John Lennon gave us, “Yes is the answer,” and I get what he means. He was talking about saying yes to love, embracing life, and seeing opportunities instead of limits—all important and valuable in building the kind of world we want to live in. But what about saying “No?” Is there a place for that, especially in your business? Have you ever taken a moment to consider what you really want and need to say No to right now?
What if your inability to say No is one of the greatest barriers to you having the life and business you dream of? Can you imagine having enough time for business, family, vacations, exercise, and that secret bucket list of things you really want to do, but haven’t even started? What if there’s enough time right now and it only seems impossible because you’ve been saying Yes for so long you no longer realize you have a choice? If this is you, No might be the answer.
So how do you find the places in your business where you need to be saying No? Through our work with business owners we’ve identified three key areas: delegation, boundaries, and discipline.
Chances are you lean too heavily on your unique ability to get the work done that brings in revenue and you need to delegate to grow. Maybe you’re particularly gifted at framing a house, speaking with clients, converting prospects into customers, or writing marketing copy. That will often make it difficult to pass those responsibilities to your staff who may not initially do them as well as you. It will take time and some systemic thinking to transfer your competence to your team but delegating is one of the first ways you can start to say No to doing it all yourself. As a result, your team will have an opportunity to grow in their roles and show you what they’re capable of doing.
Another indication that you need to be saying No is if you’re over-available to meet your team’s needs and rarely get a break for other important work. Is your door always open? Can they walk into your office anytime to ask for help? To ask questions or chat about an idea? Are they constantly looping you into unnecessary emails or chat messages? If you answered Yes to all or most of these questions, it’s a sign that you need to set boundaries so your team doesn't have unlimited access to you. Not only will this give you more space but it will also help them learn to think more independently. Beyond that, it’s an opportunity to consider whether your need to be liked may be eclipsing your need to take care of yourself and your business. Your people are really looking to respect you first and they don’t always have to like you.
Lastly, do you have enough discipline to prioritize the vital strategic choices you’ll need to make each month, quarter, and year? Do you find yourself starting exciting projects only to find out that they took your people off course because you didn’t think through everything completely? When you go to ‘the whiteboard’ to talk through your priorities with your team, you no doubt find plenty to work on. In fact, the more you commit to growing your business, the more places you’ll want to improve. And that’s a good thing. But what do you need to do first? Second? Third? Prioritizing is tough work because you have to say No to a list of relatively important things. But this discerning process has everything to do with whether you succeed or not.
You can’t be in two places at the same time and you won’t come up with the next big idea if you’re continually preoccupied with the hundred little things you really should have delegated. You have to make space for yourself as a leader by saying No when and where you can, a little bit at a time.
Where to start? You’ve developed these habits over the course of your career and you’re not going to let them go as soon as you finish this article. Your challenge, if you want to grow, is to work On your business, not just In it. And you start by taking small, practical steps.
- Track your time
- The Daily Time Log is an important part of your overall time management because seeing how you actually spend your day will highlight where you need to set boundaries.
- Can you imagine freeing up one hour in your work day? That’s 20 hours back in your month to spend wherever you want.
- Understand the price you're paying for not saying No
- Stagnation, overwhelm, burnout, and imbalance in your work and life
- If nothing comes to you, ask those who are closest to you how they see your life being impacted. You may be surprised by how clear it is to them.
- Try a single No
- What can you say No to today? Is there a call you don’t absolutely have to be on? Is there a meeting that someone else can run that might have the secondary benefit of empowering them to grow?
- It helps to be transparent about why you’re saying No to something you’re typically engaged in. Your team will most likely feel included, respected, and inspired.
- Saying No is bound to feel uncomfortable at first but it’s a worthwhile risk that gets easier over time.
While these steps are just the beginning, the idea is they’ll help you get started now and start seeing small but meaningful changes right away.
What may seem counterintuitive is that when you’re saying No to things that aren’t in your best interest, you’re actually saying Yes to yourself and to the most important needs of your business. So, John Lennon is still right. Yes is the answer, but it may take a few No’s to get there.