Time Management Tip: Real Leaders Say No

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Saying "yes" isn't always the right business move. Find out how to say "no" and become the guardian of your most precious resource: time.

Be honest, are you a YES man or woman? When your boss or colleague queries your interest in a project, do you have trouble asserting yourself and delivering a nice, succinct “no.”? I get it, you want to be perceived as a team player, exude enthusiasm for the mission, and not get on your supervisor's bad side.

For greener employees, saying YES may be the right thing to do – initially; however, as you move up the ladder and gain more experience and confidence as a leader, it's important to begin drawing and enforcing your boundaries. Your productivity demands that you become an aggressive guardian of your most precious, and limited, resource – your time.

Related: Time Management Apps for Entrepreneurs

Not just your productivity, by the way, but also your health. Research by the University of California, San Francisco shows that people who find it hard to say no are more likely to experience anxiety, stress, disengagement from their work, and even depression.

Just Say No!

Sounds great in theory, but actually doing it is the hard part, and doing it in a manner that doesn't alienate you from your colleagues and hamper your career.

Following are some Golden Guidelines for saying "No":

  • Change your belief system. It's a habit you've been practicing for most of your career. The first step is to shift your mindset and the beliefs and expectations that you hold for yourself. In short, you are putting way too much pressure on yourself.
  • Take time to think before committing to a new project, and before you say no, consider the ramifications.
  • Be clear on your rationale, your reason for declining the invitation. If your explanation is reasonable, then it should not be a problem.
  • Empower your supervisor she thinks she is making the call. Be prepared with your things-to-do list, so you can demonstrate the conflicting demands on your time. Ask her to help you prioritize.
  • Don't just say no. If possible, try to resolve the problem. If you can't join the committee, suggest someone else who might be available. If you can't take on another project, let your colleagues know that your door is always open if they want a sounding board. This turns a potentially negative situation into a positive one. 
  • If you wish to decline, do it in person, not through email, which is always open to being misinterpreted and can work against you.
  • When you say “no,” say it like you mean it. Don't be reluctant, don't hem and haw, and don't be apologetic, as that puts you in a position of weakness. There's nothing to apologize for – you are making a rational decision that is in your best interest and the company's.
  • If you try to nuance it, and be too tactful, your boss may take it as a yes. Be concise and to the point, and then move on to another topic. If you are too wordy, it could turn into a drawn-out dialogue, which is the last thing you want.

In this day and age, when we're asked to do more with less, you cannot afford to be all things to all people. Learning to say no is a process, and this is especially true for employees who take pride in being agreeable and accommodating.

Related: Time Management Hurdles

It takes conscious effort and practice to break a habit that you've been doing, in all likelihood, since you joined the workforce. The rewards – reduced stress and increased productivity, among others – are more than worth it.

Give it a try!

  • Say NO to your boss: “If I say yes to this, it means I have to say no to that. What's the priority?”
  • Say NO to your colleagues: “It was nice that you thought of me, but I am unable to help you now. May I help in finding someone else?”
  • “I think your plan is great, but I am not able to take part right now.”

Related:Time Management Infographic

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