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The Productivity Trifecta, Part 1: The Word ‘No’


…your “Delete” key. It is in a three way tie with for the best productivity tool ever with the Trash Can and the word “No”.Org-Fu Überpost – Productivity Whitepaper by Patrick Rhone. This statement is the inspiration for this series of posts called The Productivity Trifecta.

Of all the things you can do to limit the amount of input you’re forced to deal with, this has got to be one of the hardest. Having to look somebody in the eye and tell them that what they’re asking isn’t worth your time (because, really, that’s what you’re saying) is tough business. People don’t tend to react well when they’re told they can’t have what they want in the workplace. Why is that?

If you ask me, it all comes down to a generally pervasive problem of super-self-importance. “What I need is going to result in awesome gains or spectacular losses – which is why it must be dealt with right now!”, one might say. The truth is obvious, but bears repeating: very few things are that important, in the grand scheme of things. Which is why one must master the art of the polite decline…

Obviously, it’s all in the delivery. You can’t just scoff at someone, shake your head and roll your eyes (at least, not without coming off like an ass) when somebody asks you to do something, especially at work. No, you need to say something like “You know, Bob, I’m swamped with these TPS reports. Can you find somebody else to take care of that?” The key here is to offer an alternative – a flat out ‘no’ will likely result in some bullcrap office cold war that might involve somebody’s manager saying something about not being a team player. But if you decide that the “offer” isn’t something you can do, try to think of a couple other people (or approaches, depending on the situation) that would allow Bob to still get his report filed without your having to intervene.

Sometimes, though, this is implausible. There will come a time when you’re the one-eyed man in the land of the blind – the only person who can solve a particular problem. In these instances (again, depending on the severity), you’ll probably have to bite the bullet. The good news is that you’re the one holding all the cards – you determine when it gets done and can make such a statement: “Bob, I’m going to be hip-deep in these urinal cake orders until at least Wednesday – so the earliest I can get to this will be midday Thursday. Can you drop by then?” Bob might just decide that it can’t wait until Thursday and see if he can’t figure it out himself. Or, he might accept your proposal and get back to you Thursday. Either way, you’ve maintained control.

Long gone are the days where you need to kindly accept every single assignment given to you (by anybody, not just a superior at work). So much is expected of the average knowledge worker that, eventually, they will be unable to take on anymore. It shouldn’t get to that point, though. Your goal is to be effective at your work, not stretched so thin that you’re under a constant time crunch. Can you do what’s being asked of you and do it properly? If not, it’s time to practice saying no.

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