Saying "No" is Easy

It’s not a secret that saying “no” is NOT easy.

It is hard to let someone down or let yourself down. What if you miss something cool that is about to happen?

The truth is you already say no ALL the time. What’s hard is doing it deliberately and strategically. What’s hard is saying no when you actually want to instead of when you feel you forced to or choose to say no at random.

Way back when I moved to New York City I experienced a “just say no” mindset shift. Like most people, the greater self-awareness I had at that moment did not lead to instant change in behavior but I have gradually improved in this area. I don’t always say “no” to favors and opportunities even when I should, but when I do, I feel good about it.

So what happened? How did moving to a busy, exciting city full of endless opportunitiy make it EASIER for me to say no?

First, I recoganized pretty quickly that it was happening whether I liked it or not. Everyone I met seemed to be inviting me to their show, art opening, fundraiser, birthday, or their boyfriends/roommates/friends/coworkers band. Yes, this is really what happened.
I was saying no because no matter how late I stayed out or skilled I became at taking the subway, I still didn’t get to everything. I was always missing something I thought would be cool.

That’s not just for the social scene of a 30 year old recent transplant to the greatest city in the world. ANYTHING we do has limits. If you are trying to serve more customers, get more votes, or raise more money, or go on more dates, at some point there are only so many hours in the day.

The second thing was, I noticed that if I took a night off I woudn’t be left without plans the next night. It was indeed the abundance of options that made it easier for me to skip some of them.

No matter where you live, the number of jobs you can apply for and the number of ways you can spend your time are increasing. I am not talking about an overall increase in available jobs, I am referring to the volume of information we have about jobs, events, and activities because of technology. There is Ziprecruiter, Indeed, and LinkedIn in addition to all the more traditional ways of learning about openings. Whether you are into music, art, grassroots activism, helping out a political candidate, or trying the latest restaurant, there are more and more ways to find out how to spend your time (and in politics an actual increase in ways to get involved and take action).

There are also so many ways to approach your career. Whether you like it or not you may be in a job market or industry where you are expected to work freelance, take on multiple jobs, or change companies every few years in order to grow in your profession. That’s a lot more moments in our lives we are expected to make a yes or no decision and declaration.

Saying no to a job, a favor for someone, a volunteer task, a donation request, or a social event is inevitable. But, don’t just start indescriminately weilding your new power to turn things down.

When you are clear with yourself that NO is a guilt free part of your job as a person that is when saying YES becomes the centerpiece of your planning and interactions. You can even set up some thoughtful, specific criteria that is aligned with your values and goals to prepare yourself to say no with kindness, clarity, and confidence. Then, saying no may never be truly easy but it can be a satisfying way to create space for the opportunities we choose instead of those we are left with at the end of trying to do it all.

Do it. Don't do it. Or change it.

You have had something on your to-do list for longer than you would like to admit. If it isn’t on the list you have it in your mind and have been sneaky enough not to write it down. It may be more than one thing - maybe a short list of tasks and goals big and small. You can feel the weight of it on your shoulder or see it out of the corner of your eye hanging over your head.

We have all been there and the problem will face the challenge of unwanted tasks, procrastination, and stress of growing workloads. At various points in my personal and professional life I have been especially guilty of a lack of productivity that snowballs into apathy and missed opportunities.

Some of the things I hear: write the article, paint the room, go to the gym, or quit the gym, quit this job, find a daycare, fill out a form, find a doctor. And then, there is the of course typical “there is a giant bed frame standing upright in my bedroom that I don’t know how to disassemble.” Ok, that’s just me right now.

The emotions can be intense when we feel underwater with things we meant to do. It feels like a vicous cycle. The not-doing creates anxiety and the anxiety makes it harder to do. We feel paralyzed. Our mind’s way of coping with the stress is to try to forget about it but that doesn’t make it go away.

The good news is, there are really only THREE options. Ok, the fourth is what you are doing now which is living in limbo, wasting your time and emotional energy in a holding pattern.

But really, there are only THREE options.

  1. DO IT. Make a startline and a deadline. That means, decide when you will start the task and when you will complete it by. Be realistic but set the start and deadline as soon as possible. Then just do it. I can hear you now saying “Been there done that. Did it again. Nothing.” That’s OKAY. THat just means it wasn’t meant to be #1. Move on to 2 or 3.

