Category Archives: Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done QA

Paper vs. Apps—The Tools in Your GTD® System

Dear David,

I can’t seem to get rid of my paper and pencil system. I love to write down lists, track things on sticky notes, and hoard notebooks and handouts from my meetings. In today’s world of fancy phone apps and calendaring systems, I feel a bit archaic. Am I doing it wrong if I stick to my paper and pencil way of getting things done? It hasn’t let me down yet.

Low-Tech Scribe

Dear Low-Tech,

There is absolutely nothing wrong with your tools, nor with you. As a matter of fact, paper, in many cases for many people, works better than digital media. I know quite a few tech-savvy people who have gone back to using paper-based systems—especially those who have attention issues or are simply too impatient to deal with all the digital “clicks” necessary to input or access reminders in your phone or computer.

Physical tools like pen and paper also give us a kinesthetic experience that many find more satisfying than typing or texting. The touch and feel of pen, pencil, paper, sticky notes, and notebooks does foster a kind of magical quality in our thinking as we use them. And the more attractive our tools, the more functional they will be.

Additionally, a paper planner or notebook, properly used and organized, can actually give you a more comprehensive, quick overview and gestalt of your multi-level commitments than a combination of software applications. I used an elegant notebook organizer for fifteen years, for note-taking, creative thinking, calendar and action reminders, and functional portable reference material. Though I have transitioned to digital tools, I still miss that compact, coordinated, leather-encased tool. Tech has not been able to replicate that for me, in that way, as much as I would like it to.

I did switch to digital for organizing lists and some note taking when the Palm Pilot debuted in the 1990’s. Since then, I’ve primarily stuck to software apps for much of what I need to manage and access. Given the nature of my work, my collaboration with others, and the integration of things like email, calendar, and digital information I can easily cut and paste, high-tech won out as my medium of choice. But it does have its limitations.

I still use pen and paper for capturing random thoughts I’d like to address later (I’ve carried a notepad in my pocket wallet for thirty-five years and I’ll never give it up!). I also always keep a small notepad and pen at my desk. I would find it absurdly inefficient to have to unlock my smartphone to capture a random idea or input. My wife and I maintain a running notecard in the kitchen to remind ourselves of items we need to get at the market.

That said, a paper-based environment of inputs and note-taking can be as ineffective as anything else! I have spent thousands of hours hand-holding sophisticated executives as they plow through the notebooks, sticky-notes, random meeting notes, printed reports, receipts, and scraps of paper that have accumulated and constipated their environments and their heads. If your system is completely paper-based, you still need to apply the rigor it takes to distinguish between simply capturing ideas on paper to clarifying and listing these inputs. If you’ve taken meeting notes or thoughts in a journal or notebook, and haven’t curated them to distinguish what needs to be kept as reference, what requires action to be taken, and what can be simply tossed (and rewritten and reorganized in that way), then the whole situation will be quite pressured and sub-optimal.

As long as you have discrete categories into which to channel your handwritten notes (random inputs, reminders of projects and specific actions to take, reference material, etc.), it can function as a self-management system as well as any other.

Here’s a warning: if you’re avoiding going digital and sticking with your low-tech tools because you’re uncomfortable and unfamiliar with that world, watch out. Our world is becoming increasingly digital. Given your lifestyle and situation, it may not make that much difference to you. Just pay attention to what you need to manage and take care of and what the optimal way to deal with that might be. Don’t stick with what you’re doing because you’re not willing to explore something that might be more effective. But, if you’re sufficiently digitally savvy and decide to stick with a paper-based system, good for you.

Obviously, there is no perfect set of tools—each component has an upside and a downside. There are only excellent ways to use whatever tools you choose to use.

Best of luck,
David

Getting Things Done QA

How to Manage Emergencies and Still Stay on Track

Dear David,

What is the best way to manage true emergencies? My weekly review doesn’t account for those times people come bursting into my office with a fire that only I can seem to put out. When I spend time on these seemingly legitimate emergencies, it can derail my week and put me behind on the tasks I had planned to accomplish. What is the best way to manage this part of life that likely won’t ever change—despite my best efforts to plan?

Sincerely,
Pin Ball

Dear Pin Ball,

I certainly empathize with the frustrations that can emerge when your best-laid plans get thrown off the rails, especially when you have invested time, energy, and thought into those plans. However, banking on a world void of surprises is obviously a futile exercise. This is especially true today when the rate of change is accelerating in virtually every professional environment. Thirty years ago, conventional wisdom suggested that at least 40% of your workday would be consumed by unexpected tasks, request, and obligations. Likely, this ratio can only have increased.

