I see a lot of people that I respect and admire speaking about the importance of saying "No".
The #1 thing I wish I’d learnt before I started #freelancing is learning when to say No and not being afraid to do it. ????????— Sara Soueidan ???? (@SaraSoueidan) August 7, 2017
just cleared out my inbox with several "no"'s. Still feels weird saying no to people but I recognize it's what I need right now ????— Rach Smith ???? (@rachsmithtweets) June 15, 2017
oooh I just had a crazy idea — what if instead of saying yes to everything and being constantly drained, I said no to everything?— @jongold ???? (@jongold) June 6, 2017
This advice isn't wrong and I think it applies to new projects as well as staying focused while dealing with demands on existing work.
Saying no can be hard. Sometimes we feel like we are letting people down, are scared to show we are not capable or fear that we might miss an opportunity.
If you struggle with this, you should say no to a project when:
- it doesn't interest you,
- it doesn't fall within your area of expertise,
- the opportunity or rewards do not match the effort required.
The reason we say no to things that are not worth our time, is so that we have the energy and capacity to say yes to more of the things in our life that we value. Popular advice is that if something doesn't make you excited and want to say "OMG Yes!", then maybe it's not worth your time.
In reality that's not always how I've felt when presented opportunities for things that on paper, I should be really excited about. I might have hada brief moment of excitement but pretty soon I’d be consumed but thoughts of failure, daunted by the amount of work involved or have feelings of inadequacy. I’d think to myself:
- I’m not qualified enough,
- it’s too hard or too much work,
- there are potential negative outcomes,
- and of course, I don’t have time.
It wasn't until I started saying “Yes!” to some things, in spite of these fears, that I was able to focus more clearly on what I wanted to achieve and realise what was possible.
Here’s how I answer these thoughts now:
I’m not qualified enough. We’re all usually a poor judge of this. If you’ve been asked to do something maybe you are qualified. Talk it through, be clear about expectations and honest about your capabilities. If you need to learn anything new, or might need help with something, be clear about this also.
When this is clear you can take on things that are moderately challenging, knowing what you are getting into and what support is available. I guarantee you will come out of these experience more qualified than when you started.
When it comes to writing or presenting about web development topics, I’ve found there is always value in sharing what you have learnt. You don’t need to be an expert to share your experience. In-fact this is often a good perspective for people starting out with a topic. Sharing what you have learnt can be as valuable as in-depth technical knowledge. Just be honest about your experience. Use phrases like “I have found that…” or “My understanding is…” and reference sources. By the time you finish you will have more technical knowledge than you realise. For me this has been the best way to learn anything.
It’s too hard or too much work. This is actually a good perspective to have, but don’t let it stop you. Sometimes things we want to do also involve hard work and discipline. This is especially true when doing anything for the first time.
When assessing the work involved, I usually ask myself if I want to invest the time in getting better at something. Is it something I am going to do again? Like learning a language or an instrument it’s hard work initially, but eventually you can do these things almost without thinking.
There are potential negative outcomes. No! This one is usually not true. We have an irrational fear that people will look at work we do and judge us for eternity if we fail. In my experience I’ve found that is not the case. People are generally supportive and failure can still be an opportunity to share what you leant. Have a mindset that is prepared to take small risks and learn from mistakes.
I don’t have time. We all have the same amount of time in each day. So what we usually mean when we say “I don’t have time”, is we are prioritising other activities. It’s perfectly ok to prioritise time for yourself, your family or your health, but to say you don’t have time assumes that you are using all the time have effectively and that everything you are doing is more important.
If I have an opportunity, instead of asking myself if I have time, I ask if I want to spend the time involved. Am I prepared to wake up a little earlier, give up some personal time, or drop another task? If not, the answer is often I don’t want to do this rather than I don’t have time. It’s a small distinction, but for me, recognising that I don’t want to do something feels better than blaming to my schedule. I am afterall the one who controls the schedule.
People feel differently about this, so maybe you have a different way of managing your time. I think the important thing is make sure you are spending your time in the right way.
A few years ago I decided I was going to say “Yes!” to more things, even if I sometimes felt a little uncomfortable, not qualified enough, or afraid it was too much work. I pushed myself to be realistic about potential negative outcomes and how I manage my time. For me the result of this meant learning a lot, blogging more, sharing more of my work, as well as some public speaking and community events. I’ve gained a lot personally and professionally from all these experiences and I’m glad I overcame my fear of saying yes.
I still have to say “No” to many things but I am doing this for the right reasons.