Outsource your list. A very wise woman — Leah Busque, CEO of TaskRabbit — once told me that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. As a former control freak, I take these words to heart. (Okay, I’m still sort of a control freak, but not as much as I used to be.) Being able to delegate tasks instead of taking them on yourself will change your life.
Just say no. Wow. Imagine the things you could get done if you passed on projects you really didn’t want to do. That one word, “no,” will give you your life back. It’s easy to agree to a coffee break or to see that movie your friend has been obsessed with for weeks — but, at the same time, it’s important not to make “yes” your default answer. Remember that your time is valuable. It’s okay not to volunteer to be a chaperone for that school trip, or not to take on another project at work.
Don’t get roped into joining something unless it’s something you want to spend your time on. That way, you can create more free time in your schedule. This is easier said than done, but once you begin to do it, you’ll be so much more productive.
I say no a lot, but I’ve learned to do so by practicing. For instance, I have Wednesdays after work all to myself. My husband usually works those nights, so I schedule a dinner with friends, or a manicure, or other fun stuff. Often, I use that time just for me. Sometimes, when people ask you to do something when you already have plans with yourself, you're inclined to break those plans; you think, Oh, I’m not really doing anything anyway. I’ve stopped thinking this way, and I’m much happier for it. Now, I value my need to catch up on reading, or to relax and watch an episode of Giada at Home, or to work on my blog. The reason I don’t break these plans is because they feed me. They make me happy because I really want to do them. They are just as important as going out with friends or any other social activity.
Then, there's the work problem. It can be really hard to say no at work. Often, we simply have no choice but to say yes. When that happens, I look at what else I have on my to-do list, and I offset something. For example, I’ll ask someone else to jump in to help me, or I’ll delegate the task to another team member.
Here are a few nice ways to say no:
“I won’t be able to do this project (or go to this event), but so-and-so could be a wonderful addition.” (People love when you offer a solution. This way, you’ll feel you did your part by suggesting a replacement.)
“Please check back in with me in X weeks. My schedule will clear up then, and I’d love to help.” (Be realistic about the holes in your calendar, and make sure to give yourself enough time to complete the task.)
“Normally, I’d say yes right away, but I’m trying something new where I'm more careful about how much I'm taking on. Unfortunately, my plate is full right now, so I’ll have to decline.” (You’ll be surprised how nicely people will respond to honesty and transparency.)
Reprinted from Listful Thinking: Using Lists to Be More Productive, Successful and Less Stressed by Paula Rizzo with permission of Viva Editions, an imprint of Cleis Press, Inc. Copyright © 2015 by Paula Rizzo.