"Time management is a myth," posted a Facebook acquaintance recently. "All we can hope to manage is ourselves." I completely agree. Time marches on, no matter how you use your day, but there are specific techniques that can make the process more effective. Clearing up the necessary free time to address your goals involves making choices and setting boundaries. Unfortunately, "just say no" is not always as easy as it sounds.
There is no quick fix for becoming more assertive (where is "Learn to say no in 5 days or your money back!" when we need it?). Effectively and constructively declining offers, inquiries or invitations takes some adjustment and introspection.
Here are a few points to consider as you attempt to reclaim some of your time:
Why it can be hard to say no
We all remember the days in our early business career when "doubling your client base" meant going from two clients to four. Once we find good clients (or business acquaintances or friends), it seems only natural to make every effort to keep them. Who wouldn't want to feel accepted and appreciated? Working a few hours–we tell ourselves–on a Sunday to keep a client happy or joining a fundraising committee for a worthy cause is "no big deal." After all, business is business (and money was tight in those "two-client" days). There are many reasons for saying yes, even if it means having less time for exercise, chores, or family. However, if we are not careful, the fear of saying no can turn into a "yes reflex" that is no longer rooted in current reality.
Effective strategies for declining
If you are already committed to a full range of work and volunteer activities, and you frequently feel that the day simply isn't long enough for everything you want to do, it is time to take a close look at your fears and reality. Will declining a poorly planned last-minute weekend job really mean you will be homeless next month? Will you get shunned for not raising money to help save Alaskan shorebirds? - Not likely. Being clear about your own plans and goals lets you be more decisive when unexpected offers come along.
It takes a little practice to become good at declining firmly, but politely. One approach may be to point out the risks to the other party: "I wouldn't be able to provide the usual quality and you may get complaints." - "I can't come to meetings, so other volunteers can prevent communication problems." If you are interested in a project, but need more time, offer a solution that is a better fit for your schedule. Otherwise, don't risk "watering down" your initial 'no' with excuses or vague language. Once your no-saying skills improve, you can work to scale back further on explanations. "It is a tactical mistake to ever give a reason for declining," wrote Richard Cytowicin 2012 (see "No is a Complete Sentence").
What saying no means
Everyone needs time for learning something new, for keeping up with friendships, and for doing absolutely nothing once in a while. Declining to focus on matters that are not a good fit for your priorities frees up the necessary time and energy for things that are truly important. It means saying yes to being in control of your own schedule and to setting your sights higher. Saying no means greater enjoyment and fun, with people (or critters) of your choice. Declining, with grace and intention, frees you up to create the kind of home and work environment you want and lets you do your finest work. Here is to you.