Don’t make “yes” your default response

Take time to decide if you really should say “no”

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Red cross on no box
Red cross on no box

For many of us, our default response when someone makes a request is to say “yes.” But this automatic response may mean that we spend time doing something which is not a personal priority – and which precludes spending time on something that is.

The first step in honoring your priorities is to not make “yes” your default response. It’s perfectly legitimate to give yourself time to reflect on whether to agree or not to a request that will take a significant amount of time. All you need to say is: “Let me think about it” or “Let me get back to you by noon.”

Now that you have bought yourself some time to decide whether to say “yes” or “no”, consider what you are giving up by saying “yes”. Will an important but non-urgent work project not get done in a timely manner? Will time you want to invest in nurturing a relationship be short-circuited? Will exercise or time to yourself fall by the wayside?

Then figure out what the benefit will be of saying “yes.” Will it move you towards an important goal of yours – like building a relationship with someone who is important to your career or spending precious time with your aging mother?

Then ask yourself: how long will the “yes” take? Try to quantify the commitment you are agreeing to. If it’s something that can be done quickly, maybe it’s not worth saying “no.” But more often than not, we severely underestimate the time and energy that a “yes” will take (realistically, triple the time you think it will!)

Think about how it turned out when you said “yes” to a similar request in the past. Were you happy that you said “yes?” The last time that you agreed to sit at the company’s table at a charity event was it an opportunity to chat with the CEO or was the conversation uninspiring and the table half-empty? Did you enjoy baking cookies for the bake sale and did anyone notice that they weren’t store-bought?

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask yourself: would you do it tomorrow? Because eventually, it will be tomorrow. Too often, we say “yes” to things that are going to happen in the future because we think we’ll have more time then. But the truth is, the future usually doesn’t look very different than the present. The time-pressure you are feeling today will be the same in the future. Whatever the constraints are on doing it tomorrow are probably the same as the constraints that you’ll feel six months from now. So, if the answer tomorrow would be “no”, the answer should be “no” today.

I came to this realization years ago when I was invited to give a speech in Paris. Who would turn down an all-expense paid trip to Paris? I didn’t’! The picture in my mind when I said yes was, “Oh, I’ll spend a week in Paris, and it’ll be wonderful. The speech will take a few hours and the rest of the time I will just hang out in museums and cafes in Paris.” But in fact, when the day finally arrived to give the speech, because my schedule back home was so packed, there was no week in Paris. There was only a 12-hour flight to Paris, overnight in a generic hotel, a presentation that had taken a day to prepare for, a 15-minute stint on a panel, and a return flight home right after the panel.

Make sure that your “yes” is a well-thought out “yes.” Your time is limited; make sure you are spending it wisely.

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