Okay, that’s not the nicest headline is it?
But you’ve felt like saying it, haven’t you?
And don’t you wish you could say it sometimes?
Now, you would never say it that way. And neither would I.
But how many times have you set out to accomplish your to do list in the morning only to have a series of ’I just need five minutes’ (which is never five minutes) or “I really need to meet with you” consume most of your day?
How many times have you got ‘nothing on the calendar’ (which you were going to use to knock that project out of the park) only to have someone ask you if you’re free and next thing you know half your day has vapourized?
end up working at night
put in time on the weekend
fall further behind; and
never complete your most important priorities.
Or all of the above.
The truth is that five minutes (or 15 minutes, or lunch or a meeting) with someone you didn’t need to meet with is time:
Your kids need
Your spouse has been waiting for
Your direct reports deserve
That special project requires
Your true priorities demand
So what you do with those requests without being a jerk, or feeling guilty or losing all your friends?
1. Be kind. Show some empathy. (They probably want to meet with you for what to them is a great reason). Even begin by saying “I would love do that, however…” and then tell them why you can’t (I’ve got a project I have to follow through on etc). In fact, here’s a six step strategy on how to say no nicely.
2. Redirect. I amazed at how many times people think I can help them when in fact others are in a much better place to assist them than I would be. So spend 1 minute refering or directing them to someone who truly can help them. If you decide to meet with them anyway (because you can’t say no), just remember, you not only wasted your time. You wasted theirs.
3. Defer. If you think you should meet with someone, say “I can’t now, but how about later? Can you email me and we’ll set up a time?” It’s amazing how many times people just don’t follow through. Or when they do, they say “Don’t need to…the problem is solved.” Guess it wasn’t that important after all.
4. Be clear on your priorities. If you haven’t thought through what’s important, everything will seem important. Most of the time you probably don’t say no because you don’t know why you should say no. Change that. Set priorities. Decide which tasks and people will require your time and schedule standing appointments with them. I blogged about how to do that here.
5. Change Expectations. This one is huge. I’m a pastor, and stereotypically, everyone expects a pastor to visit them and be there for them. We just happen to have 1500 people who call our church home. So that doesn’t work out too well. We’ve trained our people to look to each other for care (in small groups) and every week, we refer people whose needs are a bit deeper to outside counselors we trust. That frees me up to teach, lead our team, advance our mission and work with key leaders. You can retrain peoples’ expectations. That also frees me up to care for our elders, staff team and senior leaders. It allows me to do for a few what I wish I could do for everyone.
6. Schedule Appointments with Yourself. Schedule space in your calendar to work on it, not in it. If you need time to write a talk, start a project, think through an issue, solve a problem or set goals, write it in your calendar. I rarely book appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then when someone asks you whether you are free, you can truthfully say “I’m sorry, I’m not free…I have a commitment”. And by the way, the commitment on your day off is to your family. You aren’t free then either.
7. Leave a few open spots in your calendar. Sometimes you do need to just meet with random people. I keep a few spots open in my calendar every month for that. Just because you can’t be accessible to everyone doesn’t mean you need to be accessible to no one. I usually keep them short (30-60 minutes max, sometimes shorter), but I go in with an open mind trying to learn. I also vet those meetings ahead of time to make sure I’m not wasting their time when they actually should have met with someone else.
It’s amazing what can happen when you begin to protect those “five minute” segments in your calendar.
What are you learning about saying no to people who ask for your time?