So, what’s the cure?

Let me start with what may seem like some hard news. There are no interruptions—only mismanaged inputs. Whatever you are allowing into your universe is either something you are accountable for, or it’s not. If it ought to be dealt with by another role or individual, you need to reroute it appropriately. If something has escalated up or over to you that you really aren’t responsible for, then you have an organizational issue that may need to be solved with a crucial conversation.

If, on the other hand, the input actually is something your job commitments require you to deal with (your “legitimate emergencies”), so be it. It could be that it’s simply a reality you need to accept. If the situation seems unacceptable, your options would be to change your role or work to reconfigure it. The latter case should happen if dealing with the “emergencies” is preventing you from fulfilling the primary responsibilities of your role.

If you really don’t think those changes to your role are workable solutions, take a lesson from none other than the fire department. Why not? Their job is to put out fires. What you might not know is the vast majority of fire alarms are false ones. Talk about a reason to feel frustrated! However, I doubt you’ll see fire fighters throw up their hands and complain the next time an alarm sounds because there’s a high probability it’s a false one. Instead, the fire department is structured to deal with surprise. When they’re not fighting a fire, fire fighters are cleaning up, organizing, and getting themselves ready for whatever real or perceived emergency might come next.

So, just like the fire department, we also need to be prepared for surprises. How do we do that?

Well, when I’m not doing anything else, I’m cleaning up my backlog—emails, notes, new inputs. I’m getting all my in-baskets to empty and current with all my commitments. Why? The smaller my backlog of un-captured, un-clarified, unorganized stuff, the more comfortable I am receiving anything new. Also, because I regularly ensure I have a complete inventory of my projects and actions (through emptying my “ins” and doing Weekly Reviews), I am able to assess the relative importance of the new thing in my world much more intelligently.

If you are not doing those best practices to keep things clear, the volume of lurking “unknowns” in your psyche will continue to grow. When this happens, any new input feels more like a distraction than an opportunity. You will have this gnawing sense that there’s something more you could, or should, be handling. And while you’re not exactly sure what, you’re certain it’s more important than the emergency. This uncertainty creates the sense of breaking agreements with yourself—one of the greatest sources of stress.

We all have important priorities and responsibilities we need to attend to. And, we should keep our focus on the most meaningful of those. This means we need to stay focused on our desired outcomes while navigating the bumps (and surprises!) in the road.

Sincerely,
David Allen

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at www.vitalsmarts.com/events.

Getting Things Done QA

How to Overcome Your Procrastination Problem

Dear Justin,

I’m the master procrastinator. I only pride myself on this to cover up the frustration I have with myself. I have more on my plate and to-do list then I could ever accomplish and I find myself not only failing to finish things, but not even starting them in the first place. I have lists for everything but I rarely cross anything off these lists.

Help!
The Master

Dear Master,

You, my friend, are suffering from an age-old problem. The truth is, we’ve all felt this way. We have lots of items on a list, and when we finally get some time to “get things done,” we pull up the list and feel so overwhelmed we do almost none of it. For most people, the main thing they experience as a result of their to-do list is fatigue. Let me give you some ideas of how to remedy this at work and at home.

Plan to Procrastinate

Due to the sheer number of tasks that are likely on your list, there are some items I’m going to encourage you to procrastinate. Yes, that’s right. But I won’t call it procrastination—I’ll call it incubating. Procrastination is not doing something and then feeling bad about it. Incubation, on the other hand, is not doing something and feeling good about it.

There are a lot of items on your list you may want to accomplish at some point but you aren’t committed to any immediate actions or timelines. You should put these items on a separate list. In Getting Things Done®, we call this a “Someday/Maybe” list. You can call it whatever you want. But if you are going to decide not to decide about some items, you need to have a “decide not to decide” list or folder where these things reside. I would look at them about once a month to see if you are in a place to take action or have the mental capacity to take them on. If you aren’t or don’t, then your mind can let them go without you losing track of them. Saying “no” for now, doesn’t mean saying “no” forever.

Unclear Lists

Just because you have to-do lists, doesn’t mean you won’t procrastinate—as your question suggests. In my experience, the reason most people’s to-do lists are ineffective is because they are unclear. Therefore, it’s time to rethink your to-do list. In my last article, I shared some counterintuitive, but very efficient, ways to organize lots of actions. Let me explain.

