Feeling overwhelmed? The 4 times in your life you should say Yes, and the 8 questions to ask before you do.
A woman in the front row stood up among a large crowd of her peers to ask a question. She was young, stylish, and professionally dressed. The scene was a panel at the Women in Business Conference at American University, where I had the pleasure of running two workshops (salary negotiation and digital marketing).
I didn’t have time to write down her exact quote, but the context of her question was this:
“Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed. I’m working for this one company, doing projects for two more, I get asked to write for some other things, then a friend asks me to go to an event, then I try to volunteer for something, as well as keep up with social media and have time for family and a personal life too…”
“How do I learn to say no?”
The panel was made up of five alumnae of AU, all successful businesswomen with extensive career experience.
The topic of work/life balance is a common one here on this blog, and it was brought up several times at the conference. In my short time as a solo entrepreneur, I’ve talked to many people that have warned me against being overwhelmed. The great part about being on your own, is that you have so many awesome ideas, and can’t wait to execute on them. The problem is, trying to focus on what you like the most and what is going to pay the bills.
In countless conversations and blogs, I’ve heard people talk about the need to learn how to say no. Thus, I was looking forward to hearing the perspective of the people on the panel.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised at the answer that was given.
“Now is the time to say YES.”
She explained that things are only going to get more difficult as she got older, as marriage and kids and more come along, and how important it is to do everything you could now to find the path in life that is going to make her most happy.
The answer really hit home for me, when I thought about my situation at that very second. Here I was, volunteering to speak at an event for free. It was a 5 hour drive each way, with expenses for tolls, gas, parking, and breaks at roadside Burger Kings. And while I stayed at a friend’s house for free, I paid them back with two excellent dinners. So why did I say yes, when it could have been easy to say no?
Upon reflection, I came up with 4 times in life when now is the time to say Yes.
The football team, glee club, the school play, Boy Scouts, space camp, learning the trumpet, ballet, video games, rollercoasters … as a kid you should be up for anything. Your parents will play a big part of this, but you never know if you will be the next Julia Child or playing drums on Sweet Child O Mine if you don’t try a lot of different things.
College may be the ultimate time to just say yes. A single class, a single teacher, or a single chance encounter might alter the course of your life. Current CBS Sports broadcaster Jim Nantz used to do mock interviews with his roommate Fred Couples about winning the Masters when at the University of Houston in the late 1970s, and in 1992 their dream came true as Couples won the green jacket and Nantz was there for the interview. A friend of mine once told me, never say no to a road trip. That about sums up college right there.
3) Your first job
You’re the new guy on the block and everyone is watching you. If you’re like most people, you want to prove to your new company that they were right to hire you and that you are going to be an amazing employee. One way to do that is to take on a little more than you can handle – and then knock it out of the park.
I’m not saying dive right in with 80 hour weeks or consistently working till midnight, but you should make it a habit of learning everything you can from everyone you can. Ask to be introduced to people in other departments that you work with. Go out with the gang after work for a drink. Volunteer for the company charity event. Lend a hand on the new project that is getting all the buzz.
One great point that a panel member made however, is to let your supervisor know early if something is going wrong. They gave an example of someone that had a project due, and it was a week late. When the employee finally came to their manager, they told them that they were having a hard time learning something, and just didn’t get it. The problem with that, is that the week had been lost and the project was now way behind. If they had come to the manager earlier, they could have worked through the problem before it got to a critical point.
4) Your own company
The common thread here is saying yes when something is still new… your youth, your education, your career. I agree with the entrepreneurs that say that you need to find what your company does best and do it better than anyone else, and not let anything else distract you.
On a daily basis, you need to know what are the items that absolutely must get done, and say no to unnecessary emails, useless meetings, and time sucking social media.
In a broader sense, you need to be firm and say no to requests that don’t help you toward your goals, or detract from your personal relationships.
