Somewhere along the line, overwhelmingly busy became the new black, what’s on trend and bragworthy. Being inundated and exhausted became like a badge of honor at work, a way to compare to others to convince ourselves that we’re doing all we can with the time we have.
All too often, we see this state as something that’s happening to us. More priorities at work, do more with less, have to keep up with our co-workers and keep pace at home and in the community. But the more we take on the less we actually accomplish at work (and in life).
It’s a choice. Most often your choice.
The easy thing is to do everything. No one loves saying “no.” But being discerning is the skill to develop if you hope to have any sense of balance in your life. Having coached hundreds and hundreds of people over the years on achieving success, peak performance, and yes, happiness, I can offer help.
Being hard on your work is hard work, but here are five powerful questions to pause and ask yourself before you commit to that new opportunity/responsibility/task/time-suck being presented to you. So before you sign-up, self-inquiry.
1. “What’s really involved here?”
Quite often, we’ll kid ourselves about the real scope of something we agree to. “Aw, it won’t be that bad” we reason. But then it’s worse. It’s critical to get clear on the real scope of what you’re about to take on. How much work will it really take? How much time will that work really take? And keep in mind Hofstadter’s Law which says things always take longer than you expect.
I’m guilty here from time to time. I convince myself that this one more thing won’t hurt, and by itself, it doesn’t. It’s the accumulation of “one more things” that adds up and quietly becomes overwhelming. Then you’re trapped. Don’t trigger this trap, trigger the truth of what’s involved before taking it on.
2. “What’s the cost of saying ‘yes’?”
There will be a cost to everything additional thing you say “yes” to. It might be inconsequential, or not. Just be informed. What has to give to say “yes” to the new thing? What new skills, resources, or assistance will you have to acquire? How much attention and energy gets diverted from something else, and is that something else more important?
When you ask yourself this question, the answer might be that the cost is too high. If so, then your answer is a “no”, not “no problem.”
3. “Will taking this on serve my mission?”
What higher order work are you doing? What’s your purpose and mission? While not every single thing you take on must flow into your mission, the vast majority of your work portfolio should all complement or support that cause.
I find this a helpful filter for assessing those pesky things that are urgent but not important. It’s easy to say “yes” to urgent because the point of the work gets lost in the fervor to do the work. But asking “What’s the point?” brings you back to what the completion of that work serves. If it doesn’t matter enough, or at all, you know what to do.
4. “Is this on my ‘to-don’t’ list?”
Even worse than taking on work that might not fit with your overall mission is work that you pointedly told yourself you wouldn’t get sucked into, but find yourself getting sucked into. We don’t always take on such work wittingly, we can forget in the flurry and agree to it while forgetting how disagreeable the task is.
Be cognizant of what work simply must not end up on your plate and why. Remembering the why is the key here –recall the emotions, pain, and price associated with taking on the kind of thing you said you wouldn’t.
5. “Can I give a different ‘yes’?”
We often say “yes” just because it’s so much easier than saying “no.” It’s human nature. So capitalize on that tendency by asking yourself if there’s a different “yes” you can give so you can maintain the spirit of the affirmative.
For example, have empathy for the request and present an alternative solution or an alternative doer (and why it should be that person, so it doesn’t look like you’re just dishing off work). The point is to show support in some other way that doesn’t require you to actually take on substantially more work.
So the next time someone asks you for more, ask more of yourself.