If you look at most people’s to-do lists, they say things like: “Paint wall,” “Mom birthday,” “Oil,” “offsite,” “Cat Video Conference.” It’s great we’ve identified something we need to give time and attention to, but the meaning is muddied so our mental gears spin when we look at our lists. Instead of doing, we have to figure out what to do. It’s the difference between writing “Off-site” and writing “Email meeting invite to marketing team to brainstorm plans for 2018 Off-site.”

Remember this: everything on your to-do list is either attracting you or repulsing you psychologically; there’s no neutral territory. You’re either looking at something and saying, “Awesome! When can I mark this off?” Or, you’re saying, “Yuck! I don’t even want to think about this because there is so much involved it’s overwhelming.”

When you have a whole to-do list of these unclear, overwhelming tasks, you have a tendency to look at them again and again. Scientists have proven the reality of the term “decision fatigue.” The idea is that the more decisions we have to make each day, the more we diminish our brain’s ability to make decisions. This ultimately results in bad decision-making and a drained psychological fuel tank.

The solution is to only decide on stuff once. Meaning when you put an action item on a list, you clearly identify what the next action is—the very next physical, visible activity you need to take to move things forward. Your to-do list should be only next actions so that when you decide to do one of those actions, you can be confident it’s the right thing to be doing.

So, “Paint wall” becomes “Chat with my wife about the paint color for Ethan’s room.” “Mom’s birthday” becomes “Text my siblings to see what they want to do for Mom’s 70th birthday” and “Oil” becomes “Google search for oil mechanics near my house.”

Recently, a GTD® training participant asked, “But why be so clear? It’s not like I need to hand my to-do list to a stranger who needs to decipher the next steps.” While that may be true, I asked him how much time he wasted deciphering and remembering what really needed to happen next rather than actually getting things done. He quickly agreed he only wanted to make those decisions once. Also, if you don’t capture the details of the next action, you are likely carrying them around in your head. And as David Allen likes to say, “Your head is for having ideas, not for holding them.”

Good luck,
Justin

Getting Things Done QA

Help! I Have Too Many Meetings to Get Things Done

We’re excited to welcome David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, as a contributor to The Crucial Skills Newsletter.

Dear David,

I can’t help but realize that I never get any of my long-term stuff accomplished. I spend so much of my time in the weeds, trying to put out fires and get through my daily tasks, that I rarely think about, let alone find time to accomplish, the goals, vision, and purposes I want for my life. How in the world will I ever really achieve what matters most to me when all that seems to have my attention is email and meetings?

Sincerely,
Floundering

Dear Floundering,

Welcome to a very big club! Most everyone I know, especially those involved in a busy, professional world, easily fall victim to the “latest and loudest”—those things that are yanking our chain and hijacking our attention. Email and meetings are two especially prevalent culprits in this regard.

Now, email and meetings are extremely important tools for most of us, and can be highly effective for getting things done productively and efficiently—let’s not “shoot the media.” But, what’s the real problem? There are at least two:

1. The purpose of emails and meetings is often unclear—maybe even unnecessary.
2. You have not made your higher-horizon commitments adequately operational, which promotes getting sucked in to #1.

Problem #1 is pervasive, for sure. Emails are often spewed out (especially if you’re in the cc: group) to “keep everyone in the loop” when in fact, the reason is due to a lack of clarity around who’s really in charge, who really needs to know, and when action should take place. The same applies to meetings. Too often, groups of people are brought together to address something that could have been handled if responsibilities and their ownership were clear. Bad meetings lead to bad emails, which lead to bad meetings, ad nauseam. (This is a topic for another newsletter, for sure.)

Problem #2 is the real culprit, and there are multiple aspects of this issue. First of all, do you have a clearly articulated inventory of your goals, vision, and purposes? If not, that’s your first job. If you haven’t yet, get pen and paper or your computer and write out your best guess at your life purpose. Then, craft an ideal scenario (in several paragraphs) about what future “wild success” would look, sound, and feel like for you. Finish by identifying the key things you would need to accomplish in the next year or two to make that happen.

Once that’s done (and perhaps you’ve done that already), the key question to ask and answer for yourself is, “What’s the next action to make any or all of that happen?” If you had nothing else to do in your life right now but take a very specific, visible, physical action toward your desired outcome(s), what would that action be? Sending an email? Conducting a web search? Holding a conversation with a partner? What?

See, long-term for most people means, “Someday, I might really want . . . ” Whereas a really committed-to outcome is a now thing. It’s a goal you do something about now that just might take longer than some other things to be completed.