However, for someone in my situation for example, I am saying yes more than ever. Right now I know the message I am focused on (career development and new media), but am in the process of working through the medium. Thus, I am writing, speaking, teaching, podcasting, coaching, and hosting events.
What becomes really important, are the guidelines you put around what you say yes to. Questions you need to ask yourself are:
- Does it make you money?
Let’s face it, when you go from a full-time paycheck to hustling every week, the focus on bringing in revenue rises to the top. Should I write that blog post or go through my emails? If you’re getting paid to write that article, that comes first. The danger with the money issue is that it can lead you to do things that are not in your core strengths because it will pay the bills.
- Will it lead to making money?
Right on the heels of the first point, this question makes you take one step back on the equation. Let’s say you are asked to speak at a conference, and you won’t be paid for it. Before you say no, if you are able to secure future consulting clients, sell your products later to attendees, or meet someone there that will lead to a future paid speaking gig, then it’s worth it.
- Will you learn a new skill?
If you are asked to do something that might take up a lot of time or not pay, but you learn a new skill in the process that will help your business, you can view it as a long-term investment.
- Will it expand your network?
This is a tough one because it can be hit or miss. The panelist told the audience member “don’t worry about missing any particular happy hour or charity event or art opening because this is Washington DC, there are 100 of those every week.” When deciding on an event, look at the quality of the audience that is likely to attend. Will there be potential clients there? Businesses in related industries that you can work with? People you can learn from? I usually set the bar low with my “just one” theory, meaning that if I meet just one person at an event that can help me move things forward, then it was worth it.
- Will it help a close friend or family member?
This is another one fraught with peril depending on the strengths of your relationships. A coworker asks you to attend their book release party and you’re free that night? Sounds like a no brainer. Your brother-in-law asks you to help him move for 6 hours the day before an important project is due, that’s a more complicated decision.
- Will it take a lot of time?
There’s a big difference between stopping by a networking event for a colleague and agreeing to design a new website for company. It’s important to know what your time is worth and adjust accordingly.
- Is it fun?
A person has to have a little fun, right? Is the event you’re considering in Vegas or Miami? Does the app you’re working on have to do with helping people do happy things? I’m doing a speech to an obscure group next week because I get to hang out with one of my best friends from college in the process.
Here is a personal example based on all of the above. I was recently asked to teach a Twitter Marketing class at Media Bistro and had to make the decision. Here is how it breaks down:
– I was hesitant at first because it was outside my core focus. Although I had done years of social media work, I was now trying to focus on career development moving forward, so this was a slight step backward.
– As far as timing, I knew I had some previous presentations that I could pull from, so that I wasn’t creating the course from scratch. However, it would still be a 5 week commitment and a lot of research and development. As it turned out, I took a lot longer than I anticipated, including a few 3am nights.
– The course was taught online, so it gave me freedom to work on it when I wanted, and even do chat sessions from anywhere. I actually did one of them from DC the night before the conference.
– The class was half online chat, and half webinar presentation. Not only did I want to explore this format since I had never done it before, the webinars were produced using a program called Camtasia. This is something that I really wanted to learn, so this would force me to pick up a valuable new software program and add it to my skillset. I now feel I am an advanced Camtasia user, and could use this program to produce a webinar for my personal courses that I could sell.
– The class paid well.
– Since Mediabistro was a well-known, well-respected media company here in New York, being a teacher here gives me some added credibility.
– Additionally, I felt that if I did a great job, it could lead to more opportunities to work with them. Sure enough, even before I finished teaching the class, someone there had reached out to me with additional opportunities.
– As a bonus, I’m really having fun with the students. The chat lets me show my personality, and they’ve been super responsive, have asked great questions, and are learning a lot.
- Is it fulfilling?
In the end, this is the question you really want to answer. If you’ve built your lifestyle around doing something that you are passionate about, then all of the other things will fall into place.
I’m honored that my sessions at the Women in Business Conference were extremely well received. Every person that came up to genuinely thank me and tell me that they learned something lets me know that I am on the right track in building a business.