One of the most important steps of successful time management is learning to say ‘no.’ This critical skill has helped me to manage my time, and subsequently my stress – and at the same time helps me feel like I have regained control of my crazy life!
The Old Me: The People Pleaser
I used to be the type of person who would say ‘yes’ to almost anything people asked of me. At work, I would say ‘yes’ to filling in for an absent co-worker or taking on a special project. I would say ‘yes’ by answering the phone at 10:00 at night when my boss called me at home. At home, I would say ‘yes’ to all of the caregiver duties that my mom required. I would say yes to all of my kids’ fundraising campaigns, PTA events, and doctor appointments for my son. I would say ‘yes’ to supporting my husband, to most of the household duties, and to being the social planner. ‘Delegate’ was not a word in my vocabulary. I was so worried about pleasing everyone else that I forgot the person that was supposed to be at the top of the list: ME.
Personally, I used to find it difficult to say ‘no’ because I don’t want to disappoint the people who are most important to me. I didn’t want to hurt feelings by saying ‘no’ to someone or something. I said ‘yes’ to too many things – perhaps out of guilt, or to prove that I could do it all.
The result of that took a toll on my health. I tried to do it all – and ultimately I couldn’t. I was stressed.
Learning to Say No Helped Me Take Charge
Managing stress is about taking charge of your thoughts, emotions, schedule and the way you deal with your problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, and relaxation – plus the ability to hold up under pressure and meet your challenges head on. And, as research shows, stress management is important to optimizing your health and overall wellbeing.
When I quit my job in 2011, it was one of the first times in a long time that I’d opted out of something. The job was grueling – long hours, phones calls at night after a 12+ hour workday, and a toxic environment at the workplace. The job itself was stressful, and to top things off I was pregnant with my first child. Still, I said ‘yes’ to everything it work, because it was in my constitution. And then, on the day that I turned 36 weeks pregnant, my father unexpectedly passed away, leaving me responsible for dealing with his estate and being the primary caregiver to my mother, who had MS. After the dust settled from his passing and the birth of my son, I made the decision to not return to work after maternity leave.
I said no. Big time.
Because saying ‘no’ to my bosses did not come naturally, the act of quitting the job was almost as stressful as the job itself. The pushback I got from my superiors at work was incredible. I had never said ‘no’ before, surely I wasn’t going to start now. But I was steadfast in my decision. And when the phone calls and emails from my supervisors stopped, I felt a sense of relief. Then, I felt a sense of empowerment.
I was in control.
The New Me: Still a People Pleaser, But More in Control
As I journey through my career as an entrepreneur and professional speaker, I say ‘no’ all the time. I decide what doesn’t fit my purpose, which things won’t make me happy, and who needs my time most. The tasks I’m juggling come in all different shapes and sizes. The ability to effectively say ‘no’ gives me the luxury of choice. It helps me manage my time, which – in turn – helps me manage my stress.
The instinct to say ‘yes’ clearly remains in my constitution. It often requires a great deal of mindfulness and awareness on my part to not revert back to the ‘automatic yes.’ For the most part, saying ‘no; is something I can do routinely and with conviction.
And I think this makes me a better person.