Saying “No” at work

Whenever you answer your phone, reply immediately to an email or answer a knock on your office door with a “sure, I can help you now”, you’re effectively saying to the person at the other end “Here is my time – you do with it as you wish”.

As soon as you say “Yes” to a request, you’re changing from proactive work to reactive work. It’s not on your terms. Only you know your priorities, and only you should be making decisions about your time.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to respond immediately, of course. But if you’re honest with yourself, a lot of the time you don’t have to.

How to say “No” so you’re working on your own priorities first:

  • Have times during your work day that are proactive, focussed times and your phone goes to voice mail or to a colleague (you can return the favour during their quiet time if you both work together)
  • Turn off your email notifications and choose a few blocks of time a day for email and only check and reply in those times
  • Have a carefully scripted response to people who interrupt you. Something like “I’d love to help you; I can see it’s important to you. Unfortunately my focus is on another task at the moment and I can’t give your issue the attention it deserves. How about I come and see you in an hour?”. And then honour that promise.

You don’t need to say yes all the time – you can still help people and be proactive in your own work at the same time.

 

6 ways to de-stress your email

Email is a sort of necessary evil. Given the fact that most of us don’t have the option to ditch it altogether (the phone calls I could handle, but could we really go back to just snail mail and faxing in business?), we are pretty much stuck with it.  As awesome as it is in many ways, it can also cause a great deal of stress for many people.

Here are some quick changes you can make that may take a little of the ‘evil’ away.

  1. Keep your inbox to as few emails as possible, and have a habit of emptying it daily. If you can’t action all the emails every day, use a task management tool to record those you still need to action and then file them away. You could also use flags or categories to mark them as Pending Action so you don’t forget about them.
  2. Don’t trust “unread marks”. Sometimes we accidentally mark emails as unread then lose them in the clutter without reading them. If it was an important email, that could really ruin your week.
  3. Think twice before hitting “send”. Could this end up being a chain of emails that take up a lot of time? Would you be better off with a quick phone conversation? Sometimes a 10-email conversation can be made over the phone in just 30 seconds. And the more emails you send, the more emails you get in reply!
  4. Write shorter emails. One line of thought is that you can construct any email you wish in 5 sentences or less (or even three, but my verbose personality objects too strongly for me to try that one!). That will save you a significant amount of time (once you get used to it, of course – the first few times I did it I spent a fair amount of editing time reducing my words!).
  5. Keep your folders to a minimum. Try the ‘no scroll’ rule. If you have to scroll to get to a folder, you have too many. We don’t need a great deal of folders – most email programs have a great search function that enables you to find emails you’ve filed using key words (not to mention that we’d only go looking for less than 20% of the filed emails anyway). If you have too many folders, you spend too long worrying about where to put things, and where to find them again. Keep it simple; only go to second-level nesting, and keep the first level to one screen. Or try having just one and using ‘search’ and ‘sort’ to find them.
  6. Unsubscribe – you don’t have enough time to read them anyway. Instead, bookmark the blog or website so you can go and look at it when you need something or have time for some reading.
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