Throughout my life, I have focused on saying “Yes.” I have said yes to new opportunities at work, to volunteer opportunities, to event invites, to dates, and to everything in between. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the reason why. Why do I always say yes, even if I don’t want to do the thing I’ve said yes to? A few main reasons have come to the forefront. First, and to be perfectly honest, it’s often flattering. To be thought of as the first (and presumably ‘best’) option for any opportunity feels good…though let me say in retrospect, who knows if I was always the first choice? I could have been second, third, fourth, who knows! Second – I love to help people. Which, by the way, is my least favorite answer to any question about what you want to do in the world…but more on that at another time. Finally, I just don’t know how to say no. Yes, that might seem like a copout response, but it’s true. I’ve struggled for a long time with saying no, while making sure it doesn’t make the ‘asker’ feel bad or feel like they can’t ask for something in the future.
So in November, I decided to launch what I’m calling “My Year of No”. It doesn’t mean I’m going to say no to absolutely everything. What it does mean, is that I’m going to use a decision-making process before answering. And for frequent requests, I’m going to develop systems and processes to help me say yes with little to no lift.
My Decision Making Framework
PROFESSIONAL/VOLUNTEER/NETWORK Related Requests
- Gut reaction: do I want to do this?
- Yes – Proceed to step 2
- I’m not sure – Proceed to step 2
- No – Proceed to step 3
- In-Person Answer: “Thank you so much for thinking of me. Can I think about it and get back to you?” | Online Answer: Either wait 24 hours before responding (which is fair) or respond quickly with the previous response. Then, reflect on the following questions: Why do I want to do this? Do I have enough time right now to do my best? Is this in line with my long-term goals (most important!)?
- If I do want to do this, have enough time, and it’s something in line with my long-term goals, say yes. I will make sure to clearly outline the goals, timeframe, and deliverables and stick to it.
- If I realize I do not want, or cannot, do it (for any of the above reasons), say no. Complex reasoning for the decision is not required, so instead, keep it simple and straightforward. Proceed to step 3.
- If I know that I am going to say no to something, I will say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m not able to take [this request] on now, but here are some other people or resources I would recommend.” With the response, I will commit to spending 15-20 minutes thinking through ideas for the person. I want to make sure they realize that I do care, but don’t have the time to commit to something more fully. I can always commit 15-20 minutes to anyone who has taken the time to ask me something, and it will help the relationship continue to thrive.
This one is a bit more simple. Spending time with friends and family is extremely important to me. I have begun to block out 2 weekday evenings and one weekend day per week for myself (and my almost hubby). The rest are open to scheduling with friends. In order to make this possible, I have recently completely upended my workout schedule to take place at 6am (for the record, I am loving it!). That way, there are no excuses for not doing either one.
Finally, for any other request I get, I am going to make it a point to be mindful about how I make a decision. I’m also constantly thinking about how I can be more efficient with conversations. I love when people reach out to me to learn more about the work I do, want to explore a career in the nonprofit sector, or are interested in social entrepreneurship or leadership development. Some time ago, I realized I was having the same conversation and recommending the same resources over and over. It led to developing a blog post on job hunting and networking in the social sector, creating an offline list of personal recommendations, and creating a few template emails. It took about 1 hour to develop this content, and it always leads to more productive and meaningful conversations, since I can send my most recommended resources right before or after a conversation and we don’t need to spend time talking about them and can focus on more important things.
The purpose of these decision-making frameworks and my “Year of No” is to make sure I have more time for the things that are most important to me. How do you think about making decisions and saying no?