How To

The Power of No at Work

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Photo: hoyasmeg

Whether you work in an office or not, there are plenty of ways to burn the day away at work. Whether it’s checking your e-mail constantly or even dropping in on coworkers to analyze last night’s ball game, you can find plenty of distractions if you’re looking for them. However, what about the distractions you aren’t looking for, the ones that find you? We’re talking about the requests to help out with a project, 10 minutes of your time to discuss a new idea or that meeting that isn’t mandatory, but you really ought to be there for it. All of these things can take over your day without you realizing it. So, if you’re in the middle of something big that’s genuinely important, how do you keep the lesser stuff from distracting you from the bigger issues?

It’s easy. Just say: “No.”

Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, so read on as we cover the reasons “no” is so hard to say, and then set out the reasons you should say it anyway.

Why “no” is so hard to say

Because you want to move your career forward

If you’re moving forward in your career, you’re growing. Often, that means taking on new tasks, learning that new accounting program or even going to a meeting you weren’t invited to before. Often we don’t say no because we like the feeling of forward motion we get from doing new things. It’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you’re improving your visibility within the company by attending that weekly meeting, and on the one hand you’re right. The more aspects of a company we’re involved in, the more we know what’s going on in the workplace around us, and the more we feel like we’re making a difference. So, we make the mistake of thinking every extra thing we pile on our plate is improving us.

Because you want to help out

Secondly, most guys don’t want to let others down. Most of us have a pretty strong desire to be seen as friendly and helpful at work, and we don’t want to leave a coworker stuck with a difficult problem. Even if you couldn’t care less what your coworkers think, you still want to be the guy who gets things done — Rambo, the Terminator. The guy people call on to save the day when the chips are down. That “people are depending on me” feeling goes very deep into what drives us as men — being relied on is important to feeling manly. So, in turn, we want to feel reliable, and that means always jumping in, even when we can’t.

Because you don’t want to do your other work

Finally, and this one might sting a little, it’s possible that you’re taking on these extra commitments to avoid the work you should be doing. Given the option of letting a coworker interrupt you for 10 minutes in the middle of a difficult project or actually working on that difficult project, sometimes we unconsciously choose to avoid the task at hand. We don’t really want to do it, and it’s easier to do something else. Often the things we distract ourselves with are much smaller and simpler than the big, important, complicated projects. Rather than plow a couple of hours into a project that’s going to produce a big result, we take on smaller tasks like e-mails — it’s much easier to check these things off as “done,” and enjoy the small rush of good feelings that come from accomplishing something.

Why you should say “no” at work

You want to make the most of your time

When you rush around from task to task, it makes the day go by, sure. But are you really accomplishing anything? Every day will always have some “fire-fighting” — there will be some things that interrupt your day that you really do need to attend to immediately. However, if you allow yourself to be constantly distracted by whatever jumps up and shouts at you, the last thing that you’ll get to will often be the most important. Big, meaningful projects are rarely urgent, at least until the last minute.

There’s more to discover about the power of “no” at work and how it can further your career and keep you sane.

Encouraging others to respect your time

Secondly, time is valuable. They say time is money, and in a certain sense that’s true. However, time is also valuable on its own — you can only spend your time on one thing or the other, not both. The way you distribute your time and your attention will make a big difference in what you accomplish at the end of the day, week, month, year, and throughout your career. You have the same number of hours in the day as everyone else — just, at the moment, your time and attention are a huge bargain. If you don’t guard your time, nobody else will.

That’s an ugly fact of time management: The more extra work you say “yes” to, the more work you’re going to get. That can be a good thing — you take on extra projects at work and start receiving more responsibilities and more recognition. However, not everything that’s put in front of you is as valuable as everything else. You need to pick and choose what’s worth your time, or people will begin to pile everything on you. If you have employees who report directly to you, try this little experiment: For the next month, every time an employee comes to you with a problem (even those that have nothing to do with you), jump up, rush out and solve it personally. Don’t involve the employee or train them to fix the problem next time, just make everything all better. The standard for what is worth “bothering the boss” about will fall through the floor — you’ll be getting calls to go to the break room and kill a spider in no time.

You want to solidify your position

If you’ve ever analyzed all the different things you do as part of your job, you’ve no doubt noticed something. While every job has many important parts, there are a few key areas that are absolutely critical. These are the parts of your job that make the biggest difference, and that you simply can’t afford to ignore. You’re much better off focusing on the things you do best (and better than anyone else) than spending your time crossing off little things you’re “decent” at. The more things you say no to, the more time you can spend on what really matters. Likewise, the more things you don’t do, the more it becomes clear to yourself and others what your turf is: your strengths, what you bring to the table and just what exactly it is you do around your workplace. If there’s one thing you want, it’s for those around and above you to know your strengths and to have a very clear picture of what you produce.

how to say no

When something new that wants your time comes along, start by looking at it rationally. Is it going to improve your career? Will it provide big results for the company? If you were to take it on, what if anything that’s currently on your schedule would have to get bumped to make room for the new stuff? Finally, what would the consequences of turning it down be?

No means No

By now, it should be clear that saying no isn’t always easy. However, if you think that’s bad, consider being strapped down with a bunch of busywork that isn’t in your wheelhouse because you were to afraid to even try to decline it. Stick up for yourself — it’s better for you, and better for your company too.

Provided by AskMen.