The Power of Saying ‘No’
August 23, 2017
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You can’t do it all. You just can’t.

I know you’re aware of this conceptually, but how often do you truly respect your own time in practice? If you constantly take on too much, nothing ever gets done and you’ll find yourself spread impossibly thin. Inevitably, your stress levels will sky rocket and the quality of your work (not to mention your relationships) will suffer over time.

The solution? Say ‘NO’ more.

Just a few reasons why finding your NO is essential:

  • Saying yes breeds more yes
    Saying yes feels good and makes other people happy. Saying yes for the right reasons is terrific—everyone wins. But if you’re constantly putting others before yourself, you’ll begin to wear down. The more you give, the more people will take (and take and take). It’s human nature.
  • If you don’t value yourself (and your time) no else will
    Upon kick starting your professional life, you’re hungry for work and ready to prove yourself. But as you continue with this “yes” approach, constantly negotiating on price and saying “how high” when asked to jump, this unhealthy precedent will begin to solidify. Even worse: you may begin to look desperate to clients, ultimately devaluing your time and your craft.

Simply put: people aren’t going to respect you until you learn to respect yourself.

“The more you give, the more people will take (and take and take). It’s human nature.”

Learn to create boundaries

Boundaries aren’t going to create themselves, you need to be the one to make them happen. We can’t always work late, jump through endless hoops and over deliver. If we did, there would be no time left for ourselves or for our families.
I urge you to consider the following:

  • Be crystal clear about your process.
    For instance, do you have certain office hours? Do you allow your clients to send text messages all hours of the day (answer: no!)? Are you clear as to how many days/weeks in advance you need material from them in order to do your job?
  • Over communicate
    Sometimes in initial meetings or calls, clients will smile, leading you to make the assumption that everyone is on the same page. But at every opportunity, have them parrot back expectations and agreements. And put it in writing. Always put it in writing.
  • Put it in the contract
    See above. Protect yourself and make sure that everything is clearly addressed within your contract. This also helps to eliminate the worst of the worst: scope creep.
  • Set up an internal client scorecard and rank the following on a scale of 1-5:
    1. Do they respect your time and your process?
    2. Are they constantly trying to talk you down in price (or are they a bastion of negative energy)?
    3. Are they needy but unwilling to do you favors (or pay your rate) in return: “just one more thing—this won’t take much time at all!”

Now, tally your score!
3-6 = HELL NO
7-11 = Give it some thought, but seriously consider NO
12-15 = Let’s do it!

P.S. You can even use a version of this scorecard on friends and family 🙂

Don’t forget to establish some criteria for yourself too

Ask yourself questions akin to the following and answer them with total honesty:

  • Do I truly want to take on this [activity/project/commitment]? Will I find it fulfilling?
  • What do I gain from taking this on? This could be defined by budget, creative freedom, general interest, whatever you like.
  • What will I do with my time if I decline? Time is our most valuable asset! By saying yes, you could be taking time away from things that keep you happy and healthy.

Getting started

Saying “no” can be quite difficult and it’s possible that you are way out of practice. Here are a few helpful guidelines to get you started:

  1. Be quick
    Cut to the chase, be respectful and do your best not to muddy the plans of others. Saying no can be like a stubborn band-aide—rip that thing off!
  2. Be honest
    Explain that you have other commitments (no need for great detail here) and that you want to sure their project receives the attention it deserves. Done and done.
  3. Suggest an alternative
    You should always have folks at the ready for referrals. Suggest another provider and put forth the extra effort of making an introduction!
  4. [In some cases] ask for a raincheck
    If you are genuinely interested but are short on time, ask them for a raincheck. Pick an alternate timeframe to get the ball rolling.
  5. Do not apologize
    Just don’t. Your decisions and your schedule belongs to you and you only. You are not beholden to anyone else’s timeline.

Consider the benefits

Many of us are resistant to saying no. It doesn’t always feel good for one, and two: some of us have a severe case of FOMO (fear of missing out). But let’s consider the positive side of no:

  • You will have more time for your backburner projects
  • This is your choice—YOU are in control
  • Over time you will protect yourself from becoming overextended
  • You are making more time for dream clients—by being picky and more thoughtful you are increasing your chances of finding the work you truly desire!

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