Get Your Great Work Done: Knowing When to Say Yes and When to Say No

Do you ever have trouble saying "no"?

And do you ever pass on chances that you later wished you'd taken?

As an entrepreneur, knowing when to say "yes" and when to say "no" is crucial. It's the difference between a business that limps along -- or even fails -- and one that goes from strength to strength.

It's hard to get this right. Just think back over the past month. Did you say "yes" when you should've said "no" -- or vice versa?

Agreeing to the wrong commitments, and passing up the right opportunities, stops you doing your very best work.

Here's how to turn things around.

Be Crystal Clear about Your Time Commitments

Right now, your day is full -- every minute is accounted for with something. Of course, some of your activities are probably more valuable than others. But taking on any extra commitment will mean removing something else from your life.

Spend a week, or more if possible, tracking your time. You might be surprised just where some of it is going.

Whenever someone asks you to do something, work out how much time it's going to take up ... and don't just accept the estimate they give you.

That request for "a quick 30 minute coffee meeting" could easily turn into a 45 minute meeting, plus 30 minutes travel time each way, plus 15 minutes of preparation and follow-up. That's two hours of your time -- gone.

Tip: If you don't want to say an outright "no," find a "yes" that significantly reduces your time commitment. Instead of that 30 minute coffee meeting, you could offer 20 minutes of your time on Skype.

Decide What Only YOU Can Do

In your business, there are a small number of tasks that only you can do ... and a large number that other people could easily take on.

Saying "yes" and "no" applies not only to the commitments that other people bring your way, but to the commitments that come from you.

Let's say you offer one-to-one consulting. Sure, you can't get someone else to do the actual consults for you ... but you could:

  • Hire writers and editors to help you with your content marketing, instead of trying to do it all yourself.
  • Hire an assistant to deal with administrative matters, like scheduling your client calls or appointments, uploading blog posts, sending out your newsletter and so on.
  • Hire a developer to fix technical issues with your website, rather than handling them all yourself.

... and so on.

Tip: It can be hard to let go. You might think that no-one else will do things to the same standard as you, or in the same way as you. Instead of focusing on this, look at what you would gain by having an extra five or ten hours per week for your greatest work.

Know Where You're Going

What's your one most important project right now? If you could accomplish just one thing this year, what would it be?

If you don't have clear goals in mind, it's easy to get sidetracked by all the opportunities that come your way.

Let's say you're a one-to-one consultant and you want to decouple your money from your time: your key goal for this year is to create and market an online ecourse that covers the questions that crop up again and again from your clients.

Now, with every new opportunity, you can ask whether it helps you with that goal or not.

If you're offered the chance to guest post on someone else's site, and you can promote your services by doing so, go for it.

If you're asked to speak to a local group whose members aren't in the target audience for your services, turn the opportunity down.

Tip: Your "yes" or "no" doesn't have to stand in stone. If you're now realizing you want to ditch something -- or accept an opportunity you initially turned down -- then go for it. Even if you're told, "Sorry, too late," you'll be no worse off than you currently are!

Look at What Worked (or Didn't) in the Past

Next time a new commitment crops up, ask yourself how something similar worked out for you in the past.

Did you say "yes" to something because you were talked into it ... and now you're kicking yourself?

Did you say "no" to something because you were afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone ... and now you wish you'd gone for it?

Tip: If you're still unsure whether "yes" or "no" is the right decision, then go for "maybe." Ask for some time to consider the request. This takes the pressure off, and lets you weigh up pros and cons, and work out possible time commitments.

What's your experience of saying "yes" or "no"? Which one are you more likely to default to (and do you regret it)? Share your thoughts in the comments.