For most of us, it’s hard to say “no”—if not all of the time, at least in some situations. One such situation is when you think it might harm your career. Ironically, sometimes, not saying “no” might actually hurt your career more.
For example, it’s important to say no when you are being asked to do something illegal or immoral or something that you are not likely to succeed at. You might not succeed at a task because you are too busy to do it well or because you aren’t skilled enough to do it well. In either case, it will reflect badly on you when you fail.
When I tell people they need to be able to say ”no,” they often balk and say that they can’t say “no” to their boss. Then I say, “How about if you say ‘yes’ to your boss?” Their eyes light up when I tell them it’s possible to say “yes” and “no” at the same time. Try the models below.
Model 1: “Yes… If I do this then I won’t be able to do that… Which do you think is more important?”
Boss: “Could you take on the budget proposal for the new product we’re developing?”
You: “Yes, absolutely. I’m currently working on the financial analysis of the old product though. If I take on the budget for the new product, I won’t be able to finish the analysis as quickly and I had originally estimated. Which do you think is more important to do first?”
Model 2: “Yes… If I do it in that time frame, however, it won’t be my best work. I could offer to do this instead… What do you think would be best?”
Boss: “Could you write up the 40-page report by tomorrow morning?”
You: “Yes, I’d be happy to. If I write 40 pages in one day, though, it won’t be polished. If I had till the end of the week, I’d have time to go over it a second time and proofread it. What do you think would be best?”
Model 3: “Yes… Would it be okay to delegate that to …?”
Boss: “Could you manage the offsite planning?”
You: “Yes, I’d be happy to be responsible for it. Would it be okay to delegate the work to Marnie? She’s looking for more leadership opportunities and is good with logistics.”
These exact phrases may not fit with your style, but you get the idea. You accept the work with full disclosure of the sacrifice (not completing other work, not your best quality work, or not you actually doing the work) and give your boss the opportunity to decide what is more important. If your boss says, for example, that she doesn’t need your best quality on a 40-page report, just a rough draft, or maybe even an outline, then you’ve brought it down to a reasonable task in a short time frame. If your boss says he needs it to be top quality and would rather wait, then you have turned it into a reasonable time frame to complete the task.
Bosses don’t want their people to fail. It reflects badly on them too when you fail. They want the work done and done well and done on time. You need to speak up when you won’t be able to deliver. A positive way to do that is to help the boss find solutions, rather than raise obstacles. Bosses like solutions. And the bosses who don’t like to hear “no” like to be able to decide what is more important. If you give them that opportunity using the models above, then you will be able to keep your head above water too.
My husband said to me one day, “Do you know what I love about you?” My heart beat a little faster as I fluffed my hair and stood up a little straighter. “You get things done.” He finished.
I tried not to let my disappointment show. “I get things done? Seriously? That’s your compliment?” The conversation in my head began. But, I reflected for a moment. “It is true, I do get things done.” I reconciled and simply said “Thanks.”
One of the things that differentiates people who get things done from people who don’t is that they actually DO it. It’s as simple as that. They don’t sit around and worry about it. They don’t think of all the things that can go wrong. They don’t rouse up all the reasons why they can’t do it. They just do it.
WHAT’S THE SECRET TO GETTING THINGS DONE?
The first steps and the last steps are the hardest. What stops many people is taking action in the first place. Another stumbling block is lack of follow through. We talk about these in business language as being “results oriented” and having “execution skills.” You can talk all day about getting results and you can brainstorm ideas on how to get good results, but if you don’t execute, it won’t happen. Likewise, if you don’t follow through till the very last step, you won’t get the results either.
I just finished a book and people often say to me, “I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’m impressed that you actually did it.” And that’s the secret. I just did it. I wanted to write a book, I took the first steps, and continued on, followed through till the very end and now it’s out there. I won’t say it was easy, because it wasn’t. Getting things done rarely is. I ran into many stumbling blocks along the way, but I didn’t let them stop me because I wanted to get it done. I’ll also admit that following through till the end has been excruciating at times, but work always is. In fact, I write about that in my book.
