Want to achieve work life balance? Learn the word “NO”

Want to achieve work life balance?  Learn the word “NO”

In the area of work life balance, I struggle.  I’m a HR professional, a wife, a mother, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a volunteer.  I am the worst when it comes to saying “No”.  Let me change that.  I was the worst when it came to saying “No”. I actually took a position on a school board so I would have an excuse to not be the room mom at my son’s school.  I hated doing those parties, but I couldn’t say no.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only thing I couldn’t say no to.

  • You want me to help with the implementation project?  Sure I can do that.
  • You want me to take you to Oklahoma City to play in a Magic the Gathering tournament?  No problem, I’ll drive the other kids too! (my son was a bit of a nerd)
  • You need this report by the end of the day?  Okay, I’ll have it on your desk by 4:00

That was the old me.  After years of being exhausted and cranky, I’ve turned over a new leaf.  It’s all about work life balance.   I have no problem telling friends I can’t make the party.  I can tell my son to ask his friend’s parents to drive.  I can tell a client “No” when he makes an unreasonable request. Really, I can say “No”.  I’m happier, healthier and I don’t dread Fridays when I have to face that I couldn’t get everything I promised done.  It’s easy.

No it’s not.  I lied.  For me, it’s almost as hard as saying yes to everything.  But what I have found is I am making better choices and I enjoy what I agree to do much more than I used to.  How did a woman who couldn’t say no turn the corner?  Here is a list of 5 points that helped me.

Put yourself first

We’ve all heard it a million times, but really, ask yourself, “do I want to do this?”  Will this make me happy? Is this request from someone who truly needs my support, or are you in the “Need to Please” cycle again?  Or maybe you are worried that you will not be viewed as a team player by your boss? Or maybe it’s a great project, but can you do it without impacting the other work you do?  Maybe this time for, your own good, it’s time to say “No”.

You have a choice

Always know you have a choice. You are the decision maker.  Even when it’s a request from your boss, that’s not really a request, it’s a directive, you have a choice.  When I find myself feeling like a victim when being forced to take on another project, I make sure I say “you have a choice” before I say yes.  I could say “No” and take all the consequences that would come with it.  I like to feed my family, so I probably would not make a career ending “No”, but just acknowledging that I could say “No” takes some of the stress off of it.

Stop the automatic YES

For most of my life, I said yes before I had made time to think about it.  Nothing kills work life balance like saying Yes before you think.  I learned the phrase “I need to check my schedule, I’ll let you know tomorrow”.  Guess what it worked.  People who ask me to do favors or take on additional tasks accepted my answer more readily when I took the time to think about it.

Train people how to treat you

This one ties in with the last point – if you let people walk all over you, they will continue to treat you like a doormat.  When you say yes to things that no one else will to do, you become the go to person for those things.  “Ask Sally to plan the holiday party.  She never says no.”   With these folks, a direct “Sorry, I’m not able to do it this year” answer works best.  Keep it to that, no further explanation.

Don’t say yes lightly

Finally, your integrity is important.  Make sure you can deliver what you say you can.  When you take on a project, a road trip, or a volunteer activity, make sure you are fully committed to delivering results.  Nothing will damage your career faster than being know as the person who has a difficult time completing a deliverable.

Years ago I heard Oprah say that the most valuable lesson she learned was when to say “No”.  It was the first time I’d ever even thought about it and it was the start of my journey to work life balance.  I believe I am relatively comfortable with the “No” word these days and I’ve made it part of my management style as well.  When I ask someone to do something, and I want to make sure they understand they have a choice, I will add “and NO is a perfectly acceptable answer to this request”.  You can do it, YES you can!  Start to say “NO” today!

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I am passionate about helping women make the most of their skills and talents in the workplace, as well as encouraging them to ask for what they want and deserve. Creating Ask Ajna with Jae Lynn has been a labor of love and if we can help women find their authentic voice and support one another, we will build a community of change.

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