Learn how to classify work/request for help into categories of importance based on the task's contribution and how it matches your goals and values.
- Let's think about determining when it makes sense to say no. As a quick caveat, in this course we're only talking about how to say no when someone is seeking your assistance on a short term basis, for a few minutes or a few hours. We're not talking about how to say no to proposed role changes at work or how to say no to various types of promotions. Okay, step one is deciding what matters most. You don't want to say yes to everything when people ask for your help, and you don't want to always say no, either.
The goal is to be confident you're choosing the right option. To do that, you'll need to quickly think through three things. Your first thought should be about the objective importance of the work. I like to think in terms of the famous Pareto Principle, sometimes referred to as the 80-20 rule. The idea is simple, 20% of the work you're working on is truly important, it generates 80% of the value you add at work. The other 80% of your work, well that's not unimportant, it's just not as important.
It's really just work you have to do. I want you to think about what matters most to you. That includes your normal duties, the work you do that the boss is most interested in, the work most vital to the group, and so on. Very quickly, you can get a solid gut feeling about whether or not a particular request honestly involves something important. For those requests, say yes. For the rest, get ready to say no. Okay, next I want you think about the person who is requesting your help.
Think about how often they ask you to help out. If it's daily, it might be too often. If they ask only once a month, when they're truly in a bind, that's normal. Further, think about the importance of the work they're focused on. Again, 80-20. Is it strategically interesting, or just something that needs to get done? When someone is coming to you less frequently, with fairly important work, that's when you want to say yes. Otherwise, you should consider saying no.
And if you don't say no when you really should, well, that person will come back again and again. So I need you to realize that you have to make a reasonable attempt to protect your time at work and never let people walk all over you. Finally, think about your current workload. When the person approaches you, are you breathing easily while experiencing a low stress portion of your week? Or are you very stressed out and facing a tough deadline later in the day? The more difficult your current workload, the more likely it's smart to say no.
It is, however, useful to think about the true importance of your current work versus the work your colleague is asking you to support. In the case that they're clearly working on something more important to the group than your current task, it's smart, maybe even the right thing to do, to stop and attempt to help them. At least for some period of time that won't jeopardize your progress that day. Learning to say no is a valid and important skill. Start by critically thinking about how important your work is relative to what someone else wants you to focus on.
Be careful not to help someone so habitually that it becomes expected, and of course, be mindful of your own workload. A quick thought about each of these will help you make a confident, productive choice about when to say no.