Engineers are great at figuring out what might go wrong. But the good ones don’t worry about it; they prepare for it, work around it, or fix it or sometimes just live with the fact that nothing’s ever perfect. In other words, it’s okay to recognize potential obstacles, but worrying about them does no good. “Problem solving” is another skill we talk about in the workplace as being critical to success—in any job. As the complexity of the task grows, so does the number of problems. Expecting problems and working through them, not only require creativity, but also resilience. But what they don’t need is worrying and fretting and gloom and doom.
GETTING NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS DONE
Making a commitment to getting something done is a good first step, but then you need to take action. For example, making a resolution to get fit requires you to exercise. Sometimes the hardest step is to make it out the door to the gym, the jogging path, or wherever. But if you commit to getting out the door, no matter how tired or unmotivated you are, you will find that you’ve actually gotten something done. You made it there. The next step is easy because you’re already on a roll.
Keeping up with your resolutions can be tricky. You may get busy or frustrated with your fitness plan after a couple of months, but don’t give up. Remember, the difference between people who get things done and those who don’t is that they just DO it.
By Joanie Connell
Taking two weeks off in itself is a great way to gain perspective on life. Traveling to another country is even better. I just returned from two weeks in Paris. During those two weeks I experienced a very different way of life. I was kept up till all hours of the night by the Fête de la Musique, an all-night music festival that takes place on the streets of Paris. I lost sleep because the fans of the World Cup celebrated on the streets too, by driving around with their horns on at 2:00 in the morning. During daylight hours, I was slowed down by traffic that was gridlocked due to protest marches and demonstrations and by strikes that delayed trains and planes coming in and out of Paris
None of that bothered me. Rather, I found it curiously intriguing. What bothered me–at least at first–was spending over a week without WiFi. The router in our apartment broke and the landlord didn’t seem to understand the urgency around fixing it promptly. I was planning to work while on vacation and was shut down. Public WiFi was no option. In France, free WiFi tends to be so slow it is unusable except for email—another curiosity. The French just don’t seem to have the same need for speed that Americans do.
What was I to do? Well, how about enjoy my vacation! I gave up worrying about work. I didn’t blog for two weeks. I stayed off Face Book and I hardly emailed. Rather, I immersed myself into French culture and leisure.
A funny thing happened. In more than one conversation, French people asked me why I was only on vacation for two weeks. They asked what else I would do during the summer for the rest of my vacation. I kept having to explain that this was my summer vacation and that I would be returning to work when I got home and that I was fortunate to be able to travel for two weeks because many Americans don’t have that kind of time. Now it was their turn to find my culture curiously intriguing.
Even if we only have 2 weeks of vacation per year, as compared to their typical 2 months of vacation, it makes all the difference in the world to get away from work for a while. It gives you perspective. Realizing that you’re dispensable, that the daily crisis at work really isn’t urgent or earth shattering, and that life has so much more to offer than work is truly important. Taking vacation helps to broaden your perspective and refocus your priorities in life.
As a consultant, I get an external perspective of companies. More often than not, I feel the office tension as I walk in. I see the desperate looks on executives’ faces as they try to do what they think the president wants. If the president decides he/she wants X, the executives send their teams into a frenzy to deliver X2. The executives advise me on what words to use or not use to appeal to the president’s idiosyncrasies. They demand that I turn in work proposals immediately and be available to perform without delay. They expect me to work after hours and on weekends like they do. I’ve learned my lesson because, when I do, they change their minds or the president isn’t available to look at it or the project gets canceled or something like that. We have all rushed around with elevated heart rates and stress levels for no real reason.
Every time I return from vacation, I gain perspective and vow not to get sucked into this lifestyle when I return. Sometimes I succeed. If more of us took time out to relax and gain perspective, we would probably be much less stressed at work. I highly recommend giving it a try. If anything, you’ll be less stressed for a while. If it catches on, we might make the workplace a better place for all of us.
by Joanie Connell
The downside of operating at lightning speed is that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’re doing. We respond to challenges with knee-jerk reactions and leap onto the bandwagon without ever stopping to question whether this is the right way to go. We think it is right because everybody else is doing it and we don’t want to get left behind.
