Of all of the strategies I've learned over the years about how to save time, this is the one that has changed my life the most. Saying yes strategically is something that never occurred to me before (in fact, I was taught to say “yes” to everything without question…). When I finally learned how to say yes strategically, my life improved overnight.
Becoming Intentional With Your Time
Most of you have a good idea of what your personal values are (if you don't, go back a step and refer to Step #2 to Making the Most of Your Time: Create Your Life Plan). Yet you probably spend the majority of your day focusing on things that are not in line with your values. You aren't intentional with your time. You rush through your day to complete everything on your to do list, just to find yourself collapsing into bed at night exhausted and stressed out about everything you didn't finish. The worst part is that this approach often doesn't leave you any time for the things that matter most to you: your family, your health, hobbies, time to recharge, etc.
In order to reclaim control over your life, you need to consciously decide that you will become disciplined in the way you approach your work and personal life. No one has unlimited time and resources, and I'm willing to bet that as a working parent you have even less than most people. If you ever want to feel balanced and engaged as a working parent, it is critical that you learn how to be discerning in what you say “yes” to.
In order to reclaim control over your life, you need to consciously decide that you will become disciplined in the way you approach your work and personal life.
Activity without purpose will waste your time.
I spent most of my life being a “Yes (Wo)man.” I said yes to everything because I thought that made me seem reliable, trustworthy and helpful. People liked working with me because they knew I would get the job DONE. I wanted to be the “go-to resource” for everyone at my company. I figured that would boost my reputation and provide job security. If everyone came to me for everything, they couldn't get rid of me, right?
It turns out that being everyone's resource for everything wasn't so much fun though. My job description expanded well beyond what I was actually hired to do. I was called to help with mundane and simple tasks that others were completely capable of handling. It was a colossal waste of my time. Plus, I had people bombarding me morning, noon and night. Eventually I became so over-committed that I started missing deadlines and making mistakes. I didn't feel empowered to say no though, so I just worked faster, longer, and harder to try to catch up…. and I burned out repeatedly in the process.
A New Way
The book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less points out that as a society in the midst of the information age, our attention is so focused on the “trivial many” that we have no time left for the “essential few.” As a result, we are more distracted, disengaged from our families, burned out, and experiencing a lot more illness and depression as a whole.
This statement triggered an “Aha moment” for me that changed the course of my life. It never occurred to me to evaluate the requests that came my way. I just said yes and got down to business. Once I realized that not all requests are created equal, I started to say “no” to demands on my time that weren't in line with my priorities or goals. And when I did say yes, I knew it was worth it. I was able to focus on those priority items and get better work done (or enjoy guilt-free time with my family, or watch a movie, or relax with a good book).
In order to be in control in your life, it is critical that you learn to work SMARTER, not harder. You do that by focusing ONLY on the “essential few” rather than the “trivial many.”
Here is my personal definition of the “Essential Few:”
Requires my unique skills, education, knowledge, talents, or presence.
Is in line with my purpose and values.
Furthers other short- and long-term goals I am striving toward.
Creates the biggest positive impact on my life.
Emphasizes my “brand” (the reputation and strengths I want to be known for).
Teaches me something that can be directly applied to my purpose and values.
Energizes and fulfills me.
If something you are considering doing doesn't fit within the “Essential Few” category, it is by default “trivial.” The more you can eliminate the trivial activities, and the more time you focus on the essential items in your life, the more effective, connected, and balanced you'll be.
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