Time Management: Learning to see “No” as a Negotiation (Tip #3)

Most of us have been well socialized into compliance. We believe that saying “no” is rude and not considered good team play.

While that may be true — and I am a big believer in being a great team player — I continually come back to the fact that one cannot effectively manage one’s time without a bit of rudeness thrown in.

(where we define rudeness as knowing your limits and being assertive about those “boundaries”)

In other words, only you know how much you can handle and when you might need to re-negotiate priorities or offload some work. Of course, this needs to be done with due care and consideration for what is at stake and what requirements a customer or client may have.

To be successful at negotiating and re-negotiating priorities, you need to be in regular dialog with your manager, and ultimately you first have to be OK with the idea that “No” as a negotiation is a valid option.

I think people who struggle with this often have a thematic issue of 1) being overly optimistic or 2) believing they can/should do everything.

So the first step is recognizing “how often do I get myself overloaded by promising too much or wanting to deliver ‘everything’?” If the answer is “quite regularly”, you need to make an intentional effort to re-assess what is reasonable to accomplish.

Continally ask yourself “what is the most important item for me to do or where is my contribution most valuable on any specific project”? Then seek out other resources to cover off the work that is not yours to do. Now if there is no one to delegate the work to, that could be the start of a discussion with your manager about resources.

Many organizations these days run very lean and subject-matter experts like Software Developers or Electrical Engineers find themselves managing purchasing processes or travel arrangements. While you may not be able to change this, you can educate your manager on the cost of what it takes to fracture your focus and attention from your area of expertise to manage processes that potentially could be managed elsewhere.

At the end of the day, you are the only one who can set your own boundaries around your level of output. If you can buy into the notion that saying “no” isn’t rude when you are also imparting information on the costs associated with saying yes to too much, it can become a powerful tool in your kit for managing both your time and your sanity.

Joanne Spalton, Senior Consultant