In January 2017, I decided to say “yes” to life, possibilities and new projects. It was super exciting and was the very best choice for me at the time. I met new people and learned a ton. But, there came a point where saying yes put me back into an old pattern, especially when I collaborate with others. I have a history of chronic people pleasing and before long, I found I was allowing other people’s agendas override mine. Now turns out to be the start of my saying no.
As I write this, I am transported back ten years ago when my bookshelves were lined with self help books, most with titles relating to establishing healthy boundaries and how to say no.
At that time, my business was going well, but my personal relationships were causing all sorts of distress. I would often allow my self be exploited and depleted to the detriment of my health, wellbeing and bank account.
I was drawn, like a moth to a flame when a friend popped up with a problem solve, or someone needed help of some kind, especially those with very complicated issues. Some of my friends actually called me Dr. Nina and even had a name plate made for my desk at work. Many of these freinds lived in permanent crisis, and were in constant need of my time, energy and resources, and yet, nothing ever really changed—they kept doing the same crazy things over and over, and I kept bailing them out. When I made the decision to step away, they found other people to take my place, and I began making healthy progress healing and working on my goals and dreams.
Just a few months ago, I started people pleasing again. I was bleeding time and energy on a bunch of seemingly minor “asks” from acquaintances. I was helping women with their blogs in Facebook groups, was working with several others one on one, I was assisting a couple of friends market their businesses, and was helping a friend fix a project that had run seriously amuck, which turned out to be super stressful.
Meanwhile, I was struggling to find quiet time to think and create blog posts and photographs. In the middle of it all, I got sick, which has become my canary in the coal mine. When I get sick I know it’s time to step back and not only heal, but figure out whats causing a drain on my energy.
I thought I had a time management issue, after all, I should be able to get all these little things done along producing three weekly blog posts and the rest of my life…how much time could it take? Too much, apparently! I was lead to re-evaluate my time management using a book called 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, by Kevin Kruse. One of the takeaways was learning to say “no” (again).
In fact, most super successful people say “no” to 98% of projects and ideas pitched to them so they can focus on their core goals. Business coaches oftentimes direct their clients to focus on 5 goals and dump all the rest, along with anything that competes with those five goals. Successful people are highly focused, which is something I’ve been severely lacking of late.
As I worked my way through the 15 Secrets book, I realized I needed to take a step back and carefully consider each of the asks on my time. John, my sometimes business coach had me sit down with each of the items I was working on and ask “what’s in this for me?” Or “why am I doing this?”
What’s in it for me, when I jump in and help? (Even thought I know I don’t really have the time or bandwidth, why do I keep doing it?)
What’s in it for the people asking for help? (Are they implementing your suggestions? Are they really working on their stuff or just taking up time?)
What is the value being exchanged? (In the past, I’ve done tons of work for free while more enterprising friends are making bank exchanging their knowledge and expertise for money or something that is of value for them as well. I’ve always been uncomfortable with doing that.)
What is the real cost? (What actually happens when I don’t get my own work done because I’m busy working on someone else’s goals and dreams?)
So often we get hooked by doing things that actually have no value or come at a cost we may not consider—John pushes me hard with his questions about a proposal’s actual cost and value. He even suggested I create a work sheet and manually weigh out proposals until I get better at assessing my time and energy in my head. That along with a new approach to time management called time blocking are helping me get on track and stay there. I may not know exactly how much time a project is going to take, but it has to be evaluated and scheduled before I go further.
Things that seem to be “no brainer” yeses, often have hidden costs we see without thinking through the ask and how far it might lead you astray from your own needs and goals. If we don’t take time to consider the motivations of others we can easily be lead down the wrong path. And then, there are our own drivers and motivations that can get us off track as well. If you find yourself exhausted or getting sick frequently, it might be time to say no, clear the decks and get back on track to live your own best life.