Warren Buffet has an excellent saying that explains his success at picking winners.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Now, I can almost feel the anxiety coming back at me. You're thinking about saying no to the next request from your boss, your wife, a client, or a big influencer in your market. That's completely normal, but it's something we want to work on
To me, freedom and control are two sides of the same coin. To be in control of our own time and have the freedom to spend it where we like. That's the ultimate goal in life.
Not to be irresponsible, not to blow people off. In fact my obligations to my family and friends are some of the most fulfilling actions in my life. But I chose them. They didn't choose me.
So, how do we set about pushing back on the endless stream of requests that push us away from our goals each day?
I have three stages that I built up to. Each one has a stock response for each one to maintain the relationship even though I'm not giving them what I want.
The first is that I don't ever get involved in anything that I have to commit to under time pressure.
I know as a marketer of over 2 decades that a deadline is one of the best ways to get people to act. But I also know that people who act under pressure are most likely to regret it later. I've seen it in the refunds that come back after sales.
I have a simple rule. If I wouldn't buy it at full price, I won't buy it at all. It'll be there tomorrow.
If you get last minute deals of this nature, the response is simple. “Sorry, but I'm packed with planned work for the next few months. I wouldn't have time to take advantage of this the way it deserves. Can we talk when I get nearer the end of my current project?”
If they come back with more pressure I call the out on it. “I'm sorry, I'm feeling pressured and that's not a good way for me to make good decisions. Let's talk later.”
Any further pushing goes in the bin or they get given unlimited access to my voicemail.
Next up takes a little work.
You need to know what your biggest goals are and write down what the impact is that reaching these goals will have.
Knowing that is your armour against any other request that might eat into your time.
Look at that impact, and look at the impact of whatever request is being presented and make a call. If you can have a bigger impact with the new opportunity, then sure, make some wiggle room. But for most requests, they'll have a tough job to have more impact than your current 90 day goal.
What if you're in an employee situation? One where you have a boss who has the power to move you off the path towards your goal? Try putting it back on them and make them responsible for the reduction of impact.
“Sure, I can do that, but I'll have to move [the big goal] back by [X days]. Am I ok to communicate that to the rest of the team, or should I schedule this for when I finish the [big goal]?”
In the above sentence, X should be longer than the time taken to do the new task. There is a cost of switching from one task to another.
The bit about communicating to the team is crucial. They'll be making a call in public to disrupt a big goal so they'd better convince them of its value.
The last line gives them an option to get the job done, but on a different timeline.
Remember, your boss brought you into the business for a specific skill. You're letting the business down if you don't bring 100% of that skill to bear every day.
Looked at like that, rather than being a pawn for a boss to move around, isn't there a lot you should be getting off your plate?
The third level starts to come as you gain more control over your time day-to-day and your output has more and more impact.
At this level it's likely that other people will be depending on you to keep things moving. You may have staff or assistants and your family might be dependent on your success. I'm sure that your customers are.
The people around you become your second suit of armour. You see humans tend to value the people around them more than themselves.
If you need any convincing of this, watch any insurance advert and you'll see how it always talks about the effect on the people around them. Most people think “I'll be ok, but my husband/wife & kids need looking after.”
It's an excellent way to deflect a “no” from feeling selfish into feeling like you're protecting other people.
“I've got …. going on and I've got …… relying on me to deliver on time. Can we schedule something for later?”
Imagine you are part way through a book and a TV station calls you for an interview. You might not want to blow off an opportunity like this.
Take a moment though. When you consider the interview time, travel time, prep time and follow up (making sure as many people see it as possible) that's a big chunk of time.
And wouldn't the station rather talk to you after you finish the book?
Think about the “no” as an opportunity to let them know what you're up to and to help with that cause rather than derailing it.
So to recap:- Time pressure = automatic no- 1st level rejection = your goal has more impact than the interruption- 2nd level rejection = people are counting on you reaching your goal on time.
Give them a go and let me know how you get on. I'm not saying you won't get anxious the first time you push back, but when you get a positive response you'll realise it's the better path to take.
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