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I’m busier than you are!

Game on! “I’m busier than you are; I just worked five 24’s in a row; my budget is due on Monday; and I’m in training all day Saturday.”

We’re all “busy,” “buried,” “slammed,” … “tired.” We start our conversations by competing to see who has the most items on their calendar. Family engagement, work responsibilities, community activities – they all contribute to our experience of being overwhelmed.

The question: When is the last time you said, “No.”?

When I ask this question, people usually laugh – first in disbelief and again with a sigh. We all have the impulse to squeeze just one more thing into the day. Just one phone call. Just a last text. Just stopping by the store on the way home. Oh, it’s in the opposite direction? No problem.

We all have the impulse to agree to one more request. Just one meeting a quarter. Just a teleconference. Just a month-long project. Oh, it’s due at the end of this month? No problem.

And yet, at the end of the day, I ask myself, “What happened today?” And, I can often recall only two or three things, including, hopefully – what I ate for lunch! Life can seem like organized chaos and complexity.

There is a choice. It is the practice of saying, “No.” It is a difficult practice, perhaps harder than running a marathon for some of us. It is a voluntary practice where we each choose our level of participation. But it is an available choice.

“No” should be used carefully. I start by asking myself why I am saying it. Does the request fit in with my personal calling in the world? Do I have the energy and time to invest in making this successful? What impact will the request have on my time with my family and other commitments? Answers to these questions allow me to say an unqualified “yes” or a carefully considered “no.”

There is nothing passive about saying, “No.” The willingness to say, “No,” makes our choice to say, “Yes,” more meaningful and valuable. The practice is a part of managing ourselves first. It allows us to:

  • act from our guiding principles, keeping perspective on what matters most.
  • stay connected to family, friends, and co-workers, keeping important relationships close at hand rather than at the end of a cell phone text or call.
  • function with the most impact, neither under-functioning when we’ve added one-too-many things to the schedule nor over-functioning when we believe we have to do it all to be valued.
  • communicate our values, thinking, and decision making process, building capacity in those around us.

In the end, as leaders and managers, we don’t get to control everything in our schedules. But choosing our “yes” and “no” responses wisely, offers great freedom and the opportunity to discover that less may be more.

How would choosing “yes” and “no” more wisely create freedom and opportunity for you and your organization?

Originally published in the KEMSA Chronicle.

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