I’ve decided to have a go at the old chestnut tree of time management.
I conduct a lot of time management training programs and have found that most people blame others for being too busy my boss gives me too much work, my colleagues keep on interrupting me, my phone is constantly ringing, and so on.
In my opinion, the first step to effective time management, as for most things in life, is knowing why you are doing what you’re doing and knowing what you need to do in order to get there.
If you are too busy, it’s YOUR fault! Nobody, at least in the corporate world, has ever forced anyone to do anything against their will. If you decide to allow someone to interrupt you, you probably have a good reason to do so, whether you are aware of it or no: pleasing someone important to you, creating a perception of someone who has a ‘can do’ attitude in order to place yourself for the next promotion, or just because what they are approaching you with sounds so much more interesting to you than what you are currently working on. The thing is that if you don’t have a clear purpose, you have no criteria for saying yes or no.
When I share this in the training room, the usual response I get is “We can’t say no to others, it’s rude.” Really? Is the problem that no is rude or just that we don’t know how to say no politely?
I am firm believer that an effective no is more respectful than a hypocritical yes, and it is quite simple to do. The thing is that it requires assertiveness on our part and a genuine caring about others and why they approach you. Here’s a simple method to respectfully say no to peers:
1. LISTEN. And I mean real listening, not pretend listening. If you say no to someone without making them feel as though you have genuinely listened to them, your no will always sound rude. The important thing to remember is that you are not the best judge of whether they have been listened to, or not, they are.
2. Say No.
3. Give reasons why you say no. Let people know that you cannot help them at this specific moment. ” I’m sorry but i am in the middle of something critical right now and I absolutely need to close this before…(whatever deadline)”
4. Offer alternatives. For example, “However, if you have a bit of time, I’d be more than happy to sit with you once I am done with this particular task.”
Supervisors might need to be handled different because they usually know that we are busy as they assign us most of our work, but it doesn’t make it impossible. It just requires, once again, assertiveness on our part.
“Thanks Boss for trusting me with this particular assignment/task, I’d be really happy to take this on as this seems important. However, as you already know, I am already working on tasks A, B, C, D so I would just like you to help me prioritize them as I will not be able to do all of them today, if I take this one on too.”
In my experience, this has always worked. The immense majority of supervisors, despite what most people think, are aware that there is only so many hours in a day. They also, usually, would rather us work well rather than fast, if both are not possible. Once again, we need to be assertive enough to have the conversation with them.
If you think these ways of saying no still cannot work for you, than go back to my earlier point that it probably means that accepting everything your peers/boss ask from you is more important than the quality of the work you are doing, and that’s fine. Just make sure you are aware of it, otherwise you’ll never be satisfied with how you spend your time at work.