Without those specifically defined next actions, you will fall prey to all the distractions of your everyday work and life. That’s because it’s easier to let these daily agenda items give you a structure and stability and a short-term sense of productivity (as sub-optimal as it is), versus having to really think and decide what you actually need to do to make your vision a reality.

Once you are clear about where you really want to go, and precisely the next action(s) you need to take to get there, it becomes much easier to assess the value of the bright baubles in your world that can be so distracting. That doesn’t mean you can avoid meetings and email. You’ll just have a better handle on how much time and energy to give them, and trust that you’re still moving the needle for yourself in the right direction.

I can’t help but also suggest that one of the greatest obstacles to what I have suggested above is the lack of capturing, clarifying, and organizing all the things that have your attention now—little or big, personal or professional. This creates a mental backlog, which in turn makes you feel overwhelmed. This, then, greatly reduces your inspiration and ability to reflect on the relationship between your bigger game and your day-to-day realities. Once you implement the GTD® methodology, it is a lot easier to integrate and navigate all of those commitments.

Best of luck in reaching your big-picture goals.
David

Want to master these crucial skills? Attend one of our public training workshops in a city near you. Learn more at www.vitalsmarts.com/events.

Getting Things Done QA

Tips for the Forgetful

Dear Justin,

I can’t be the only one who makes trips to the grocery store only to kick myself when I get home because I forgot half of the items I needed. This same problem happens at work, too. I’ll have important items to discuss with my boss and forget to bring them up during my hour-long one-on-one meeting. Why can’t I seem to remember the important stuff in the moment that it matters? I chalk it up to being forgetful, but there’s got to be a solution. Please help.

Signed,
Forgetful

Dear Forgetful,

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This sort of thing used to happen to me all the time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled up to the grocery store, walked in the front door, literally stopped in my tracks and thought, “Why am I here?” It’s not only unproductive, it’s frustrating. Let me share two things that I’ve found contribute to this problem as well as a pretty counterintuitive solution.

1. You haven’t written the items down.
Perhaps the most important advice I could give you is that keeping track of stuff in your head is the last place you should keep track of it. David Allen likes to say, “There’s usually an inverse relationship between how much something is on your mind and how much it’s getting done.” So, that’s the first hoop to jump through. Be sure that when an errand comes to mind or someone asks you to pick something up, write it down or record it some place you look at regularly. I won’t get into too much detail here, but you can read more about it in my last article.

2. The way you organize your to-dos makes it hard for you to see that errand in the right moment and at the right place. The way people typically organize to-dos and tasks is either in one big list or by topic. The problem with the first approach is that I’m guessing you don’t just have 25 to-dos. If you did, then one list would work. Rather, I’m guessing you have 100 to 150 to-dos in your personal and professional life—maybe more. So, when it’s time to get things done, you end up spending more time sifting through the massive list to figure out which task to do in the moment considering your location.

With the second approach of organizing by topic/project, we run into the issue of context and resources. What I mean by this is: if you’re jumping into your car and the only work you could reasonably do is to make a few phone calls, you’d have to sift through all your different topic/project lists to see what calls you could make considering how much time you have. We’ve found that those who are the best at getting things done don’t organize in one big list or by topic/project, instead they organize by context.

Here’s the principle: make it much easier for you to see tasks you need to accomplish. Organize them not by project, or even a running list of to-dos, but rather by the location you need to be in, or the resource you need to be connected to, in order to complete the action. For example, have a list of calls to make. That way, the moment you jump into your car and have a few minutes to make some important phone calls, you can glance at this list and know exactly what you can accomplish in the time you have available. A few of my own lists that fit this structure are @Home, @Office, Errands, Calls, @Christina (my wife), @Work computer. Other helpful lists might be things like @Grocery store, Anywhere, @Airplane, Offline.

What this system allows you to do is get the right things done in the right place with the time you have available. You don’t have to waste time recalling why you’re on that specific errand or combing through to-do lists to find that item you wanted to chat with your partner about. Instead, when you jump in your car to head to the store (or when you arrive at the store), you can take 15 seconds to review your “errands” list to make sure you don’t miss anything. When you sit down with your boss for your weekly 1:1, you can open your agenda list (@Manager) that has all the items you specifically want to discuss with her.

Now, you might be thinking: “Justin, what if I forget to look at my list?” I knew you’d ask that, because I had the same question. Many apps now use geolocation technology, a great feature that solves this problem. This allows your phone to notice your location and whenever you get within a certain radius of your preferred store, for example, it will notify you of your errands list.

