Before creating "Defeating Busy," part of our Gym Shorts series of quick classes for digital design professionals, Brett Harned, VP of Project Management at Happy Cog, wrote an article on the subject. That article serves up 10 tips for effective time management including things like keeping a master to-do list and sitting down at the beginning of each week to set that week's priorities.
The tip that jumped out at me, though, was this: Learn to say "No."
Why saying "No" is difficult
If you've spent any time on the internet, you know that there is plenty of advice out there on being "successful" in business. Sifting through that advice, you may have come across Guy Kawasaki's recommendation that you "default to yes" in your interactions with customers and co-workers. Defaulting to yes, Guy suggests, "will bear fruit in ways you never anticipated."
It's undeniable that people like to hear "yes" when they are asking for something. It's also undeniable that people like to help others. However, I have seen how this default position can result in being over-extended and lead to real conflicts between what you have to do and what, out of "positivity," you've said you would do.
For this reason, I found it refreshing to read Brett's defense of "no." As he points out, you have your priorities and need to remember that, on any given day, your time may already be spoken for. When someone asks for your help, you really need to ask yourself, "Do I actually have time to help with this?" If you don't, you need to say "no" (or, as he says, "Sorry, I just can't").
A practical way to say "No"
In order to defeat busy and maintain control of our time, we not only have to say "no" to incoming requests; we also have to say "no" to technology. Email, for example, has revolutionized interpersonal communication with it's ease and immediacy. But, as Brett says, "Just because someone can contact you immediately doesn't mean that you have to respond to them immediately."
Of course, if you are a busy person, chances are that your email inbox pretty much always has something new in it. And it is easy to feel like you need to get right back to the people emailing you (it's also easy, I must confess, to use this steady stream of emails and the sense of urgency they bring with them to procrastinate). So, what do you do?
Brett recommends checking your email on your own terms. "As long as you set communication expectations," he says, "and people know how to reach you in an emergency, you can answer most types of email just a few times a day."
Just as it can be difficult to say saying "no" to people, it can be a challenge to turn away from or even turn off your email. But if you aren't willing to set specific limits and become 'productively negative," you'll never defeat busy.
Brett's "Defeating Busy" class recaps some of the lessons from his article but also focuses on very practical methods for estimating and managing time on projects. He also introduces a number of tools that can help you along the way. Best of all, the class clocks in at about an hour.
Who could you say no to that?