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  • Natasha Harvey

The Overlooked Time-Management Skill: Learning to Say NO.


A graphic reading "NO"

Finding the right balance between being helpful at work and managing your time effectively can be a challenging task. While it may seem counterintuitive to say no, constantly saying yes to every request can lead to overwhelming workload and reduced productivity. It is crucial to understand when and how to use the power of 'no' to prioritise tasks and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

 

The problem is that most of us have an innate desire to please. Saying "Yes" feels good, but saying it too much can result in burnout and fatigue. According to UK employment and employer statistics, employees who struggle with time management often find themselves feeling stressed due to taking on too much work.


The problem is that most of us have an innate desire to please. Saying "Yes" feels good, but saying it too much can result in burnout and fatigue.

 

Self-awareness plays a key role in mastering the art of the strategic 'no.' By understanding our own limitations and workload, we can make better decisions about when to decline additional tasks or projects. And by being clear on our objectives and responsibilities, we’ re able to prioritise and better manage other people’s requests for help.

 

Here are a few things to think about in preparing a strategic ‘no’:

 

Understanding what's involved

If someone asks you for help and you believe you have the time to take on extra responsibilities, it’s important to understand what exactly is involved before accepting or declining the request. It could be more time-consuming than you initially thought, or it may not take much of your time at all. Asking clarifying questions upfront will not only help you make a well-informed decision but also indicate your willingness to support the person by seeking to better understand what their request entails.

 

Saying ‘No’ to the task and ‘Yes’ to the person

Ask yourself, "Do I have time for this"? "Am I the right person for this"? "Does the request help me to achieve my goals"? If your answer is "No" to any of these questions, then you're better off saying "No" to the task, too.

 

This doesn't mean saying "No" to the person. Explain why you can't take on the task right now, then look for other ways to help them out. This could be as simple as pointing them in the direction of another person who's better suited to the task or scheduling in some time later.

 

Responding politely but firmly

It can be useful to share the reasons why you are saying no, as this is more likely to help the other person accept your decision. Suggesting alternative solutions to their request can also help soften the blow of your refusal, e.g. ‘I can’t help you write your report as I have to finish the budget spreadsheet for this afternoon’s team meeting. However, I have ten minutes to spare tomorrow morning, so I could look over what you have written then.’ Communicate calmly and assertively, making eye contact and ensuring you say no clearly, so there can be no doubt about your response and no scope for negotiation.

 

When saying ‘Yes’ is inevitable

The tips below can help you say yes while still protecting your time and responsibilities and setting clear expectations for the way you want to work.

 

  • Agree, but take control by saying you will come back to them within a certain timeframe e.g. ‘I’ll be able to summarise this report for you by next Friday.’

  • Agree, but with conditions e.g. ‘If it will only take ten minutes, I’m happy to help but I’m afraid I can’t give you any more time than that today.’

  • Tell the person you’ll agree to their request this time but ask them to think about how you can both plan better next time to ensure they don’t spring such requests on you.

 

Using 'no' strategically is an essential tool in effective time management. By understanding when to say no and how to do so empathetically, you can prioritise tasks, set boundaries, and maintain a healthy work-life balance. It's not about saying no all the time, but rather about making conscious choices that support your productivity and well-being.

 

Being a "Yes" person can be fun, until it's not. So, next time you're feeling the pressure, think carefully about how you want to respond.

 

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