Time Management: How to Say No Without Saying NO


1. Try to negotiate.
When someone asks us to do something, when do we assume they mean they need it? We assume they mean now. But that’s not always the case. Instead of doing a task immediately, try to negotiate. Can you extend the deadline a bit? Just ask, “Do you need that today? Or would Monday be okay?” You will often be pleasantly surprised.

2. Simplify.
Can you reduce the scope of the task? Asking, “At what level of detail does this need to be done? Does it need to be to the second decimal place or can I just round a little bit?” Find out in advance.

3. Communicate.
Simply be honest about what’s on your plate. Saying “Here’s a list of all the things I’m working on in priority order. Where would you say this one falls?”
When you manager gives you a task, you can give an estimation of the deadline and the due date that you can have it returned.

4. Reduce quality.
What do I mean by reduce quality? It involves asking if the task can be done at 85% rather than 100% perfect. Ask what level of perfection is required here? Do you need me to spend two hours crossing every T and dotting every I? If so, I’m happy to do that. Or do you simply want me to get it out the door in five minutes?

5. Delegate.
Usually you’re the delegee. But you could try to get someone else to help you. You could form a committee. You can call in some temporary help. You could outsource it. So ask specifically, “Can I get help on this? Or do you want me to do this myself?”

6. Streamline.
Do it a little more efficiently. Can you change the process? Ask, “Can we skinny this down a bit? Rather than doing this report once a month that takes me four hours, can I do an executive summary once a quarter? That would only take me two hours.” Much more efficient.

7. See what can be eliminated.
Have you ever asked yourself the question, “What would happen if this just didn’t get done?” What a great productivity concept! “If I didn’t do this at all, would anybody notice?” Great question. If the answer is no, see if your manager would let you skip it.

8. Get creative.
How else could you meet this request? Figure out an alternative way to get the result, other than the way it was originally outlined. Say, “You know, it might be more efficient if I had access to your calendar, rather than sending you an e-mail every time I want to put a phone call on your calendar.”
Your manager can grant you Editor permissions for her calendar, so you can schedule appointments directly for her.

9. Can you try partial delivery?
Ask the requestor, “Can I do a piece now and a piece later? I complete this portion immediately and give you the rest next week, if that’s okay?” Meet the immediate need and work on the rest when it’s not pressing.

10. Redirect.
Send the task elsewhere if it truly doesn’t belong on your plate. If your boss has a computer problem, rather than crawling along on the floor checking wires, tell her, “That request actually goes through IT. I’ll make sure they know about this problem and schedule a time for it to be fixed.”
The point is to take as much as possible off her plate. Getting it handled doesn’t mean that you have to do it.

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