Blog post

When to say yes and when to say no

Saying no is something I have always been bad at. I just say yes. Yes to new projects. Yes to social activities. To coffees, lunches or wines with clients.

My name is Melanie, and I don’t know how to say no.

I think a lot of us are like that. It’s ingrained in us to not disappoint people, to not let people down. We don’t want to be seen as being rude, selfish, or unkind

Saying yes to work has gotten me some amazing opportunities like going to work in the Cook Islands, running a training session in an aquarium or being part of a major government announcement. It has pushed me to learn new skills and try new things.

However, there are downsides too. You work long hours, sometimes you can’t deliver your best work, you’re tired (maybe grumpy) and have less time for the things you enjoy. You also don’t have the time to rest and recover.

A few weeks ago, one of my puppies had to go in for an operation and now needs someone to be home with him most of the day. For those of you that have been following this blog, you will know my two little furr-buddies are super important to me. Then a friends husband got cancer, and another’s father died.

There have been things happening that make you stop and think about your life. How do I want to be spending my time and who do I want to be spending it with? Do I want to spend my life working or my life living?

It’s one of the reasons I went out on my own. I wanted to have more control of my life and how I spent my days.

So, for the first time since I started Elm, I started saying no. It was hard. I haven’t quite perfected it yet, but here is what I did:

  • First, I set some parameters around the type of work I would take over the few months (projects I could primarily work on at home). 
  • I structured my week differently, putting all meetings out of the house on one day.
  • I asked for help. I got other consultants involved in my projects.

I realise not everyone has the luxury that I have to make these choices, but the same principles can apply. If you’re the type of person who says yes to every new work thing that comes your way, can you:

  • Build a better understanding of the type of work you have, what you are good at, what you enjoy and what you struggle with. Understand what takes up your time and where you are spending your hours.
  • Set rules and parameters around what you will and won’t accept. What will get you motivated and challenged that you should still say yes to?
  • Look at your week and create a schedule that allows time to actually get work done and more structure around the things that will distract you (like meetings).
  • Create a list of people who can help you. It might be someone to brainstorm with or someone that can take on a small part of the project. But know who you have that you can turn to.

Let’s be honest sometimes you don’t get the option, and things are forced upon you. Sometimes you can’t say no, but most of the time, you can say, not now.

The one thing I would caution is that when you do have the choice to say no, make sure it’s for the right reasons, and you have a clear way to make that decision. Don’t say no because you’re scared, don’t have the confidence or feel lazy – you might miss out on an amazing opportunity.

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