Here's the thing: saying no

how to say no by Jenny HydePre-S: Looking for the printable? Skip to the end. But come back to read more good stuff!

You know what I think? I think we’re all busy. I think we’re all trying to do lots of cool things. And I think there’s always opportunity to do more. There’s always another article to read, another email to answer, and another product to design (or blog post to write!).

And I believe this: We have to stop the glorification of busy.

We have to put things down. We have to change our minds and actively demonstrate to ourselves and others that “busy” doesn’t mean “successful”.

For our sanity, for our health, for our sustainability, we have to get comfortable with saying “no”.

Here’s what happens when I say yes when I really needed to say no:

I tell myself it’s not a big deal – I can just do the work or the favour and then it’ll be done. I’ll feel better about it and I’ll be helping someone.

I try to squeeze it in (whatever “it” is) but usually end up procrastinating or rolling it over to tomorrow or next week or similar.

I rush it, so I don’t do a good job.

I start to doubt my abilities. I worry about it when I’m in the shower or boiling the kettle (unlike when I’m doing work I’m fully invested in, which I can usually leave at my desk).

The client or friend or family member chases me. I feel bad and defensive and frustrated.

Resentment starts to build up and I get into black and white thinking (“I’m never going to do anything for them ever again. Look how ungrateful they are”) even if they’re just asking me to do what I said I’d do.

This is an extreme example of what happens, but it’s true. Do I end up feeling good? Occasionally. Do I add more stress to my life? Definitely. Does it benefit the other person? Possibly. But do they also get annoyed with me and wish they’d asked someone else? I imagine so.

Saying yes to stuff I can’t do or am not really invested in doesn’t serve me or anyone else.

But.

We’re nice and generous and we want to help. We don’t like letting people down. And of course there’s the “well, I have to say yes because I need the money / they’re family / I owe them” guilt and fear.

So how do we balance what’s best for us with others’ requests?

This is still a practice for me, but here are the things I’ve been working on:

  1. Get clear on your own priorities. I did this towards the end of last year, when there was just too much and I was pulled in a thousand directions. My priorities are: existing client work, marketing and developing Copper Boom, my family, my home, and my health. There are specifics within that, but it makes it very easy to see what I want to have time, energy and money for.
  2. Be clear that you’re going to start saying no to anything that doesn’t make the list. Once you have your list, you have a reference point. Something that you created in a calm moment, not the heat of the moment when you receive the email or the phone call and can get sideswiped by old habits.
  3. Share your “yes” list. This can be helpful with family, friends and staff members. If you’re going through a big change or finding that you’re overwhelmed, it can be really helpful to let loved ones and the people involved know upfront, before you start saying no to things you usually say yes to. (I’ve included some wording you can use below.)
  4. Start practicing AND understand that no is a complete sentence. We often think we have to justify saying no, but we don’t. We might put a “thank you” on the end, but we don’t have to apologise for not meeting someone’s expectations or give an excuse. Start practicing saying no in a way that feels comfortable to you, even to small things. (Again, more wording for you to practice with below).
  5. Let go of guilt. This one is an ongoing practice. Because we’ve been brought up and conditioned and generally expected to say yes to everything. Because fear and guilt sound the same, and are both trying to keep you safe in a very old-school sort of way. (“If you piss this person off, everyone in the whole world will be pissed off and you’ll never have a business or belong anywhere ever again.” They’re pretty extreme.) You might find physically shaking off guilt is helpful, when you’re feeling it. You might find it helpful to read some of the statements below. You might need to breathe through it and look back at your “yes” list to remind yourself that you’re really saying yes to those things.

It’s easy to write a list, and harder in practice. I know. But I hope that giving you some clear pointers helps to create clarity of thought.

I always find it helpful to think about the actual wording I’m going to say to people. It helps me to feel confident in dealing with requests off the cuff (like on a phone call or face to face), and like the “yes” list, I create them outside the heat of the moment, so I know I can trust them.

Here are some wording suggestions:

  • Thank you for thinking of me! This isn’t something I can commit to right now.
  • I need to consider my current schedule. Can I get back to you in a day / week?
  • I’m currently prioritising my business / family / health and can’t take on extra commitments for the foreseeable future.
  • No.
  • Thanks for your email. This isn’t a good fit for me. I hope you find someone else who can do the project justice. Good luck with it!
  • I’m not a specialist in ______ so this project isn’t something I can take on.
  • This isn’t an option for me.
  • I’d love to, but my priorities lie elsewhere right now.
  • I have to say no. Thank you for the opportunity.
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m not in a position to take it up.
  • That isn’t an option for us. (This one’s particularly good for staff, when you don’t want to say why.)
  • Thanks for the suggestion! I need to consider it in context of our other designs and what we’re trying to create. (For feedback on creative suggestions.)
  • That doesn’t fit with what I’m imagining. What I’d LOVE is _____.

Notice that these responses are short and sweet! It will feel awkward saying them (or writing them) at first, especially if you’re used to saying yes and/or explaining yourself. Know that they’re enough: short, sweet and respectful. No apologies for committing to yourself, and no excuses.

I also recommend that you don’t say “maybe later” if you don’t mean it. If you’re never going to say yes to something in a billion years, don’t give someone false hope.

Need a reminder somewhere you can see it? Download the free printable here!

I’m sending so much courage and love as you go forth and say no so that you can say more YES!

