“No is a complete sentence” – Anne Lamott
If we are going to achieve our goals, at times we will be saying no to things that might be fun, interesting or rewarding. The reality is that we simply do not have the capacity to do everything. Furthermore, we would not want to take on everything that comes our way since it may not align with our goals. There comes a time when we just have to say no. So how do we decide what to pursue and what to eliminate or postpone?
No is one of the shortest words in the English language yet it seems to be one of the hardest words to say. Ironically, it’s one of the first words we learned to say. So many things come at us at an ever-increasing pace with so many people demanding our attention it is hard to focus on what we should do. Consequently, we try to do it all. Even when attempting to apply a mental matrix of urgent vs. important, everything seems to fall into urgent and important. We find ourselves trying to please everyone and subordinating our priorities to our spare time, which disappears into exhaustion.
The net result is that our energy goes down and our stress goes up. We expend energy on things that in the end may not drive our personal satisfaction and that alone causes stress. We stress about taking on things that we know are not in alignment with our talents and what we want to accomplish. We see work being done and gain satisfaction from its completion, but not the deep-down gratification satisfaction that comes from achieving something that helps to move us forward. This is why we have goals.
Our goals serve as a filter and a compass to sort out the opportunities that align our action with the direction we planned. As we have the opportunity to start a new activity, our goals provide the guidelines that help us make a good decision for the use of our time. If the opportunity is in alignment with the planned work we had identified in our current goals, then we know that it is an opportunity that will make the best use of our time. If we cannot find alignment between the activity and our goal, then it becomes clear that we should take a pass on the proposed opportunity.
In my book “EXCELLENCE: You CAN Get There From Here!”, I lay out a complete process for developing and managing to goals. It contains both a long-term planning process to determine our direction as well as a short-term planning process to set goals and manage our progress.
This brings us full circle on this topic. If the opportunity is not in alignment with our goals, then we use the shortest sentence in the English language and just say no. This may be a hard thing to do and refusing the opportunity will certainly have an impact on the person providing the opportunity. As smart leaders we know to accomplish our goals, we will have to say no to some of the opportunities, activities and demands from our friends, family and colleagues.
Here are 4 tips for evaluating alignment with our goals:
1) Alignment with goals – Is this opportunity in alignment with our goals? Is this something we have identified as directionally beneficial along our journey? Compare to our goals for the year and evaluate the opportunity without emotion.
2) Urgent vs. Important – How does the opportunity measure against the Urgent vs. Important test? Is it something that we have to do now or can we pick the time to pursue this opportunity?
3) Capacity management – Do we have the capacity to take this on now, or are we going to have to take a pass on it this time? There is no point in overloading ourselves, even if the opportunity is directionally appropriate when measured against our current plans.
4) Anticipated benefit – What do we anticipate to gain from this opportunity? Assuming it is directionally beneficial, does it yield a great new learning or does it polish a current understanding? If we can only choose one, we may want to consider reaching for the larger learning opportunity.
Once again we find that having goals for each year or season is incredibly important and serves to help us choose between options and opportunities. We can be sure that we are maximizing the use of our energy to provide an accomplishment that moves us in the right direction and is deeply satisfying. Let’s keep the stress in check and let our goals make the decision easier and sometimes, just say no.