  2. DECIDE NOT TO DO IT. That’s right, quit. Quit in the middle if you have already start. Quit stressing about it and toss it out completely if you want to and you can. You don’t think you can? Pretend for a moment that you actively decide not to do the thing and imagine the consequences. Can you live with that? Is there maybe even something to gain from not doing it? If so, give yourself permission to make that wise choice. If you realize you can’t just drop the thing, you have to go back to #1 and #3. Here is an article with some ideas about how to think about quitting something in the middle.

  3. CHANGE IT. Take a look at what you need to do and change it in some way. Here are some ideas, and you can do more than one of them. Lower your expectations and scale down the project. Raise expectations to motivate your to work harder. Ask for help. Break it down into sub-tasks and do the first step (see #1). Do some research into alternatives. These are basic ways to change it but there are a million creative ways to change a project. Even if it just means changing the color of the paint. Or even just the way you have described it on your list. But the change just has to be big enough to shake you from the stuck place you are in.

You can start out small trying this system. Take control of what happens next instead of staying in your default position.

Me, I am using a combined approach on the bedframe. I am unable to take it apart myself and I can’t leave it where it is because of safety issues. I looked for #3 a way to change the task. I decided to give up (#2) on keeping it in storage and instead set a startline (#1) of tomorrow to move it into the hallway and admit to the super and neighbors I don’t know what to do with it.

If you try this strategy please let me know how it goes!

Getting it Done!

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In September, many of us feel renewed energy to accomplish our goals - or extra pressure to meet deadlines.

Every day, I hear how hard it is to simply “get things done.” While setting realistic goals and dealing with the dreaded “to-do list” will always be a challenge, I want to share with you a few things that have helped me accomplish more with less stress.

I believe “getting it done” requires setting the right goals, having personalized systems for tracking progress, and building in room for change.

Here are five ideas that have improved my experience of setting and completing both broad goals and specific daily tasks:

1. Use other people’s systems as a source of inspiration, not as a “quick fix” to all your to-do list suffering (including the ideas in this blog!). The options can leave your head spinning - whether it’s a new app being advertised, a supervisor’s instructions, or a well-meaning friend. View the endless options as an opportunity to research what works for you. Give yourself complete permission to set aside what doesn’t make you successful and then adapt what does to fit in even better with your needs and strengths. Are you a paper and pen person or do you thrive on the latest technology? Do you need to work on your to-do list once a week or 3 times a day? Do you combine lists for work and personal tasks, or approach them separately? In the end, the only right answer is what makes you feel less anxiety and more productive.

2. Set your own numerical goals. This process turns a vague feeling of “so so SO much to do” into something you can control and celebrate. An example would be asking yourself “how many work items can I put on my list today?” If you don’t know what number is “right" just start somewhere. Say seven. Think about what those seven might be. Then check in with yourself about how that number feels. If you start to panic, reduce it to five or six. If you feel very confident about completing seven maybe raise the number to ten. These are your goals, and the purpose is not to punish yourself for falling short but rather to set yourself up for success.

3. Put goals in context. If you are setting personal goals, consider your work goals, and vice versa. But also don’t forget the larger context - family, community, and the world. For example, in November I will be looking for a new apartment and I am told that when the weather is cooler that is a good time to find deals. I will also remind myself that the first week of the month may be a less productive time for me both because of out of town guests arriving and because of a big election. This example is a big picture goal, but the same idea applies to a quick everyday task that may work best at a certain time of day or is effected by the people around you.

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4. Use repetition to improve memory and motivation. Advertisers and campaigners know that humans learn and remember when they receive messages repeatedly and in different ways. I use the same principal when I communicate to myself what I need to do. Although I have one main notebook that I keep my to-do lists in, when I want to reinforce items I have a soft spot for colored post-it notes where I rewrite what is most immediate or most important. Sometimes, if I have a plan to accomplish something big, I make sure to say it out loud. Does it sound like something I am really going to do? You can tell a friend, family member, pet, co-worker, therapist or coach! Added bonus: Since the task is in more than one place I get to cross it off or delete it from more than one place - so satisfying!

5. Stay flexible and revisit task lists and goals. There are external forces around us moving a mile a minute and if everything else is changing, our goals and timelines must too. We also learn things about ourselves and are abilities as we go, so growing into our plans could mean going farther than we thought we could. Reframe revisions and adjustments as a vital, exciting part of meeting goals (For example, I set out to make a list of four for this blog, and here are five!). Also, remember to communicate those changes to yourself and those around you.

I wish you a Fall 2018 full of crossing off, deleting, revising, contextualizing, and moving forward to accomplish your goals and dreams. I look forward to hearing from you about how it is going and what you are getting done.