How do you say “no” to the myriad of requests impacting your time?
As your leadership role expands, you are likely discovering that the demands on your time to deliver results and to connect with people inside and outside your organization are increasing. You’re finding that you’re unable to be responsive to the needs that you used to easily fulfill in the past. You want to spend time investing in others but are faced with the challenge of prioritizing the greatest return on investment for your time spent. You find that you must make the most productive connections that are mutually beneficial to all involved.
So, what do you do with the increasing requests for connection on social media? Then there’s the follow-up emails to just get 15 minutes of your time to discuss an important topic. Meanwhile, in the office, you’re encouraged to support employee engagement by increasing your interactions with team members at all levels of the organization.
Factors to Consider When It Comes to Managing Your Time
How can leaders effectively evaluate all these requests? Consider these factors.
- Goals and Objectives – Know the results you’re seeking as part of your work. Will the conversation support accomplishment of these goals and objectives?
- Values – Ensure you’ve identified what’s important in the way you live and work. These are the standards of behavior that drive your decisions and ensure alignment with your goals. For example, if you value developing deeper business relationships with your direct team members, you may limit time spent with individuals who are not on your team.
- Priorities – Identify the most important tasks you must complete to support your goals and remain in line with your values.
- People – Clearly identify the target audience that you must reach and impact directly; and who they will in turn impact. Ensure your time with them will be multiplied as they influence others.
- Expertise – You’ll receive many requests that will lead you off course. Stick to the things you know that you do well.
If the requests don’t align with enough of these factors, you simply have to say “no.”
How to Say “No”?
We all want to be liked to some degree. We want to help others and minimize negative feedback. But the more we focus on our goals, the more frequently we have to say “no.” How can we do this tactfully?
- Let them know that you see the benefit of their initiative to others. In this way, you communicate an underlying value that all great ideas have a home, even when they need more refinement and evaluation. But you don’t have to welcome the ideas into your home.
- Suggest another option or person who might better serve their purpose. For example, someone approached me for advice about starting a business vs. purchasing a franchise. After a few minutes of discussion, it was clear that this individual had not explored the pros and cons of either option, nor did he have a specific product or service about which he was passionate. I suggested that he contact several organizations that provide classes for budding entrepreneurs to learn more about the process. For me to be of better value to him, he needed to have a concrete idea and well thought out business plan to discuss.
- Clarify your values and priorities to them. This could include letting them know that you only take meetings on topics that align with your expertise; or that you have a family commitment during the time they’ve requested; or that to ensure maximum impact, you focus on specific types of events where the attendees will augment your message based on their roles.
- Be honest, authentic and kind. Others have helped me to get to where I am today by providing valuable advice. They did it without expecting anything in return, and I too want to “pay it forward.” I may not have time for a 30-minute meeting, but sometimes I can spend five minutes “on the run” to point others in the right direction.
- Try an alternate approach. When multiple people request time on your calendar on similar topics, host a group meeting and invite them all to discuss the common theme.
Remember that well-intentioned people will often want to meet with you when their issues are better served by someone else. They may best benefit from an individual who provides a basic or intermediate level of learning on a topic before they can fully benefit from the advanced expertise that you provide.
This isn’t about not being nice. It’s about ensuring that your time is focused on work that supports reaching your goals. Saying “no” enables you to avoid energy draining activities and unnecessary stress. It permits you to accomplish your purpose, align with your values and focus on connecting with the right people.