Why saying ‘no’ is your productivity superpower

Why saying no is your productivity superpower

As a time management and goal setting specialist, I was recently invited to present to a group of women selected by their company to participate in a professional development program.

And I was asked this terrific question: “Kate, what superpower do you wish you had cultivated earlier in your career?”

What a great question. There are so many possible answers I could have given, but what I wish I had cultivated at a much, much earlier age is the ability to say no.

Bottom line, life is short. We all have exactly 24 hours a day, and no-one, regardless of how stealthy or wealthy you are, can beg, borrow or steal more time.

As such, it’s important to start treating your time the same way as you treat your money – as a very limited, precious resource that needs to be invested for the greatest possible return. Which means, we need to know how and when to say no.

It can be hard, almost excruciatingly so, to turn down a request for help because many of us are programmed to want to help (or please). However, if you want more time back in the tank, it might be time to flex your productivity superpower and start saying no.

Here’s how.

1. Maybe it’s a yes?

When a request comes your way, pause and let your brain catch up with your mouth. Before you jump in with an answer, ask yourself: “Is this something I really want to do?”

It might be a brilliant opportunity, or there might be a win-win involved, or you might owe a favour, or you might genuinely like the idea of what you are being asked to commit to.

If it’s a yes, then go for it. In fact, there are some instances where saying yes or taking on a ‘Yes Quest’ can open up profound opportunities.

2. Is there a ‘next best’ outcome?

If it’s not a straight up yes, that doesn’t mean it has to be a straight up no.

Can you help the person asking for your time to achieve the same or a similar result without your time commitment?

You could try these responses, for example:

  • In a work context: “Unfortunately, I can’t commit to that, but Jim from my team would be great for this project”.
  • In a home context: “I can’t take you shopping this weekend Mum, however I’m taking the kids shopping next weekend, so why don’t you join us then?”
The Life List by Kate Christie

The Life List by Kate Christie.

3. An almost straight up ‘no’

If the idea of a straight up ‘no thanks’ scares you witless (and to be honest, I hear you on this one), my strategy to politely decline is something along the lines of:

“Thank you so much for thinking of me. Let me check my calendar and I’ll come back to you” (aka: let me buy myself some time to consider the request for my time), followed up with: “Thanks again for the opportunity. Unfortunately, I am working to some deadlines at the moment, but if anything changes I will come back to you.”

4. Beware of the hidden yes trap

There are two types of requests for your time:

  • Type A: The ‘I need your time right now’ request; and
  • Type B: The ‘I need your time in the future’ request.

Type A requests are pretty easy to deal with – just follow the strategies above.

Type B requests are a trap. Seriously, if I had a siren and a red light, they would both be going off right now. The trouble with Type B requests is that they are very, very easy to say yes to because there is no pain at the time you say yes. The pain comes in a month, or three months, or a year down the line when the time comes to pay the ferryman.

When a Type B request comes your way – that is, a request asking you to commit today to investing your time in the future – take a deep breath.

Instead of jumping in with blind enthusiasm and a “hell yes, that sounds great!”, instead ask yourself one very important question: “How many times have I genuinely been excited about attending the [dinner, party, work function, committee meeting, play, school event…] that I said yes to [1,2,3,4…] months ago?”

If the answer is never, then I think you have your answer.

A final word on cultivating your productivity superpower: never forget that every time you say yes to someone else, you are saying no to yourself.

Kate Christie

This article was written by Kate Christie.

She is a time management expert, coach and the best-selling author of five books. Her latest book, The Life List: Master Every Moment and Live an Audacious Life, is available now. Purchase a copy here.