C-Suite Advisory

The “Yes” Trap

Have you ever committed to do something and then as D Day draws near you start to regret your decision? ’Why did I say Yes, I don’t even like Aunt Margery and now I have to spend the day with her!’ And so, you go along with what you committed to because you feel you should and then you bash yourself up for saying yes in the first place, or you pull out at the last minute and then you bash yourself up for letting people down.

In my case, my propensity to say Yes to the requests that came my way bordered on the ludicrous. I was so primed to say Yes that in conversations I would literally anticipate what someone was going to ask of me, and I would jump in and offer it up before they even asked. Seriously.

Over time, as I became more invested in investing my time well, there were three clear realisations that aided my transformation from Yes Girl to No – but thank you for the opportunity – Girl.

1. Current Yes vs Future Yes

Part of my ‘yes condition’, apart from the fact that I was clearly a people pleaser, was that I was treating all requests for my time equally. Big mistake. There are two different types of requests for your time and they will impact you very differently:

  1. Requests which require your time investment right now, for example – ‘Can I grab you for 5 minutes?’; ‘Can you help me unload the shopping?’; ‘Mum, I’m running late! Can you drive me to school?’
  2. Requests which require your time investment in the future, for example – ‘We’d love you to be treasurer of the basketball club.’; ‘Come over for dinner next Sunday!’; ‘Can you speak at our annual conference for free – it’s only a 4 hour drive from your home?’

The vast majority of opportunities that come your way fall into the latter category: they are future-facing opportunities that require you to commit your time today without the actual pain of spending your time today. You are committing to spending your time in the future, which makes for an easier yes (because it does not hurt right now!). This is a big trap: how often do you reflect back on that decision and think, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time – what on earth was I thinking?’

And just what were you thinking?

2. What a Yes really means

My second realisation was that by saying Yes to all the requests that came my way, I was guaranteed of three outcomes – none which were of any good to me:

  1. I would quickly run out of time
  2. I would continue to put myself last (which means I was actually saying No to myself); and
  3. The requests would keep coming as I was a renowned go-to girl who always said yes and who always delivered.

3. My time is money

My final realisation was that my time is money. It was time to start looking at the requests for my time through more of a financial lens (Is this the best use of my time?) and less of an emotional lens (Will they still like me if I say No?). And if my time was money, what I needed was a ‘time budget’ just as I had a ‘financial budget’.

My financial budget is a set amount of money I can invest at home or at work over the next 12 months for the greatest return for myself, family or my team. I can’t overspend against my financial budget because once the money runs out, I am in the red. If there are competing opportunities, products or services I want to invest my money in, I need to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and allocate my limited resources wisely.

My time budget also needs to be invested wisely for the greatest possible return over the next 12 months. Like my financial budget, there is a cap on my time budget, and I can’t overspend. If I

get close to overspending, I need to reassess my choices to determine what is a good/necessary time investment and what needs to be taken out of the budget as a poor/unnecessary time investment. This way, instead of thinking that I have to say yes or no to each opportunity that comes my way, the question is really one of: Do I want to invest my time or do I need to decline?

If you too are ready to stop being a Yes person, try these simple Do’s and Don’ts to take back control of your time:

Make sure you do:

  1. Have a clear understanding of your values — exactly where do you want to invest your time?
  2. Ask yourself, Is this really the best use of my time? If not, that’s a good indication that you should decline an opportunity.
  3. Hear the person out before you jump in with an offer that means committing your time. They might just be letting off steam or about to tell you they need to reschedule something you had planned. Hold your tongue and let them finish.
  4. Think about whether there is an alternate way you can help the person without committing time from your time budget.
  5. Buy yourself some time to genuinely assess the opportunity so that you don’t rush into a decision you later regret. Use a response such as: ‘Thank you for thinking of me. Let me check my calendar and I will come back to you’.
  6. Be sure to pick your mark: if the opportunity comes from your boss or your kids or your mum, a great strategy is to respond along the lines of, ‘I am currently working on x, y, z. If I also take this task on, then one of those other tasks is going to slip. How do you want me to prioritise these tasks?’
  7. If all else fails you, my fail-safe go-to when I decline is, ‘Thank you for thinking of me. I am working to a deadline at the moment, but if anything changes I will come back to you.’

Make sure you don’t:

  1. Worry that people might like you less if you decline an opportunity. If you lose some friends, maybe they were not the right people to have around you in the first place.
  2. Feel the need to apologise for making decisions about where you do and do not invest your time — really, it’s no-one else’s business.
  3. Confuse problem solving with the need to take on endless amounts of work.

Edited excerpt with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from Me First: The Guilt-free Guide to Prioritising You, by Kate Christie.
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Kate Christie
Kate Christie is the Founder and CEO of Time Stylers, a time management specialist, the best selling author of 4 time management books and a global speaker.

Kate Christie is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn.