The idea behind this post comes from Michael Bungay Stanier’s ChangeThis manifesto “Stop the busywork!”. This is a powerful tool for the management of the demand on your time and to keep focus on your key priorities.
Most of us take on more work than we can realistically deal with, that is we are often too quick to say yes to demands placed on us by others. There is a limit as to how much we can do, we can either manage the demand place on us. We either say no and focus on what matters or we say yes and end up creating unnecessary stress, finding ourselves running out of time and doing a poor job. Saying yes slowly helps leaders to take a step back and encourages them to ask “Am I busy with the rights things?”
The only way we can get more time is by saying no to things we usually say yes to. Although we often recognise the need to say “no”, it is often challenging to do so. It seems that many people do not know how to say no. Many times, saying no to a request may not be the best response, in contrast saying yes slowly is a much more productive response. Saying yes slowly, is an alternative to our default response of yes and it much more productive to saying no.
Saying yes slowly requires that we step back and take some time to clarity why the request matters and what it would take to get it done. The next time you are approached to commit to getting something done, say yes slowly by asking some of the following questions.
- How does this fit with our strategic goals? This is a great question to help understand the context for the work request and how it fits with the team and organisations strategic goals.
- Why are you asking me? This question seeks to understand the motivation for the request being directed to you. It is something only you can do? Do you have the resources required to get the task done? Or perhaps you are the first person that came to mind. Or perhaps they know you won’t say no.
- What is the priority for this work? This question helps to determine the urgency of the request. Must it be done right away or can it be put on the back burner for a while. If it seems a worthwhile task and a priority, it may be useful to explore why is it a priority?
- What would it take to get this done? This question helps you to understand the commitment and resources required to execute the request. You can then assess if the resources are readily available or if you would need to redirect resources from other projects.
- What would I need to do? With this question we are seeking to understand explicitly what they are asking of you. How much time and energy is being asked of you?
- If I can only do part of this works what part would be most useful? With this question we are trying to shape and scope the demand, perhaps not all of what is asked needs to be done to achieve the intended outcomes. Or maybe we could get some of the work done by someone else rather than committing to doing it all yourself.
Saying yes more slowly is about helping leaders to free up their time so they can focus on what matters. When you learn to say yes more slowly, you will find that a large amount of requests disappear, need not be done or are premature and are better done at a later date.
“The art of leadership is saying no. It is very easy to say yes.” – Tony Blair, British statesman