In today’s world, we are all under an enormous amount of pressure to do things quickly. We need to keep up with minute-by-minute stock prices, what is “trending now” on social media, whose kid is participating in the most extra-curriculars, which traffic lane is going the fastest, and what emails are already stacked up in our inboxes. It’s exhausting! Yet, we don’t stop. We keep running faster and faster, managing more and more information.
Ironically, the need for speed is slowing us down. Really. It. Is.
How could that possibly be? It is because we aren’t taking time to stop and think. When we run at full speed, we make careless mistakes. When we do too many things at once, we make haphazard decisions. When we feel pressure to keep up, we mindlessly follow the pack. If we don’t take time to stop and think, we may end up losing the race—remember the tortoise and the hare—and trampling others along the way.
Typos, bugs, and safety recalls are often caused by careless mistakes. We are racing to meet deadlines, under pressure to get to print or to market quickly, and we work fast without checking it over. Careless mistakes cost us time and money. For example, the most common reason for the IRS to reject an income tax return is because of a careless mistake, like the person forgot to sign the form. A rejection is usually accompanied by a fine. Thus, slowing down to proofread your tax form could speed things up and save you money.
As much as we like to think that we are good at multitasking, the evidence is to the contrary, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Of course, doing a load of laundry while you are washing the dishes is fairly benign (unless you forget about the laundry). Texting while driving is not. At work, we read email during meetings and wonder why our meetings are so ineffective. At home, we do our homework while instant messaging. It’s hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. You can shift back and forth, but even then you may lose time reintegrating yourself into each task. Often, completing a task before you move to another can save you time.
Much of our world is online and crowd driven. Add time pressures to the mix and we end up with impulsive, irrational decisions that are made carelessly, without contemplation. Stock market crashes, fads, and riots are caused by a crowd mentality. We lose ourselves in the presence of a crowd. It’s called “deindividuation” in social psychological terms. When we get caught up in the excitement and momentum of a crowd, we lose our judgment and do things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Riots after sporting events are a good example. Most sports fans would not smash car windows and set fire to things on their own, but when they get caught up in the post-game fury of a stadium full of fans, they can find themselves doing extreme things. The same is true in business.
Online interactions have a similar effect. People deindividuate when they are online. For example we’ve all seen people post comments on blogs or send emails that they would never say in person. We feel less personally accountable online, similar to when we are in a crowd. And what are we doing online? Creating crowds! People these days define their value by their numbers of followers, friends, likes and retweets. The news reports on what is “trending now” on social media to acknowledge what the largest numbers of people are doing and saying. It may be “trending” but it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
People feel better about themselves when they are better than someone else. When you get a B on a test, you feel better when you find out someone else got a C. Social comparison is a way to feel better about yourself by thinking or saying negative things about other people. Gossiping is the quintessential example.
The flip side of putting others down to make ourselves feel good is to compete with others to do better. To feel good, we want to outdo our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, FB friends, and Twitter followers. For example, if my friend is taking 4 AP classes, I should take 5. If the competitor is decreasing costs by 5%, we should decrease by 10%. If my coworker works 10 hours a day, I should work 12. If my teammate runs 12 miles a day, I should run 15. This also manifests with opinions and positions. If others in my political party are moderately liberal/conservative, I will be more liberal/conservative to show I am better or more committed to the group. After enough people do that, the party is broadcasting extremist statements. This is called “group polarization.” We all know what calamities that can lead to.
It’s time to stop and think.
It’s time to slow down and check our work to avoid careless mistakes. It’s time to pause and make well thought-out decisions to make sure we are doing what we want to do. It’s time to question the crowd to see if it is going in a direction we think is valuable for us to follow. The cost of not thinking is far greater.