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Power your yeses with nos

Do you think you’re the best person to tackle your to-do list? 

Do you worry that handing over tasks means the work won’t be as good?

Me too. Or at least, I used to. 

I thought that saying yes to everything meant that I was simply working hard and being a team player. A busy to-do list was just an example of how in-demand I was, and managing to tick off all the requests in the nick of time felt like a win. 

Despite knowing that my diary was full and I literally did not have any more time in the day, I’d still find myself saying yes and then worrying about how I’d fit it all in later. 

You’d think at that point I might consider delegating. Apparently not – my technique was more ‘kick the can of disappointing people down the road and cross my fingers that it'll all pan out ok’. In hindsight, probably not advisable. But at the time, I equated saying no to disappointing people. And, of course, there was a small part of me that thought I could do the work better than anyone else.

Sound familiar? If you’re reading this and relating to it, then something probably needs to change. Why? Spare me five minutes in your jam-packed schedule and I’ll explain.

Why you shouldn’t automatically say yes

  • It’s unsustainable. At some point, enough is enough. You don’t physically have enough time in the day to say yes to every request. Nor can you do so without letting someone down who was relying on you. If you don’t have time to do something, say no clearly in the first place – the person will either wait for you to have time, or find someone else. Keeping people waiting will only lead to stress for you, and frustration for them.

  • You can’t maintain quality. Let’s assume you’re someone who takes pride in a job well done. The more you’re juggling, the quicker you’re trying to tick things off your to-do list, rather than giving them the time and consideration they need. We’re not robots, our brains don’t operate on demand. We all need some breathing room to help us get into the flow and produce our best work.

  • You’re putting yourself under unnecessary stress. There are times where it will be necessary to do more than you’d ideally like. Big projects, short deadlines or unexpected tasks can all change our to-do lists. But if you’re constantly under stress, you’re not managing your workload in a sustainable way. 

  • You’re not the best in the world. This sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. Different people do things in different ways. There’s not a right way and wrong way. Someone else taking on a task may be a chance for a different perspective, which could even turn out better than before.

  • You’re not giving others a chance to shine. Everyone has to learn, and the best way to learn is by doing. If you’re holding onto your tasks like a dragon hoarding treasure, your team will never have the chance to grow. The tasks will fall into their lap if you ever leave, meaning that they’ll be stuck trying to figure things out, rather than getting the benefit of having you there to support them.

Give your team space to thrive

Let’s take a look at the last point in more detail. If you’re a manager, you’ll know it’s often hard to let things go and see them done with a different approach. No one gets things right the first time, but it can be hard to stop yourself jumping in to fix the problem, rather than letting your team figure it out and ask for help if they need it. 

Think of yourself as a safety net. Your job is to give your team space to thrive, and catch them if they fall. That’s the only way they’re going to grow – in ability, in confidence, and in team spirit. You’re there as the leader, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let them lead.

How to find your sustainable yeses

So, once you’ve got your team tasks delegated, how can you decide what to say yes to, and what to decline when it comes to your own to-do list? 

One simple tool is Eisenhower’s decision matrix:

To buy time to use it, try saying:

"...thanks for involving me. Before I say yes, can we have a quick chat about what you need, why and buy when so I can see where it sits with my other priorities?"

"...I can't do that for you now, but I can do [X] by [Y] time - how does that sound?"

If you struggle with this, try to reframe saying no as a sign of respect to yourself and to others. Commit to only saying yes if you genuinely can do the task in a way that you’re happy with, without compromising on your boundaries. 

Let me know how you get on.

Take care,



Need some help taking control of your to-do list?

Did this subject ring a bell? Drop me a line. Together, we can sit down and work out how you can find your way out of the cycle of saying yes to everything. Let’s make 2024 the year you feel in control.

07855 315 753

in: James Pickles (connect with me for my thoughts on why not all meetings should be remote, Time To Talk Day and why thinking out loud can give us clarity…)

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