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You know what it's like.
You're trying to be more productive, to stop procrastinating and actually get stuff done.
But before you can execute your perfectly planned to-do list, some disorganized bozo rips it to pieces as surely as if you'd jammed it in the paper shredder yourself.
But what can you do about it? It feels like you're helpless, at the mercy of others’ laziness, lack of organization and inability to plan ahead.
And it's true, requests and demands can suddenly appear in your day in a host of different ways.
You’re beetling about, busy getting on with what you planned to do efficiently and effectively. Then you realize you’ve acquired a load more tasks on your to-do list. You’ve somehow inherited another responsibility or even a problem to solve that you didn’t create.
But the odd thing is, you often can’t remember hearing the words, “Please can you…”
That’s because a disruptive, productivity-killing request can have a master criminal’s worth of disguises:
By ‘disguising’ their request, it doesn’t mean the person asking is trying to hoodwink you into the trap of saying ‘yes’. It can simply be that their thoughts are so filled with their problem the obvious words ‘please can you’ fail to materialize.
And it’s natural when you are consumed by a problem to be somewhat self-absorbed.
However, be alert. It’s a fine line between someone sharing their problem, difficulty or dilemma with you and expecting that you’ll solve it.
More significantly, it’s particularly tricky for you not to automatically jump in and take on the problem. You’re probably the go-to gal or guy, just as most productive people who have trouble saying ‘no’ are.
So is the secret of the super successful, the super productive, that they learn to say ‘no'?
Well, yes…and ‘no'.
Successful and super successful people both practice the habit of ‘no'.
But the super successful have another habit up their sleeve.
And this one's a game changer, a productivity doubler:
They learned the habit of saying no…without saying ‘no'.
You see, recognizing the ways requests can subtly appear will ensure you’re alert to the danger of taking on commitments without considering the implications. It can also help you shape your ‘no’s in a similarly subtle way.
Because, not every ‘no’ needs to include the actual word ‘no’. Indeed not every ‘no’ needs to be spoken or even written. You can just as effectively communicate it by your actions. Here’s some easy ways to say ‘no’ without saying the word ‘no’.
1. Book yourself early.
You feel resentful before you're even asked. Why? Because you know that the request is coming. It always does. Again and again. And when it does, it’s going to knock your plans to the floor.
Let’s be honest.
So you dread it finally landing on your plate. In fact, the longer it goes on, the worse you fear its unwelcome arrival.
It’s like stressing over the December holidays way back in June because it’s automatically expected that you’ll go to family. (Yes I know many of us love spending the vacations with family, but not everyone has the ideal family, where everyone sees eye to eye.).
And it’s the same with other requests that interfere with your plans. How can you ever hope to get important stuff done if you’re forever interrupted by everyone else’s important stuff?
Bottom line – you can’t.
Super successful people are smart! They book themselves early.
So stop dreading the ask arriving by committing yourself ahead of time to something that you really do want.
Sure, when the request finally comes, you’ll have to say ‘no'. But it won’t have to be a
“No, I don’t want to thanks.”
It can be a…
“Shame, I’ll have to miss it because I’m booked elsewhere”.
2. Avoid the situation.
It’s not weak or crass to simply avoid a situation, even super successful people employ this tactic from time to time.
If, for example, you know you’ll be cornered by a friend to take part in an event you don’t have the time, energy or inclination for, don’t go near that corner!
That's absolutely fine. Because we’re all allowed to be human. There’s no guilt in being what you are. Which is kind, considerate and helpful.
But also busy, excited and hungry for achieving your own goals.
Getting tangled up in someone else’s affairs might make them more productive but it’s going to put your own productivity through the mangle.
Double what you get done by staying the heck away from dangerous places where requests, asks and demands lurk. And let your absence say ‘no' for you.
3. Ignore it.
Just because someone asks you something, it doesn’t mean you’re obliged to respond. This is productivity rule 101 for super successful people.
I know, that sounds so rude, doesn’t it? Not even having the courtesy to respond, oh boy! You may think that you'd only use this one in extreme situations.
