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“No”, is a complete sentence.

Stop being available all the time – Stop saying yes to everything.

The boundaries between work and personal lives are getting blurrier every day, especially with Covid-19. This is mainly because most people are working remotely; working countless hours because of a fear of job loss and being perceived as an underperformer; as well as being expected to do more work because of retrenchments and smaller teams.

I realised a long time ago that saying yes to everything or being available all the time, is a recipe for disaster and potential burnout. You are only one person and doing things just because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or because you are afraid, are not enough reasons for you to take on more than you can handle and overload yourself. You need to bring things back to a balance. Do yourself a favour and stop saying yes and being available for everything all the time. There comes a time when enough is enough. There comes a time when you must draw the line.

Okay wait, preaching this is one thing but you still don’t know how to curb this. A lot of you will argue that you can’t exactly tell your boss straight to his or her face just a short “NO”. So, let’s back up a bit. All you need are a few tips on how to let someone down easy or how to say “no” politely and respectfully decline.

Let’s start by getting to the root of the problem. If you say “yes” to everything, reason 1 might be that you are scared to say “no” and how the person will react, or reason 2 could be that you are unsure of how to go about rejecting someone graciously to their face. Then ask yourself: Are you a people pleaser or is fear your deciding factor why you are not declining.

Consider the following techniques when you are trying to say “No”:

  • Give an alternative plan rather than plain refusal. If, for example, your boss gives you another task, rather go back to him or her with a plan on how you propose fitting it in. Say, for example, that option 1 is for you to first finish your current project before you start with the new one, or option 2 would be for you to deprioritize what you are currently busy with to start the new project. Option 3 might also be to request someone extra to help with the workload. If you present options or a plan rather than just refusing, your boss will respect you for the planning effort and will see that you can prioritise and manage your time effectively.
  • Don’t allow people to take advantage of you. A lot of the time, you get overloaded with tasks because you are the person who always agrees to take on more than is expected of you. You think that if you take on more and do more it shows your willingness to go the extra mile, however, people take advantage of that trait. You need to be assertive and firm. Yes, it might show dedication, but it might also show that you are a ‘walk-over’. Remind yourself and your boss (in a polite but firm way) what they pay you to do, and that certain tasks expected of you do not fall within the paygrade. Legally, these are the responsibilities they hired you for, which they cannot argue with or hold against you. On a personal level, a lot of friends or family might take advantage of your talents and skills. Even in this case you need to be assertive with them right from the start. Don’t let them take advantage of you. The power lays with you to curb this.
  • Focus on prioritizing. Yes, the lines get blurred because now you work remotely and probably have the family around. Maybe because your boss and co-workers have the same challenges, they communicate and respond to tasks or emails at various odd times. Your manager might expect that you answer an email at ten o’clock at night because that is when she or he has time to dish out work and have queries. This is a tricky one, but it boils down to you deciding what and when something is important and sticking to your hours. When you prioritise your own to do list, also take others’ time and circumstances into consideration.  I’ve had clients, facilitators, employees and sub-contractors phone me at night, or sent messages very early in the morning but I don’t answer until I am “at the office” meaning in office hours and I respect their time with their families and during weekends in turn. We also need time for family and to relax. If you allow people to invade your personal time, that’s on you. You have the power to decide and prioritise.
  • Quality is better than quantity. You’ve probably heard these words repeatedly. Aim for quality not quantity. This counts for both your time and the outcome of the project. Doing a lot or spending a lot of time on it, but not doing it good enough, does not help anyone. In the end, if a project fails because of quality issues it causes more work or takes longer because it must be redone in the end. Quality work is always better than quantity. So, when you work, focus and get it done so that your work does not spill over into your personal life.
  • Stop being available all the time. Stop saying yes to every kids’ birthday party, helping with the décor for the school play, enrolling your child for every afternoon activity, serving on every board etc. This includes you being on social media too frequently, picking up every time your phone rings or eagerly answering every email and WhatsApp promptly even though you are now busy with something else. You do not have to answer an email at 23:00 pm. It can wait.
  • Work on your decision-making skills. Pause every time and ask yourself: can it wait? Will something bad happen if I am not involved instantly? You are the only one who has the power over your own decisions. No one should be making it for you. Change the way you decide by knowing your worth, considering the benefits of the decision and by keeping emotions out of it. Practice decision-making on daily requests to develop this skill over time.

It is hard but saying “no” can lift a huge weight off your shoulders and open more time for other things of more value. The more you practice it, the easier it gets. During my own journey, I had to say no on numerous occasions to things that could have opened many doors, further my career or even brought in more money. I had to ask myself the hard question: “Is it worth it?” “What am I sacrificing?”

For example, one of our clients who became too demanding at a later stage of our professional relationship expected much more than what he was willing to pay for. Respectfully declining requests from him proved to be the right decision. Because we were assertive but still accommodating to an extent, in the end, he still chose us as a preferred training partner because he could see that we knew our worth and believed in our courses.  I remained assertive, professional throughout the negotiations, and did not involve emotion with the problem. We addressed the problem, proposed reasonable and achievable solutions.

In conclusion, become aware of the habit of agreeing to everything, learn to be assertive and to know your worth as well as how precious your time is, and finally, practice good decision-making skills.