Are You Overcommitted?

December 7, 2010

Do you feel stretched thin, with too many requests and too little time? If so, you may need a “yes diet,” or at least some re-direction of your "yeses."

Saying “yes” to every request is a sure-fire way to clutter up your day. Sometimes, people say “yes” to avoid a difficult conversation, or because they are already strapped for time to complete some other task that they said “yes” as a quick and easy way to out of a conversation so that they can get back to their other task(s)…

What are your options?

Say “no.” True story: Many years ago I worked in a department that was counseled to say “no” if requests would impact work that you already had in progress. The objective was to have the management staff prioritize the work. The first time someone asked me for assistance when I had something else going, I said, “no.” It was an odd feeling to have the VP of the division send out an e-mail praising the fact that I had effectively blown-off a request for my time.

Saying "no" should be reserved for those times when you really cannot and would not want to respond to the request, under any circumstances.

Counteroffer: First, take the time to understand what someone wants, when, and why. Perhaps their request will take up too much time and energy to fulfill within their desired time frame. If that is the case, propose to deliver at a later date. Perhaps, and based on your understanding of what someone wants, you might be able to propose a different option that hadn’t been considered, but would fulfill the needs of the requester.

Commit to a “date for a date.” Promise to get back by a certain date with a response, because you can’t tell someone yes or no at the present moment. Perhaps you need to check with someone else before making a commitment (saying "yes" is making a commitment) because you will need their help in fulfilling the request. Perhaps you need to research and estimate the work, and you need additional time to respond with a responsible answer. Committing to getting back to the requester by a certain time or date is perfectly reasonable.

Renegotiate: You made a commitment (you said “yes”), but now you realize that you can’t deliver. Perhaps some unanticipated difficulties arose. Let people know with enough time for them to find an alternative. Be responsible, don’t put this off and hope for a miracle.

In a great coincidence (I wrote this post days ago), I came across a post written yesterday by Laura Rose that provides another great perspective on this same topic: “Just say ‘No’” isn’t as simple as it seems.