But there is one critical point to understand here…
Often the ask is huge for you on the receiving end. It’s going to be a massive drain on your time or mental energy. Or maybe it’s a challenge, one that makes an intense demand on your self-confidence or courage.
Either way, it’s going to impact you getting critical stuff done. And done effectively.
But the person asking doesn’t necessarily understand that at all.
It’s possible that they’ve asked on a whim. It could be that what they’re asking you to do, they don’t care about that much.
But because you’re a decent person and you want to help, you take it on. You stress and fret about it, because being a good friend, family member or even neighbor is essential to you.
Super-successful people know ignoring a request isn’t rude. It can simply give everyone the time and space for it to disappear if it isn’t important. If it is, then they know that the asker will ask again, of that, you can be sure.
I actually employ this tactic every day. Emails are a prime example. As well as running PositivelyHappy.Me, designing and creating courses, and writing books, I’m Assistant Editor of another popular self-improvement blog.
If I answered every request I get as Assistant Editor alone, I'd never have the time to write book or articles that others are depending on.
That's just life. Everyone's busy and doing their best. I’d love to reply to everything, but I can’t.
If a request is important, then it'll appear in my inbox again. And then I can respond without spending my whole day on what can be basically junk mail. It also allows me to respond to every genuine, well thought out request.
Don’t sweat over every ask you get hit with. By overlooking a request, you can relieve yourself of getting caught up in all the nonessential impulses of others and focus on achieving what you got out of bed for that day.
4. Delay Your Answer.
Feeling you need to answer ‘yes' or ‘no' on the spot can be very stressful. It can force a ‘yes' out of you in panic or guilt. Or, it can leave you feeling you blurted out ‘no’ too harshly.
The super-successful know the secret here – cut yourself some slack. Delay your answer:
“Hey, thanks, let me get back to you on that.”
You can add whatever time span you choose, or leave it open.
It’s not a good idea to lead people on but at the same time this is the real world. If someone is putting you on the spot in the hope of forcing a ‘yes' out of you, then they know it too.
And yes, maybe you're secretly hoping you won’t need to come back to them. Perhaps you're hoping they'll realize this or they'll forget about it. That’s okay sometimes too.
Even awesome people can get caught up in the pressures and conflicts of daily life and become too absorbed in their own problems.
Or more specifically, their need to find someone who can solve their problems for them. And let’s be straight here, who wouldn’t like someone to take that problem we’ve been struggling with off our hands?
By readjusting your code of ethics very slightly, you can take all that pressure of yourself. Don’t worry, there’s no chance you’ll go too far and start behaving like an ‘A-hole’. (You wouldn’t have got this far with this article if you were that type of person 🙂
And if you do feel you are genuinely being bullied into a response, then it’s essential to protect yourself by delaying your answer.
5. Talk around the request.
Acknowledging a request but not committing to it is another positive way to say ‘no’. You see, by talking around what’s been asked, you are recognizing that the other person wants something. And that’s fine for them to want it.
And it's fine for you not to.
The super-successful know that by not saying ‘yes’ or ‘no' you are still giving the message that you don’t want to take it on. Most reasonable people will get the hint and not push you. If they do push you, well… you choose. Either delay your answer as above, or push back by refusing to be forced into a response.
Think about it for a second, a moment taken to acknowledge someone’s request but not commit to it – that’s freed you up to be super productive and keep your promise to yourself.
Build Your Super Successful ‘No’ Habit.
Sure your ‘no’ toolkit needs to contain a few different methods because you’ll meet a few different types of people and situations.
But the super successful have taken their saying ‘no’ habit to the next level.
And as a result they waste less time and get stuff done. And done well..
And that’s the promise you made yourself, isn’t it?
Learn the habit of saying ‘no’ without guilt or conflict.
And join the ranks of the super successful.. The super productive.
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About the Author:
Laura Tong's writing regularly feature on such top blogs as Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and Goodlife ZEN. Her articles have been read and shared by thousands – and hundreds of students have taken her course on building confidence, being more assertive and saying no.
Grab her new book The Life-Changing Power of NO! – How To Stop Trying To Please Everyone, Stand Up For Yourself And Say No Without Guilt Or Conflict (Even To Difficult People)