THE BLOG

Five Ways to Master the Power of NO

09/12/2012 05:04 EDT | Updated 11/11/2012 05:12 EST

Overworked, overwhelmed and stressed? If you're like most of us you can relate. And nowhere is this felt more than in the workplace.

We are constantly being barraged with a volume of initiatives on the table. And we are great at saying yes to everything because we erroneously believe it will drive the business forward and increase the bottom line, but does it really? A busy calendar doesn't always equal productivity. A recent study from the University of Haifa showed that the demand for productivity has created such stressful conditions in the workplace that it paradoxically reduces efficiency and effectiveness.

The key is to add value, not volume. Whether it is for us as individuals or for the company as a whole, we need to get as good at stopping things as we are at taking things on.

Step back for a moment and ask if those reports that people spend hours doing are necessary or could be streamlined? What about regularly scheduled meetings that feel more like obligation than opportunity? What about events that no one really cares about? If we are going to ask our people to take on another large initiative, what can be let go of?

One of my clients recently told me that he had 56 major initiatives over the next six months! It's a wonder he has time for anything else. Over the long term this volume of work is actually counter-productive because there isn't sufficient time for quality, just quantity. When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Worse, people are burning out because they don't have enough downtime or balance in their lives. At the risk of sounding cliché, it really is about working smarter, not harder. So that means learning to say no.

This doesn't only apply in the workplace. In our personal lives this is often known as the "disease to please." We don't want to let anyone down, and since we all want to be loved and appreciated, we say yes when we really feel like saying no. So we find ourselves depleted, depressed and underappreciated which actually defeats the purpose of trying to please.

We won't win over anyone's love and admiration if we're being unkind to ourselves. And if we don't use our time wisely to nurture ourselves and foster our own needs, then we really don't have anything to give. We lose our center and our power. Saying no puts us back in the driver's seat. By focusing on the value of what inspires us and brings us joy, we regain our personal power. We are energized, fulfilled, happier and have more to offer.

So what's the answer? We can't just walk away and ignore tasks that need to be done nor can we be completely self-centered in our personal lives. The key is to prioritize real value. Here are some tips:

  • Before taking on any new initiative, evaluate how productive it will be. If it's not going to generate positive results, just say no. Perhaps something can be delayed to make room for something more important.

  • For initiatives that are mandatory, reduce the amount of time. Example, does that meeting really require an hour?

  • Make time for yourself. Do the things that you love and that support your health and well-being.
  • Weigh the pros and cons. Is a quick buck more important than your health or quality time with your family and friends?

  • Don't be afraid to say no for fear of disappointing someone. No is a powerful word because it makes room for saying yes to what really matters.