Time Management – How to Say No – Nicely, to Requests for Your Time

NoEvery day, as managers and business owners, distractions and interruptions present themselves and we face one of our toughest challenges: saying NO. We absolutely want to help our co-workers… we almost feel as if we owe it to others. Admirable… until the work we need to do starts piling up adding to our own stress and forcing us to work additional hours to catch up. I’m not saying to cut ourselves off from the world around us, but we do need to establish boundaries and maintain them, all the while staying flexible to accommodate the interruptions that must be dealt with immediately.

Just Say No… What it Really Means

When we always say, “Yes,” others benefit… but not us – their work load lightens, but ours increases… this is not good – we may end up over stressed, or worse, burned out. How can we be productive when we are constantly responding to others’ problems?

So look at it the other way: when we say no the interruptions, it shows that we really do value our time as much as our co-workers’ time. Establishing this kind of value to our time helps us value ourselves, and lets co-workers know how important our time is to us.

Saying NO is Not an Excuse to be Rude

Now is the time to realize the importance of not being abrupt and rude with our interrupters. It’s important to realize that there’s nothing rude or disagreeable about declining a request for our time. When we say no, we’re simply being honest with them. We can’t be truly helpful to people if we don’t really have the time give their issue our full attention.

How to Say No

Be brief, direct, honest… and smile. Remember, your no means no discussion – you haven’t the time. But try a simple smile and telling the person that you can’t help them… right now. A good path here is to, “redirect” them to a time that you have already allotted for interruptions so you can give the problem the attention it deserves – and offer a specific time so they know you are serious… and make sure you KEEP that appointment! So a disarming smile, and a redirect to a later time may solve the problem for both of you.

We can also be a bit more vague by informing the interrupter that we will, “think about it” and get back to them. It is good practice here to absolutely follow up on that. If you don’t plan to follow up, don’t promise it – this winds up being negative for both of you. A somewhat vague time frame may be easy to handle, but it is also abdicating your responsibility – so be specific and follow up.

Another redirect technique is to refer them to someone else may be better able to help. So rather than saying now, suggest that, “I’m not the best person for this right now, but you may want to try this other person.”

Generally, Leave No Room for Discussion

What I’ve just outlined works well when the person accepts your position. But if they press for a reason, well, again, just say no! If you explain what you are working on, you leave room for discussion. It really doesn’t matter what you are working on… you ARE working on it, and giving it your full concentration. By not explaining it, there is no discussion. Just establish the alternatives you are willing to commit to, and, politely, send them on their way. It may take a while and some hurt feelings before you have mastered keeping your time to yourself, but it will be worth it as you become more productive throughout your day.

Of course, if the interrupter is your boss, or your child, as I’ve said before, some flexibility may be needed, so keep an open mind.

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