Before you freelance or become an independent consultant, you’d think the hardest thing would be getting other people to say yes. You’d think it’d be hard to find work, or find interesting projects to work on in your spare time.
Oh, no. Not even close.
You can always find work if you lower your prices far enough, and you can always find spare time projects if you value your time low enough. But if you say yes to everything, you lock up your calendar. Then, when interesting (or more high-paying) things come along later, you’re not available.
Even during the day, when you’re already doing something, there are times when you have to reconsider your decisions. If you’re attending a training session, for example, and it’s not going well, and you’ve discovered that the description wasn’t accurate, and you already know the material beyond what’s being discussed – is it the best use of your time? Is it too late for you to say no, and take back some of your precious time?
The GTD philosophy helps here.
David Allen’s classic book Getting Things Done forces you to:
- Prioritize what’s important to you (like family, friends, health, and financial security)
- Set time windows that you’re willing to spend on each one
- Build a list of tasks to improve each one, and prioritize those
The end result is that at any given time, you know what part of your life you’re supposed to be working on, and you’re confident that you’re doing the most important thing right now.
Then, when you’re approached with something, you can quickly prioritize where it relates to the other tasks on your plate. While it may be in someone else’s best interest for you to say yes to something at a moment in time, that doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
You have to stand up for your time – especially your work time – or no one else will. Everyone else will just keep handing you things to do even when they’re not in your best interests.
Saying no means hurting feelings.
Clients and prospects will be disappointed that you won’t work for free. Vendors will be bummed out that you won’t sit and listen to a sales pitch. Your own body will protest when it doesn’t get rest and relaxation time. And family members will be sad that you’re not home when they need you.
Whose feelings do you want to hurt?
You’re going to have to say no to somebody. Make sure you say no at the right time, so you can say yes to the rest.