Saying ‘yes’ to requests for our time is not always a bad practice. In fact, the better we are at managing our time and our projects, the more likely it is that we will be chosen to handle important tasks that need to be completed quickly with quality and care. Taking on and completing important projects can be very rewarding and can lead to promotions and bonuses. The problem occurs when we say ‘yes’ to almost any request no matter what it is, who is asking, or how much work we already have on hand.
Always saying ‘yes’ is a major source of overload and stress, and it can lead us away from our priorities into less important tasks. If we want to avoid the work and stress associated with attempting too much, we need to decide carefully whether to accept new tasks. People that say ‘yes’ when they should be saying ‘no’ usually do it for one of two reasons. The first is that many say ‘yes’ automatically without thoroughly thinking about the request. This could be a reaction we save for certain people like your boss, or a family member, or the president of our volunteer group, or it could just be our normal way of dealing with requests. Perhaps we feel good about serving and feel that by accepting the extra responsibility we are making a difference. Maybe we feel that taking on the extra work is the best way to get that promotion we have been waiting for.
Both of these are perfectly valid reasons for accepting a new project; but when we accept every task thrown at us, we will quickly reach the point of attempting too much for our own good. When we do, our overload will produce stress, lower our physical and mental wellbeing, and reduce our productivity and effectiveness. People that say ‘yes’ automatically usually do not realize how much each new commitment is costing them. We must remember that we can do almost anything, but we cannot do everything.
Whenever we accept a new task or responsibility, we are always giving up something else. We could be giving up our free time, or an extra twenty minutes of sleep, or time that we would have spent with our family, or exercising. Without realizing it, we could be choosing to spend our valuable time doing trivial things instead of what is most important to us. Every time we choose to do something, we always give up something else we could do with that time. There is a saying that “ if we throw a frog into a boiling pot of water, the frog will immediately jump out; if however, we put a frog into a pot of cool water and slowly raise the temperature, the frog will get boiled”.
If someone came to us and gave us twenty projects to work on over the next couple of weeks all at the same time, we would certainly take notice and have to at least consider what we would have to give up to complete the extra work. However, when the new tasks come in slowly, trickling in one at a time, it is more difficult to realize what we are giving up until we have already overcommitted.
If we want to escape from the worst practice of always saying ‘yes,’ our first step has to be to promise ourselves to consider each request carefully before accepting it, instead of doing it automatically. We must make it our habit to always stop and think before accepting a request no matter what it is or who is asking. Then at least we will be making an informed conscious decision fully aware of what we are giving up in order to accept the extra responsibility.
The second reason people say ‘yes’ when they should be saying ‘no’ has to do with their internal motives. If we have taken the first important step and are now considering each request before accepting, but we still find ourselves overloaded because of saying ‘yes’ too much, we may be facing a psychological barrier that is holding us back. The most common ones are a desire to please, fear of rejection, and guilt. We may be saying ‘yes’ because of a payoff we are receiving, or because it is the path of least resistance.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A ‘No’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble.”