Opportunities and activities abound. Everyone is ready to occupy our time with this or that. In my studies of success and high performers, a common thread has emerged. Learning to say “no” is a significant contribution to their long-term success. Saying no is difficult. We naturally desire to please others or take advantage of what appears to be an amazing opportunity that could further our career or grow our business. Opportunities come at us left and right, so how do we choose? Why should we say “yes” to this opportunity, and “no” to that activity? Is there a strategy that can help us say no with confidence that we are making the right decision? I have developed a strategy that has become helpful to me and I hope it is helpful to you.
Step #1 –
Have a list of goals and priorities accompanied with a list of non-negotiable core values. When we have a clear vision of where we are going, it makes it easier to say no to opportunities that are not in alignment with those priorities. If you don’t have a list of clear goals, please visit this article to start a plan for your better future. So, step 1 is answering this question: Is this opportunity or activity completely aligned with my current priorities? If yes, continue the decision matrix to step number 2. If no, write a clear response that says “no” with gratitude and firmness. Don’t waiver.
Step #2 –
Will this opportunity accelerate the realization of my current priorities more quickly? Or will it distract from them? Understanding the time required and time saved is key to taking on something new. Remember that when you say yes to one thing, you are effectively saying no to something else. I have written in the past that “Time is finite, and choices are infinite, so to make the most of our time we must make better choices.” If something is going to help us realize our goals sooner, it is likely a “heck yes”, but if it won’t, you are better off saying “heck no!”
Step #3 –
Is there a real need to do this now or can this be done in the future? This question allows us to evaluate the timeline for this opportunity that we are considering. We frequently start or say yes because we feel the opportunity will not be there in the future, but often there is no real urgency except the urgency we fabricate, or others fabricate to promote their agenda. If this is an opportunity that will be available in the future, simply add it to your list of future opportunities.
Step #4 –
Will this opportunity stretch my abilities or help me to be better overall? Growth occurs only through stress. I am not necessarily talking about negative stress, but stress in general. If we want to grow muscle, we must stress it. If we want to grow our lung capacity, we must stress it. If we want to grow our overall capacity, we must take on activities and opportunities that stress us. There is really no other way to grow.
Step #5 –
Is this opportunity going to make a greater impact beyond me? In other words, will this opportunity help my community, family, and the lives of others? This question can be tricky because we all want to help. We all want to make the world a better place. However, there are more opportunities to do so than there is time to support them. If we use our core values and vision for our future to help us get clear on how we are going to serve, it will be easier to decide on a yes or no.
Our window for new commitments should be very difficult to pass through. Successful people have mastered the art of saying no, because they realize saying yes to too many things or the wrong things can take them off course.
I will say that there is an exception to the rule of saying no. When we are first starting out, it is important that we gain experience. Experience comes from action and action comes from saying “yes”. I can’t define the right time to start saying no more frequently, but when you are starting out, saying yes often will be a big part of your future growth.
Here is how to use this scorecard as a tool for your next opportunity:
- Rank each step or question 1-10
- Total the rankings. If the score is 45 or higher, the opportunity is a “heck yes”. If it is between 40-45, it is likely a “yes”, but needs careful justification. Anything less than 40 is a “no”.
- Have a pre-drafted letter or e-mail to utilize as you decide that “no” is the final answer.
If your final answer was a yes, the next step just might be the most difficult. What am I going to stop doing in order to have time for the new opportunity? This could mean giving up your season tickets, selling a business, quitting poker night, etc. An activity that has helped me do this is to list and rank my current priorities. The lowest most often gets the boot to free up time for the new priority.
We get one shot at this life. I believe it’s our responsibility to make the most of our one life and that in order to do so, we must make smart choices about how we spend our time and whom we spend our time with. This system helps me to be very intentional when evaluating opportunities. Time is finite, but choices are infinite. Be intentional in making your choices, and you will leave this place better than you found it. That is a legacy worth leaving.