A tongue-in-cheek axiom notes that it’s hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you’re up to your butt in alligators. So what’s the solution? Time-management and productivity consultant Cynthia Kyriazis suggests a simple approach that essentially centers on three simple words: Just say no. “Prioritization is one of the key components of successful time management,” says Kyriazis, the owner of Productivity Partners Inc. “As (leading management consultant and author) Stephen Covey says, the main thing to remember is that the main thing is the main thing.”
You know the drill: A colleague leans in your truck’s window as you prepare to head to another job and wants to talk about the weather or talk about some personal problem they’re having. “Many people don’t know how to say no, or believe it’s not their job to say no,” Kyriazis says. “But all they need to learn is how to say it gracefully. You can acknowledge that you want to help or listen, but explain that you’re under time pressure, and it would be better to come in a little earlier tomorrow morning and talk before you both start your shift.
“It’s important to acknowledge their need, then explain your situation and offer an alternative,” she says. “Most people will respond positively to that. Sure, some people just won’t take no for an answer. But if it’s not a life-and-death matter that can wait, you must honor your own priorities. Because once you give in, you’ve sabotaged yourself. If you don’t honor your time, nobody else will.”
Say no by asking for help
Here’s another tactic for overwhelmed employees: Ask your supervisor to help you prioritize your tasks. It’s not unusual for employees to avoid this because they’re afraid it makes them look incompetent in the eyes of someone who yields immense control over things like pay raises and promotions. But again, it’s more about what you say and how you say it that counts, Kyriazis points out.
“If your supervisor says you need to switch gears and do something else, don’t say, ‘No, I can’t do it right now because I’m too busy,’” she suggests. “Instead, ask for help with prioritizing. You may be afraid of looking incompetent, but what’s worse? Missing a deadline on a project? Working all weekend?
“It’s important to put it all in context,” Kyriazis adds. “Tell your boss, ‘I was working on A and B – do you want me to put them on a shelf for a while?’ It’s simply a matter of explaining where you’re at, not just saying you have too much work to do. Don’t throw up your hands and roll your eyes. Be specific. It’s totally acceptable to ask for help if you’re lost in the fray.”
Say no to stress
“Repeated tests and surveys show that if people are stressed out and disengaged, they just go through the motions of their tasks and are far less productive than engaged employees,” Kyriazis notes. “Stress is created by the gap between what you’re doing and what you should be doing. When you get them to align closer together, that gap doesn’t exist.”
So stay focused, don’t hesitate to say no and ask for direction when needed. These strategies help you keep your priorities straight – and hold off those alligators the next time you’re mired in the swamp.