No one has unlimited reserves of time or energy. Since you cannot do everything, you need to determine what is key. How then, can you identify what to allocate your time and energy to? Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, introduced the time management matrix as a good guide in helping one to prioritize activities.
The quadrants in the matrix enable one to identify what to prioritize, minimize and eliminate. Quadrant 1 contains tasks and responsibilities that are both urgent and important and should be given immediate attention. Quadrant 2 is for items that are important but not urgent. Quadrant 3 has urgent but unimportant items, which should be minimized. Some of them can be delegated. Quadrant 4 contains items that are both unimportant and not urgent. From this summary, it’s easy to see that to ensure best use of limited time and energy one should say ‘no’ to some quadrant 3 items and quadrant 4 items. What are the advantages of saying no?
Capacity build others.
Renowned leadership author, teacher and speaker John C. Maxwell says that if someone else can do a task at least 80 per cent as well as he can, he gives it to them. That inevitably builds their capacity. Your ‘no’ therefore becomes a plus to others on your team who end up being entrusted with more responsibilities.
Focus on your strengths.
You cannot do everything that is on your job description equally well. Take time to establish which of your responsibilities can only be done best by you, and prioritize them. If you are in a position to choose what you will spend your time on choose to spend more time working in your strength zone.
If what you are being asked to do is clearly against your values, you are better off saying ‘no’. Granted, sometimes you may end up paying a heavy price in the short term for turning down an offer or request; but at least you won’t pay the price into the long term for having agreed to something that is against your values. John Maxwell summarizes it well: “Learn to say ‘no’ to the good so you can say ‘yes’ to the best.”