The approach of organizing by context was very counterintuitive for me, but once I tried it out with both feet in, my productivity was never the same; I’m convinced I’ll never go back to organizing by project, topic, or one big list.

When you organize by context or resource, your focus is on the actions you could take, not on sorting and sifting . . . and that’s really the point of getting things done.

Good luck,
Justin

Getting Things Done QA

Help! I’m Buried By My Inbox

NOTE FROM EDITOR: We are excited to announce the launch of our brand new training course, Getting Things Done®. In the month of August, we will highlight the skills and principles from Getting Things Done in our author Q&A article. Enjoy!

Dear Steve,

Can you help me better understand how, and more particularly when, I should clarify new items that come into my email inbox? It seems like it would take less time to scan my emails for the most important ones I need to take care of, and leave the less important issues for later. I’d appreciate any advice you could offer.

Sincerely,
Stuck in Clarify

Dear Stuck,

Recently, I was at a session where we discussed the number of emails currently in our respective inboxes. The first person to respond had 151 emails. Before she even finished saying, “One-hundred-and-fifty-one,” the person to her left cut her off with, “Amateur!” As it turned out, he was sitting on 5,000!

As we dug in further, we found that much of that backlog was a result of how he interacted with those emails—and surprisingly little to do with the raw number of email he received. And he’s not alone. Many of our GTD® participants own up to having email inboxes that range from full to overflowing. To shed some light on this common challenge, I’ll refer to the CCORE skills from Getting Things Done. CCORE is an acronym from GTD Training that stands for Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. Let’s bring some clarification to Clarify.

The overarching principle behind Clarify is to be familiar with what inputs are coming your way and, more importantly, what type and amount of effort they require of you. To do this effectively, you have to do some thinking and make some decisions regarding those items before taking action. While it may seem like a nuisance to add in this thinking and decision time to your email work, realize that you can either think and decide when things show up, or when they blow up. Of the two options, the preferred choice seems pretty obvious, right? So why, would anyone choose the latter of the two options? No one says, “Let’s see . . . I prefer to only deal with things once they’ve either fallen through the cracks or blown up into a crisis.” But unfortunately, it’s rarely framed this way. Usually, the dilemma comes packaged in an efficiency wrapper: “Why spend all that time ‘thinking’ about getting things done when I could actually just get things done?” People who succumb to this half-truth spend a lot of time engaged in emergency scanning.

Emergency scanning is the process of looking through your inbox for any high-priority emails and responding to those while leaving the others for later. And it’s not that this practice is necessarily evil. It’s great when you’ve just stepped out of an all-day meeting and have a few minutes to figure out if anything urgent requires your attention, or if the person you’ve been waiting to hear from has responded. The problem is when emergency scanning becomes the only way you clarify. Working in this mode ensures that you address only the high-priority items while creating a healthy backlog of less-urgent emails that grow to fill the available space (Parkinson’s fourth law of email). Each of these backlogged emails require multiple touches to re-clarify and re-figure out what needs to be done about it so by saving them for later, you are not getting rid of them. Rather, you are duplicating the amount of work it takes to read them, clarify them, and take any necessary actions.

However, if you take the time to Clarify on your first read—i.e. make decisions about what each email means to you and how you’ll respond—you can either get the task done immediately, file it away for important use later, or add it to a project with the next action clearly identified. Most importantly, you can move on from that email, release its hold on your mental to-do list, and start getting work done.

Clarifying once, and only once, when things show up in our inbox not only creates a proactive bond between you and your stuff, it’s also an efficient way to evaluate your workload and prioritize your commitments. Now, to make it a little easier, you may find it’s useful to clarify with your email in off-line mode. That way, you won’t feel tempted to go back to the top every time a new message makes it’s Pavlovian entrance (bing!).

If you find you have a backlog only a mother could love, I suggest something a little different. Pick a date in the past (two weeks or older works well), and move all those emails out of your inbox and into a folder titled “to be clarified.” This way, you’ll still have them (for those of you who’ve grown attached), and you can chip away at them over time as you maintain a more healthy load.

In one organization, teams that engaged their GTD skills reported an average of thirty minutes of “extra” time they hadn’t enjoyed previously. And where did the majority of that new time come from? A good chunk came from not having to touch their emails multiple times before taking action on them.

For those just beginning, it might take you a little longer to grow accustomed to the new discipline of clarifying. But over time, you’ll find clarifying becomes easier and quicker. And, the biggest benefit you’ll find is the direct link between how clear your next actions are and your ability to take action.

