Saying no is simple, but not always easy for most people. I've determined that you must have a systematic, philosophically-based approach to saying no. I recommend three steps:
1. KNOW WHAT YOUR GOALS AND PRIORITIES ARE.
If you have a plan for managing your work and time, it is easier to say no to new activities that don't fit into your agenda. We have a saying in one of our programs that goes, "A person who does not have goals is used by someone who does."
Be clear on what your priorities are. What are you currently trying to accomplish and by when? How can you focus your energy on things that will move you toward those goals? You have to be somewhat inflexible. A new assignment or opportunity can be a distraction. Just let your goals become your reality check.
To achieve these goals, you need to set priorities and stick with them. Then you will be better able to discern whether opportunities are important for you at this time in your life.
All good performance starts with clear goals. Without clear goals you will quickly be a victim of too many commitments. You will have no framework in which to make decisions about where you should or shouldn't focus your energy. I am much better at saying no when I am clear about my focus and what my goals are.
2. BE REALISTIC ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF DOING ONE MORE THING.
This is both for yourself and for the person who wants your time. I've found the best approach is to be honest and direct. For example, say, "If I do this, I won't be able to get to do the other things that I've committed to, "or, "with what I've got going on right now, I feel certain that I won't do as good a job as I'd like and we will both be disappointed."
When a new opportunity comes my way I often compliment the idea (if I feel it has merit) and then say, "I don't choose to get involved."
I've found this is a powerful approach. I'm amazed that when I use it people don't say, "Well, why can't you do it?" They just accept it and say, "Thank you."
3. OFFER ALTERNATIVES AND SOLUTIONS.
Suggest someone else who you feel could do a better job or who is available sooner to work on the task. If the request is from your manager, suggest a project or priority that you are doing that could be dropped, delayed, or given to someone else, or ask him or her to suggest an alternative plan.
Which approach you use does, of course, depend on who's asking for your commitment, what the task or project is, and the time frame involved. A request from your manager will involve more consideration and discussion than a request from an associate or someone you don't know.
Research done by Charles Garfield on peak performers shows that they focus on only a few things at a time. Peter Drucker asserts that the only people who truly get anything done are monomaniacs--people that intensely focus on one thing at a time. The more you take on, the
greater the chance that you will lose effectiveness not only in getting that task done, but most likely in all aspects of your life.
Keep in mind that when you say no, you're not saying no to them, only to their proposition. There's only one person that can turn that person down and that's themselves. Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission."