Learning to say “no”
As I’ve been spending quite some time during the past semester on medical appointments and taking medical leave to care for my family, I’ve had to build down my workload a bit. I tend to commit to many things, and I take pride in being able to juggle a lot and hardly ever dropping the ball. I’ve virtually never missed a deadline in my life, not even when I was on maternity leave. I have good planning routines, which allow me to always give a realistic time estimate for when I can deliver a certain task. I tend to be flattered and honored when people reach out to me for a collaboration.
Yet, in the past semester, I’ve felt that I have reached the limits of what I can juggle. Nothing went really wrong, as I have good planning strategies and thus realistic estimates of my time. But when all my time is booked for the next two months (with some non-negotiable buffer built in), then it’s clear that the demands on my time are reaching saturation levels.
Coming to this realization, I knew that I would have to say “no” to opportunities coming my way. I am not good at saying “no” – I hate to disappoint those around me, and I suffer from the “new shiny object” syndrome. So, to prepare myself mentally, I reached out for suggestions on Twitter on how to say no. I got some excellent suggestions (both in English and in Dutch – which have their subtle cultural differences and nuances), and I wrote these down on a sheet of paper, which I now keep on my desk next to my computer. When I need to make a decision to commit to something or not, I glance at this sheet of paper first, as well as at my list of core values, and my schedule, and then make a decision.
In the long run, I want to be below my saturation level. I want to have the time and space for impromptu opportunities, and to be able to better weigh choices when something more fun and more interesting comes up at short notice. Until then, however, I need to flex my “saying no” muscle a bit more often.
Do you struggle with saying no? Share your experience with me in the comments.