But the problem I frequently see with my time coaching clients is that their default response of, “Sure, I’ll get that to you by tomorrow,” leads to long-term negative consequences for themselves and others, such as:• Handling small requests but putting off important projects
- Turning in late or low-quality work
- Doing other people’s work for them instead of properly delegating
- Working extra hours so they can’t move forward on personal goals
- Sacrificing sleep, exercise, and time with people they enjoy
- Developing a reputation for being approachable but not reliable
- Having people nag them about when they will get things done
- Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, guilty, frustrated, and resentful
Don’t misunderstand me: Doing your job well, having a willingness to serve, and acting like a team player are all awesome qualities. I’m not advocating slacking or never taking on extra assignments. But when you allow every request to divert your attention from your most important activities of the day, everyone ends up frustrated.
Fortunately, the solution to this huge challenge often involves a relatively small change in behavior: Thinking through and practicing how to say, “No,” or, “Not now,” nicely.
As a starting point, I’ve listed out some examples of quick, respectful responses you can use in situations where it’s common to overcommit. Try saying a few of these out loud (preferably by yourself) and tweak them until the phrasing suits your personality and work culture. It may seem a bit strange or “fake” at first to rehearse. But if you’ve developed a life-long habit of always answering affirmatively, it’s necessary to retrain yourself so that you don’t default to your typical pattern.Here you go:
When you receive perpetual last-minute requests:
When people ask you about everything instead of directly contacting the appropriate person:
When you’re asked in the hallway or at a meeting for an estimated timeframe for a complex project:
When you’re given an exceptionally short deadline:
When someone starts talking about a problem that you could potentially help them with but you don’t have time to handle and is not your responsibility:
When asked to do something optional that you can’t commit to right now:
When someone asks you to do something that your much-less-busy coworker could do:
At first, you’ll need to consciously think about using these new phrases. But in time, these type of responses will quite naturally flow out of your mouth in conversation or through your fingers in an email response.
Also, if you’ve developed a reputation for always jumping to meet everyone’s requests, you may have a few people who don’t like your new approach. But by consistently practicing better responses, you’ll end up making more people happy – including yourself.
Over to You…
Do you struggle with taking on more than you can handle?How have you learned to avoid over-commitment?