Best of luck,
Steve

Getting Things Done QA

How to Say “No” and Reclaim Your Career

NOTE FROM EDITOR: We are excited to announce the launch of our brand new training course, Getting Things Done®. In the month of August, we will highlight the skills and principles from Getting Things Done in our author Q&A article. Enjoy!

Dear Emily,

How do you say “no” to requests and projects that come across your desk? I want to be helpful and do everything that’s asked of me, but if I said “yes” to every request I received, I wouldn’t actually get to my top priorities and that would reflect poorly on my performance. How do I balance urgent requests with long-standing responsibilities?

Signed,
People Pleaser

Dear Pleaser,

I started my life as a people-pleaser. I had a strong sense of perfectionism and I wanted to be liked. Put the two together, and I would do just about anything to keep from letting someone down. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, ever.

These motivations served me well in my career for many years. I developed a reputation as someone who could be counted on, someone who produced results. But then, several years into my career, I had an important realization. My career wasn’t mine any more. My career belonged to all the other people who made requests of me. I was doing what they wanted or needed me to do, what they asked of me, rather than doing what I wanted or needed to do.

So, I learned to say “no” and I learned to disappoint people. Because, if you never disappoint someone, it means you aren’t living your life, you are living the life other people want you to live. Getting Things Done® provides a framework for balancing all of the inputs in your life—those generated by others (requests they make of you) and those generated by you (things you want to do). Here are three ideas that have been helpful for me.

Survey all your options.
David Allen says it this way, “You can only feel good about what you are not doing if you know what you are not doing.” Capturing all your inputs, both those that come from others (i.e. requests people make of you) and those that come from yourself (i.e. ideas and thoughts you have) is the key to making sure you know what you are not doing. Until you have a clear picture of everything you could be doing, it is impossible to make a good choice about what you should be doing.

Think of it this way: if you are sitting at your desk and an urgent email request comes in from a coworker, your natural inclination will be to see it and evaluate its importance in a vacuum. Is it important? Yes, so I will do it right now. But, if you have captured (and subsequently organized) all of your inputs, you can look at that email coming in and say, “Why, yes, this is important but when I compare it to the other things on my list, it is not as important.”

Getting a clear, documented (i.e. written down) picture of all of your inputs is the first step in creating the space you need to choose what to do rather than simply react to what is in front of you. Just make sure you write everything down—including the projects and tasks most important to you. Your “to-do” list has to include all the things YOU want to do; not simply what OTHERS want you to do.

Make “no” a decision rather than a delay.
For most of us, there is simply no way to do everything everyone wants of us. We have to set boundaries and say “no” to some things. To minimize the impact on others of saying “no,” it is best to say “no” quickly and clearly.

  • Quickly: When a request comes in, it should take only a couple of minutes to read and evaluate. If you truly have a clear picture of all your choices, you can easily place this new request in the context of those choices and decide whether you can take it on or not. That decision can be made quickly. Don’t procrastinate saying “no.” Doing so increases the pressure on you to say “yes” and leaves the other person with less time to get the help he or she needs from other sources.
  • Clearly: Here I will borrow from Yoda: “Do or do not; there is no try.” With the best of intentions, I sometimes find myself saying to someone, “I have a lot on my plate right now but I will try to get this done for you.” This response helps no one. It puts pressure on me because I have made a commitment I know deep down I can’t keep. On other side, the person making the request hears this response as a “Yes, Emily will do this.” Think of saying “no” like ripping the Band-Aid off: there is far less pain if you do it quickly and clearly.

Understand the true impact of saying “yes.”
Most of the time, we consider only the impact of saying “no.” Keisha asks me for help. If I say “no” that will put her in a bind. This makes me feel bad and tempts me to say “yes.”

But what is the impact of saying “yes”? This might include:

  • Less time and energy for more important projects I want to focus on.
  • A missed opportunity for someone else on the team to develop and grow. When I say “yes” to something, it means someone else doesn’t get the chance to say “yes” to it. There might be others on the team or in the organization who could handle this work or who would like the opportunity to step up and take on this type of project.
  • Failure to keep commitments to others. I say “yes” to Keisha and the impact is I have to tell my daughter I won’t make it to her soccer game after all.

Saying “yes” to people is important. Helping, mentoring, and teaming are all hugely valuable uses of our time. The key is to make sure we make conscious choices about how to use (or not use) our time so we are controlling our choices not ceding those choices to others.

Best of luck in using your new skills,
Emily