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There is one word that's more powerful than any other when it comes to focusing your time and that word is 'No'. I'd like to help you gain the art of saying no gracefully and tactfully to others. As you become more productive and manage your time better, others will see that and they'll want you to participate in projects, causes, things that they have going on. This isn't to say that you'll always say no, but you should say no more often than you say yes, because whenever you say yes to one thing, you're always saying no to something else.
In other words, spreading yourself thin will sabotage the success of anything you're already committed to. Here is a simple effective technique that you can use whenever someone asks you to participate in something. Ask for the request through email. This does several things. First, it gives you time to consider the request in a calm environment, where you can look at your calendar and consider whether you truly have the time in your budget to participate. Second, it allows you to prepare a response that's diplomatic and kind in the case that you do have to say no.
It allows you to prepare a response in a written format, rather than making an excuse in person, or worse yet, saying yes, simply because you're uncomfortable saying no face to face. And third, it creates a situation where the person may not actually follow through with asking you. Many people ask for help simply because you're face to face, but they weren't really committed to having you involve. This gives them the opportunity to back out gracefully or fail to follow through.
Now what if it's your boss making the request, or your customers? Often you'll need to say yes in these situations. However, make sure that you always get a when, meaning a date and time of completion or action. For instance, let's say that your boss asks you to get a report to them. You can ask the question, what's the deadline for this report? This will allow you to make prioritized decisions about what you have in your calendar.
A common mistake of managers and leaders is that they delegate many responsibilities to their employees but don't provide clear deadlines on when they should be accomplished. This causes confusion and makes it difficult for employees to budget their time. Help your superiors or customers out by asking them to give you a 'when' whenever they delegate. Part of saying no is also asking the question, "When?" Maybe you're not going to say no to it altogether, but you are going to say, "Not now, but later. This is when I'm going to do it." By tactfully learning the art of saying no to others, you'll protect your time budget, protect your focus, and make sure that you're able to focus your actions on your most valuable activities.
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