Career Advice/ Entrepreneurship/ Wellness/ Workplace

Just Say “No”: Career Advice for the Overwhelmed

I’m a “Yes” person – it’s been my standing default response to just about anything, even stuff I really didn’t want to do.

Here’s just a sampling of the “I’m saying yes but really want to say no but don’t for god knows why” scenarios I’ve found myself in:

  • “Want to eat grilled alligator for dinner, Hannah?”
    • Gulp. “Yes,” I meekly respond, silently gagging inside.
  • “While the semester starts this Monday, we were thinking you could add on an additional three hour course to your teaching schedule. Want to?”
    • Cringing at the thought of creating an entire new course in 48 hours, I whisper a quasi-confident “Yes.
  • “I know we agreed on a smaller campaign, but the board decided we wanted something bigger and we want it to start next week. You can do that, right?”
    • Another (hesitant) but near-automatic “Yes” reply, as I mentally make a list of all the weekend plans I have to cancel to pull off this client’s request.

All I had to do was say “no”, but I didn’t.

Instead, I felt as though there was only one answer I could say, regardless of what I wanted to do or not do – “Yes.”

This “Automatic Yes” strategy was no way to operate as a competitive business professional – I had to start adding “No” to my vocabulary if my career was going to get off the launch pad.

Truth #1: ​Time is Super Valuable

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that is generally accredited for the “Time is money” maxim.

It’s an old adage that I’ve heard over and over, but the correlation of time and money, especially as it relates to the self-employed, never really “hit” me until I found myself running out of both resources.

As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get caught up doing “all the things” – billing, client communication, marketing, public relations, product launches, etc. While I’ve made it a point to automate and outsource as many aspects of business operations as possible, I still found myself trudging away, mindlessly adding more “things” to my (seemingly) endless to-do-list.

Even though I charge an hourly rate for many of my services, such fees would routinely end up eaten away by my inability to say “no” and prioritize the value of my own time.

When I started applying my hourly rate to all aspects of my work – even the work I did for my own company – things began to change. I found myself enjoying both more time, and more money.

Truth #2: ​No, Time is Not Free

Recognizing my own market value as a business professional empowered me to prioritize my efforts and eliminate uncompensated energies, with the exception of select philanthropic commitments.

All the requests for free work, free promo, and free “favors” were chunked into my visualized “forget it” pile. Clients that expected free “add-ons” were canned and colleagues that were constantly hitting me up for free consulting were ignored.

Instead of spending my week (and often, weekends) running around trying to “make everyone happy”, I slapped a price tag on my time, set a limited quantity (how does a 35 hour work week sound?), and held fast to my prioritized schedule.

As you may have gathered, enforcing this new work philosophy required saying “No”, a lot, and no, it wasn’t comfortable, easy, or natural. Turns out turning down things, even things that one doesn’t like, can be quite the challenge for us “Auto-Yes” peeps!

Truth #3: Don’t Let People Steal from You

While the more I said “no”, the easier it became, and the happier [almost everyone] was, practice wasn’t the only thing that made my time value reclamation project a success.

That elusive “ah ha!” moment didn’t really come into full effect until I fully recognized the truth in “time is money”, acknowledging that having my time hijacked by uncompensated efforts was similar to allowing someone to steal my wallet right out of my purse and max out my favorite Discover It card on Mint Julep finds.

Not cool.

Similar to money, time is a resource that can be stolen, and unlike a stolen credit card, the resource cannot be replenished. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Each day is limited by 24 hours, each person is limited by daily living demands (sleeping, eating, etc.), and each life is not guaranteed a “minimal” time frame. Thus, time is in many ways, an even more valuable, or precious, resource than money.

Truth #4: Invest Your Time Wisely

As a true blue MBA finance nerd, I couldn’t recognize time as a super valuable resource without consideration of its investment potential (or requirements). Just like how I manage my family’s retirement plan or investment funds, my time – that very precious, very limited resource that my ability to make money requires – must also be strategically invested in ways that manifest selected goals.

For some, time investment goals may be to find more time or make more money per hour.

For others, being able to spend more time on what you love, or invest more time in causes or projects that you’re passionate about may reflect your resource investment goals.

For me, I wanted my time “investments” to yield a better quality of life for my family (work-life balance, baby!), and empower me to accomplish my narrowed list of professional goals. Thus, when I was presented by one of those formerly “I really don’t want to do this but I just can’t say no” situations, I’d simply check the request with my time investment objectives and if ran counter, I’d send it off with an affirmative “no thank-you”.

Just like how I don’t spend my money on mayonnaise and turtlenecks (two things I abhor), I no longer “spend” my time on things I don’t want to do, and I’m (finally) beginning to be okay with that.


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