Being busy is not the same as being productive.
If you examine your day you’ll notice that 80% of your time is being filled with low-return activities.
To prevent your time from being eroded by low-value activities you need to say ‘no’ more often. However, saying ‘no’ can damage a personal relationship.
Here are 10 responses you can use to defend against incoming requests and protect your time – WITHOUT damaging relationships.
“If I say yes to this, I’ll be saying no to ___”
- Works well when asked to make large time commitments: “Unfortunately if I say yes to this project, I’ll being saying no to my __(health, family, etc.)__, and I am not willing to do that at this time.”
“No for now, but I’ll let you know if something changes.”
- You leave the person with a feeling of hope and make less likely to persist with the request.
- Your response isn’t a lie because if circumstances do change you might want to accept their request.
- This is a great default response to avoid taking on too much but still leaving your options open.
The graceful “No”:
- Start with warmth: “Thank you for your consideration.”
- Continue with your Yes: “I am currently committed to …” (goal, project or appointment)
- Follow-up with your No: “Because of this I need to decline.”
- End with warmth: “I wish you all the best in finding someone else.”
“Just so I understand, you want me to ____” (defending against ridiculous requests)
- By rephrasing the request you force the person to see their request from a different perspective. This can help them see how unreasonable their request sounds. I use this response to defend against taking on impossible tasks.
Anti-chitchat: “Hi ___, I’m in the middle of something, what did you want to talk about?”
- Useful when someone ‘pops by your desk to chat’ and you need to work.
- Useful when answering phones calls and avoid small talk (however, small talk can sometimes be beneficial to maintain a friendly relationship).
“Sorry I’m busy at the moment, but have you tried ___?”
- Providing them with an alternative is a great way to turn down a request and not damage the relationship.
- A similar response might be: “I’m too busy to do that right now, but I can’t give you with the following resources: ___”
“Due to my high workload, I must decline.”
- Works well when asked to take on too much work: “Due to a high workload, I am unable to take on new projects at this time. I will have more availability after ___”
- Works well as an email auto-responder and reduce the amount of time you spend in your inbox: “Due to a high workload, I am only responding to emails between 4pm-5pm. If it’s an emergency please call my cell at 333-333-3333.”
- Also works well as a voicemail greeting: “Due to a high workload, I am only responding to messages between 4pm-5pm. If it’s an emergency please call my cell at 333-333-3333.”
“Sorry, I have another commitment.”
- Know your commitments in advance. Review your weekly calendar each morning and whenever you receive a request.
- It is OK to use this response when you have a personal commitment that isn’t on your calendar. This includes time to simply rest and recover.
“I don’t do ____” (avoid using “I can’t…” or “I shouldn’t…”)
- “I don’t” is a hard and fast personal rule that people interpret as being part of your identity. Therefore, people are less likely to talk you into accepting the request.
- An alternative form: “I have rule: I don’t ___”.
- Great for turning down undesirable social events: “Sorry I don’t go out on Monday’s” or “Sorry I don’t do carnivals.”
- Saying “I can’t” usually means your lying – saying that you can’t go somewhere often means you don’t feel like going somewhere. People will interpret your “I can’ts” as misleading statements and lose respect for you.
- Saying “I shouldn’t” leaves your response open for debate. When you say “I shouldn’t eat ice cream” the person offering you the ice cream will likely persist and give you a few good reasons to eat it (“it’s delicious!”), causing you to eventually say yes and later regret it.
Long pause. Think. Then respond: “Unfortunately I need to say no”
- This response makes the requester believe that you’ve seriously considered their request. Your delayed leaves them feeling less rejected and less likely to talk you into accepting the request.