Until soon,

Jenny x

Further resources:

Here's the thing: when opportunity knocks…

How do you spot opportunities? How do you decide which ones to take and which ones to put to one side? Do you struggle with feeling like there are too many opportunities, or too few?

I’ve been thinking about opportunity a lot recently. It seems like it’s a big theme for me, in my business, and for my clients.

In my experience, there are people who tend to see lots of opportunities wherever they are – things that could be done better, new ideas to try, new ways of saying something, a market need or solution to a problem. I’d count myself in that category of people. It just seems to come naturally to me to visualise how something could work. It’s a combination of optimism, idealism, and experiencing things that have worked.

From that point of constantly seeing opportunity, there’s a downward scale to not being able to see opportunity as easily. Sometimes, that’s a result of genetic predisposition, or having been around people who have the gift of opportunity-seeking.

Sometimes, our ability to see opportunity is foggy because we’re in the thick of it – taken over by day to day worries, tasks and to do lists. I know this to be true, especially after running the Small Creative Business Retreat in March, when a weekend of rest, no orders, and no chores allowed my guests to see things more clearly, to see the opportunities in from of them.

So, to see opportunity (before we even think about acting on them), we need to have the mental-emotional capacity and headspace to see them, as well as some experience of using our vision.

And then there’s deciding which opportunities to invest in. This is trickier territory. I’m pretty sure I could teach anyone to see opportunity, given enough time and resources. But deciding which ones to take up? If anyone had a hard-and-fast rule to figuring that out, I’m sure they’d be a millionaire.

Recently, I’ve found that opportunity has come knockin’, as well as the dozen or so ideas and projects I have on a list waiting to be given some attention. It is incredibly difficult to put them to one side! And how do you even decide which ones to push forward?

Here’s the thing:

I thought I’d share my personal opportunity evaluation process, and a bit about my recent decision not to take on any new clients.

  1. What are my overarching business/personal goals and intentions? This is a biggie, but if you haven’t already put in the time to ask yourself this question, spend even half an hour to think about it. Sounds like too little time, but honestly, if you’re really focused on what you want, it’s plenty! Once you’ve got an idea of what this looks like, make sure you have it written down somewhere you can look at it when you need a reminder.
  2. Which opportunities are getting me closer to what I really want to do? Let’s make a move on them.
  3. Are there any quick wins? If there’s anything that requires relatively little effort for a good outcome, I might pop these up the list, but it REALLY depends on what else is going on. When I’m busy, very few things like this move up the list, because I have very little energy/time to spare.
  4. What isn’t time-sensitive? There are PLENTY (think giant notebook full of ideas) of things that I know I’d like to do one day. I don’t have to do them now. There isn’t much lost if someone else does something similar – I’m going to do it my way anyway. So the pressure comes down.
  5. Is there anything I can pass along to anyone else? Sometimes, there are are real opportunities that I can see are going to make someone some money or benefit them in another way. Rather than squeeze myself into every possible shape, I try to share them with people who may be able to make more of them than I can. Sometimes, it’s passing on a product idea to a client. Sometimes, it’s referring a potential client to someone with different experience.

They’re just five pointers I use to figure out my opportunity list. It’s then the art of saying ‘no’, even if I’d love to say yes.

Recently, this has been my big challenge. I’ve been run down by too much going on, too many clients, and I’ve had to cut down on taking new clients on. It’s a big deal, even if I feel relatively confident in it now. There’s always the scared part of me that thinks I should say yes to everything – but I’m not letting that part of me run the show.

I hope you’re able to see opportunities a little clearer with these ideas. It’s all a practice. The more you allow yourself to find opportunities, the more you’ll see them in unexpected places. And the better you get at saying no, the easier it will become.

But don’t forget to say yes sometimes, too.

Jx

Here's the thing: quality vs quantity

Quality vs quantityIt’s the end of my second week of self-employment. Woohoo!

Except some of the woohoo has started to wear off and I am approaching a problem I didn’t think I’d have: too much work.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great problem to have. I’m delighted that so many amazing entrepreneurs and designers have been in touch and want to work with me. That is awesome.

But it’s thrown me into an old battle that I’ve had with myself several times over the years – the old quality vs quantity argument.

You see, I’m a big quality person. I live to do a good job, and I love to do a good job. Quality is one of my core values – as a human and as a business.

But there are lots of things I love to do! I had hoped to launch an e-course for August – something I’m really excited about – but trying to squeeze that in would mean lesser quality for my existing clients. Which is not somewhere I’m prepared to go. So the e-course will have to wait.

These first couple of weeks have been an absolute delight – I am thrilled to be doing work I truly love with people who I believe are also doing work they love. The learning curves are just starting to creep in, and I’m noticing them as much as I can. Which is all any of us can do.

So here’s the thing:

We all walk the line between quality vs quantity. We’re not machines, we can’t just increase our output to do more at the same quality level.

So where have you been on the spectrum this week? No judgement, just noticing. And where would you like to be? Is there something – like my e-course – that you could drop or re-think to ensure your quality level is where you want it to be?

And the final thing. I have a couple of business mentoring spots left, so if you’re considering working with me, now’s the time to get in touch. For content creation and online shop reviews, I’m booked up until the second week of August. (Woohoo!) If you’d like to book some work with me in August, let me know.

We’ll be on to Christmas prep before we know it…

PS There’ll be a letter going out to subscribers next week. If you want a little thing from me in your inbox, subscribe below!

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