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The Attitude Shift and the Power of No

Once you have identified the value of your time, you are in a powerful position to start to re-evaluate the commitments that you have made. There is an exercise to go through this, but before starting on that there are two techniques that can be valuable allies in making this process more effective.


The first of these is what I call the "Attitude Shift". Changing attitudes is difficult, and in order to change your attitude towards the commitments that you have made you will need help. External help is really the best option, but a very effective technique is to pretend that you had to justify to somebody else how you spend your time… every hour of every day.

Suppose you had a "boss" in your business looking over your shoulder and questioning your choices (what a hideous thought that is!) If you did, would you make some alternative choices and would you then spend your time differently? Maybe that would not be such a bad thing after all as CEOs really do not get challenged enough and allow themselves to behave as they wish without any accountability except the (eventual) bottom line.

A good technique is to pretend that you do have a boss and to force yourself to come up with a coherent justification for how you spend your time. This is an excellent discipline with all difficult decisions, and it becomes even more effective if you force yourself to do it in writing and set up what amounts to a formal meeting with yourself to present your case.

One of my long-time clients told me that before he joined The Alternative Board and solved his issues that way, he used to do precisely this. When he had a sense that his heart was ruling his head and that he was about to take a course of action he really should not, he used this technique and found that it stopped him from making some really poor decisions.

The second element is learning how to use the "Power of No”. This is more subtle and more challenging and really has two different component parts. You will need to start by looking at the motivations that you have when you allow your time to be spent. You will notice that I did not say “the things you choose to spend your time on” and used a passive sentence construction instead.

This is a very important distinction because we allow others to control our day, and we must change that. We have to take proactive control of our time and the way that we spend it rather than allowing others to spend it for us. It all starts with feeling confident with saying "no", and this is the all-important second element.

This is not a comfortable place for many people, and because CEOs have a "can-do" attitude, there is a tendency to say "yes" when we really should not. Worse still, we retreat into "maybe land", where we do not say no and we perpetuate the conversation wasting our time in the process (not to mention the time of the other person).

It is important to be positive in our communications and to learn how to say "no", and it is a skill that must be practiced and learned. Saying "no" is difficult and presents real challenges, and we all have a fear of doing it. It is so much easier just to say "yes" but giving in and taking the line of least resistance leads us into commitments that we really have no business taking on because we have not analyzed them properly and have not prepared ourselves to say no.

I have a client whose slogan has now become "no and grow". His problem was that he took on far too much not-for-profit work and also wasn't tough enough on his clients either. He found that he was spending far too much time on activities that did not contribute directly to the bottom line, and it was really holding him back. He looked deep into himself and identified what he needed to change in order to stop taking on inappropriate commitments.

That inner fear needs to be taken into account and understood in the context of your life and conquering it is an essential part of taking back control. You need to have the conversation with yourself before you have any dialog that may result in perpetuating or taking on any commitment, and it involves some serious self-analysis.

It all starts with asking yourself "what is my fear of saying "no"? Let us analyze the reasons why you are reluctant to say “no”.

  • Fear of confrontation?
  • You have raised expectations by retreating into "maybe land"?
  • Social pressure?
  • Spouse pressure?
  • Family pressure?
  • Worried about what people will think?

Look at this list and look at yourself in the mirror. What are your real motivations for saying "yes" when you really should not...and how much time do you waste as a result?

The next element to consider is the power that ego has in this process and we should never underestimate the power of this element in the mix. The question here is whether you have over estimated the value that the commitment you are making will bring to you.

Once you have thought long and hard about the reasons why you agree to do things, the next step is to examine the time commitments you have already made. That is the next exercise.



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Time Management Tips

  • When somebody interrupts you when you are busy, don't let them interrupt your train of thought. Ask them to come back and see you at a specific time – you may be surprised that they actually figure out the answer and don't come back to ask you.

  • Everybody has about three hours during the day when they are at their best. Figure out what your "Prime Time" is and then plan your day around it. Make sure that you dedicate that time to focus without interruptions on the activities that are of most value to you.

  • It is all too easy to waste time on phone calls. Keep an egg timer next to the phone to keep track of exactly how long you are talking. It will keep the time you are spending in the forefront of your mind and will help you handle the call more efficiently.

  • Never go to the bank to deposit checks, it is a Time Bandit way below your pay grade, and claiming it is therapeutic and gets you out of the office is deluding yourself. Send somebody else!  Better still, get a check scanning machine...and make sure the bank pays!

  • Organize your office so the door isn't in your immediate line of vision. The big payoff is that people can't appear at your door, hover, catch your eye and distract you. If you make it harder to interrupt you, people may figure out answers themselves rather than asking you.

  • When you have to give out an e-mail address to somebody who's going to send you things you don't want in your inbox, give them a special "junk" e-mail address. Then set up a rule so that everything to that address goes to a folder you review on your timetable.

  • When somebody interrupts you to ask you a question always reply with a question back. Ask them how they would deal with it, and make them think proactively rather than just relying on you. A good technique is to ask: "If I wasn't available today, what would you do?"

  • If your key customers expect you to answer the phone at all times, get an Internet phone line and give them a "VIP" phone number to call. Set it up with a unique ring on your system and you'll know that calls on that line are from your most important customers.

  • Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere. 

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone now as the most dangerously effective of all Time Bandits. Turn off your e mail alert and check your e-mail only four times a it on your schedule not the schedule of the people who are interrupting your more productive work.

  • E-mails have overtaken the phone as the most dangerously effective of all time wasters. The worst thing is the e mail alert that pops up on your computer screen. Don't let other people interrupt you in this way and take back control of your time by turning the alert off

  • When somebody interrupts you while sitting at your desk, stand up. It changes the pace of the interaction and sends a message to the interrupter that they have invaded your time. The more you can send this message, the more effective you will become at protecting your time.

  • When somebody comes to you with an issue they should figure out themselves, don't allow yourself to relieve them of the burden and take it on yourself. Instead of saying "leave it with me" when this happens, say "never delegate upwards" and ask them for their solution.

  • Entrepreneurs wear so many of the hats in their business that many of the tasks they carry out are at a level way below the real value of their time. Are you working below your pay grade by not handing off menial tasks that should be done by others?

  • When you are hiring new employees, ask candidates about their time management abilities. The best employees are those that can prioritize their work and handle interruptions, so be sure to ask relevant questions to probe in those areas so that you hire somebody who has those skills.

  • Email has become a huge time-waster and taking control of your Inbox is becoming more critical than ever. The ideal state is only to have things in your Inbox that are important, urgent or time sensitive, and to put everything else automatically into folders using Rules governing what happens when they come in. I’ve been using Outlook Rules for a number of years to sort specific topics, but I recently came across a new rule that makes a dramatic difference.

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Did you know ?

Most people have a “To Do” list to record the tasks they need to "Get Done", but it doesn't help identify what you shouldn't do yourself. For that you need a “To Don’t” list. Identify the culprits, put them on the list and defend your time by assigning them elsewhere.