Darn, why did I say yes…

 

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Do you know this feeling? A friend, family member or colleague asks you for a favor or help and without even thinking about it you say yes. Five minutes later you get an unsettling feeling in your stomach and you regret it.

Truth be told, you have enough on your plate as it is, right? Who doesn’t? We all have obligations and commitments at work, with our families and with our friends that more than fill our waking time. So why do we add more and more?

Yes, we want to be a good friend. We like to be helpful. We can’t let our family down. Therefore, we give up the time that we so desperately need to recharge our own battery, sleep a couple of hours more, or work on something that is important to us or our business. As a result, we feel stressed and overwhelmed – we over-committed. We oblige to do more than we are capable of (Oxford Dictionary, paraphrased).

In an article of Psychology Today over-committing is described as the “consequence of poor limit setting”. It particularly mentions women who “…are socialized to be helpful, accommodating, and polite in groups. If they can help out, they are taught that they should, even if it pulls them away from something they’re already doing or something they really wanted to do.” If they don’t, they are considered heartless and selfish.

Let’s turn that around for a second. What would change if we looked at it as an investment? I got this idea from a Harvard Business Review article that mentioned a book titled “How to Invest Your Time Like Money”. I thought this is a fabulous title because time, like money, is a precious commodity.

With this in mind, how can you avoid over-committing yourself?

I found the best way is to train yourself to take a moment and engage your brain before saying yes. Don’t be offended, but that is exactly what we don’t do. Most of the time internalized patterns rule our response. Engaging the brain sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the devil lies in the detail, because as we all know, old habits die hard.

I made it a rule to defer my answer to a later time, especially when it is a bigger time commitment. It is easy to say, “I’ll get back to you later, I have to check my calendar or with my spouse, children […]”, fill in the blank. It’ll break your ‘yes-pattern’ and allows you to ask some simple questions to help you make the right choice.

  1. Is this really one of my priorities?
  2. If I say yes to this commitment, what do I have to kick off my list? What do I have to give up for it? (I wrote a blog about this late last year.)
  3. Will it be a “hell yes” or at least a resounding yes?
  4. Do I have the time and energy to do it?

If you find out that it is not what you should say ‘yes’ to, there is always a gracious way to say no. Or you may be able offer a different solution?

Now you may come back and say, hold on for a sec. If a friend is in need or a family member needs a hand I can’t say no. I absolutely agree, there are situations when you feel obliged to help, no matter what. But, be honest with yourself, that is only a fraction of the many times you are asked, right?

Remember: “When you give a knee-jerk ‘yes’, all the time you’re valuing the time and happiness of others over your own. Ultimately, it’s the recipe for resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.” (paraphrased: Dr. Frank Lipman, Be Well Blog) And that doesn’t help anybody, least of all you.

Take good care of yourself and say ‘no’ more often.

Urgent vs. Important

When presented with the choice to attend to something ‘urgent’ vs. something ‘important’ what do you do? I bet most of the time you will drop everything and take care of the urgent. It is a natural response. If something is urgent it has to be done right away, doesn’t it? And what does this have to do with your productivity?

Let’s have a closer look. What does urgent mean and what does important mean?

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Urgent by nature is something that pops up unexpectedly. It is something we hadn’t planned or even considered doing at a particular day or time (assuming you plan your days 😉).

In many cases, dare I say most cases, it is something we forgot to do or take care of earlier on. Or we just didn’t feel like doing it when there still was time and now… it is urgent because we are running out of time (also known as procrastination). Or we never took the time to plan a project with its many steps and possible hurdles. Many of these ‘urgent scenarios’ are the consequences of poor planning and/or procrastination; sometimes our own, sometimes someone else’s. Most could have been prevented with a little effort, either our own or someone else’s.

Of course, (really) urgent stuff or (really) urgent situations exist. Despite our best efforts, we cannot foresee everything and cannot plan for everything. Unexpected things can and will happen: you may be called to a family emergency, you may have a crucial member of your team call in sick… you get the picture.

The difference between the two: the first ones were preventable, the second ones weren’t.

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Important on the other hand is a deliberate action that moves you, your business, your relationship, or anything else for that matter to the next level. It leads to progress in an area you decided to work on and devote your attention to. It may be working on a project, it may be preparing a product launch, it may be doing something for your family. No matter which area of your life or business we are looking at, it implies taking the next step.

I don’t mean to imply that paying your bills or getting your car serviced isn’t important in terms of preventing you from adverse effects or harm. I consider paying your bills or arranging for a car service or scheduling a doctor’s appointment ‘mundane work’. It can easily be scheduled at a time that is convenient and, most importantly, does not interfere with your important work.

Do you see the difference between urgent and important? I believe it is obvious why telling one from the other is crucial. Far too often are we dragged into doing ‘urgent’ stuff that, truth be told, isn’t really our concern or at least shouldn’t be our concern. But how do you prevent yourself from jumping up when someone uses the word ‘urgent’ for a request?

Know and be clear about what is important to you. What kind of urgent is really ‘your’ urgent that you have or will attend to? What is aligned with your business, your life or whatever the circumstances. If you know, you have a choice. You decide whether or not to rush to the rescue.

So again, what does this have to do with productivity?

Very simple, rushing to the rescue takes time and energy, your time and your energy. It disrupts your day and quite possibly creates the next ‘urgent’, and the next, and the next. Urgent takes away the time you need for your own business, your family, your friends, yourself. Instead of focusing on your ‘important’, you allow circumstance to dictate where your time goes and that does have an impact on what you get done and what you will achieve.

Do you know what is important to you?
If you need help to figure it out, call me or shoot me an email.
Until next time.

Regine

Pictures:
Urgent: Asatira Astrid, Berlin/Deutschland
Important: Geralt Altmann, Freiburg/Deutschland