“Sometimes “No” is the kindest word.”
~ Vironika Tugaleva
Ginger feels as though she is drowning in a tsunami. Her inbox is piled high with projects, some of which are way past due. Her email is full of unanswered questions and her text message “ding” is ringing in her ears about every 60 seconds. If she doesn’t do something soon, her work life is going to spin completely out of control. Not to mention she’s losing sleep and shortchanging personal relationships, just to keep her head above water.
Since she’s already heavily involved in market research, Ginger decides to use her extraordinary research skills to come up with a plan for stopping the impending disaster. After scanning a number of relevant books and articles, Ginger comes up with a four-point plan for minimizing her stress overload. Primarily, she realizes that she needs to start saying “no,” a lot.
Step 1: Find out why
Step 2: Find a new pattern
Step 3: Find the “off” button
Step 4: Find support
Ginger figures that 30 days is time enough to get her new plan into place. Just deciding to take action has already made her feel less stressed.
1. Find out why.
Ginger’s research introduces her to a new acronym—FOMO—a major reason why so many of us are stressed at work. In this day of information overload, lots of people suffer from this condition: Fear Of Missing Out. What if you say no to your boss when he asks you to resolve the next department crisis? He’ll think less of you, he’ll never ask you for help again. You won’t get promoted, and ultimately you’ll be laid off. That’s exactly what FOMO will do to you. What if you don’t read and answer every email the minute it comes in? You’ll soon be ignored by your colleagues and you might miss out on an important new assignment you’ve been craving. Getting rid of FOMO is the first step toward work balance.
2. Find a new pattern.
We are all, to one extent or another, people-pleasers. We want our coworkers to like us, not to mention our bosses. We want to be seen as team players, major contributors. The old adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” gets a lot of us trapped on an endless treadmill of tasks and projects, some of which may be virtually meaningless when it comes to career advancement. So the new pattern goes like this: next time someone asks you to take on a new project or step into an emergency situation, you take a step back. Ask why. Get more information about the situation. Take time to think it over and see if it fits your own agenda, goals, and responsibilities. Then make the person who asked feel good about hearing your “no.” We are all too afraid of disappointing someone. The truth is, they will move on. A simple, “I’d love to say yes, Randy, but if I do, I’ll shortchange the projects I’m already working on. You wouldn’t want me to do that to you, and I don’t want to do it to anyone else either. I can’t give you my best right now, but ask me another time, and let’s see if we can get to a yes.” This lets the other person know that you’re doing him or her a favor by not taking on something you can’t do well. And next time might be different.
3. Find the “off” button.
This is where technology becomes your friend. Turn off the signals that tell you every time an email lands in your inbox, or a text message arrives on your cell phone. Check these on a regular basis, of course, but don’t put yourself at their mercy. Program your email to sort your incoming messages—important clients in one folder, your boss in another. You might even go so far as to get two email addresses—one for people who need to reach you immediately, and one for everybody else.
4. Find support.
It’s a good idea to talk over your strategy with your boss, of course. Take the approach that you know you’re doing less than your best and you want to create space to improve your performance. Depending on your situation, you might ask to be dropped from certain projects or committees, or you might ask for short term help to clear out the backlog.
Ginger was lucky that she recognized her problem before it caused her serious trouble. Long term work and communications overload can damage your health, your relationships, and your work performance. Ginger took steps to resolve her situation, and over time she learned to say “no” in a way that made others feel she was doing them a favor.
Are you facing a personal tsunami at work? Email Joel to get tips on how to avoid the oncoming disaster, or read his book Time Management Mastery for more advice on lowering stress and boosting productivity.