add value now and in the future, and equip you to become highly valuable in your current and future work.”
Often it is not the decision or opportunity, but rather perfectionism which causes us to feel anxious and even guilty, and thus interferes with our goal to achieve our purpose and do our best work.
Whatever you decide, I hope these ideas have helped you consider your many options and opportunities.