Saying No is Hard

Early in my career, I found myself stressed out often.  Most of the environments I worked in were fast paced and priorities changed rapidly.  I can remember feeling bombarded by tasks coming in from all angles.  My boss, my co-workers, clients, my family – the list went on.  I had a tough time saying no and as a result, my task list grew to unmanageable levels.

I have always been a list person and I can remember the moment in time when I pushed back on a new request.  It was from a co-worker and I found myself doing favors for this person often.  It was a hectic week, I knew I didn’t have time to pile a new item onto my plate, and I was annoyed by what seemed a constant request for favors.

“I won’t have time to help you this week, but maybe next, ” I said.

“Ok,” they responded as they walked away.

The Weight had been Lifted

I could hardly believe it.  I felt as if a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Was it really that easy?

Saying no wasn’t something that came easily to me and it took my quite a few years to perfect a way of saying no that worked well for me.  I realized that I didn’t need to say no, but I could simply enter into a negotiation.  Eventually I took it a step further and learned how to deflect the burden of making the decision off of myself and onto others.

This is when I learned how to use priority lists to my advantage.

Why Priority Lists are great leadership tools

There are countless project management and priority list tools available on the market and many teams and organizations have adopted a tool they use every day.  Some people use pen and paper while others use email.  Either way, there are three main reason why priority lists are such a useful leadership tool.

1. They make it easy to communicate clearly

When putting a priority list together, not only do I create tasks that clearly outline what needs to be completed, but I also work with the requestor to define a level of priority for each task.  I even go as far as to list tasks in priority order so all I have to do is start at the top and work my way down.

2. You can use it to set expectations

Once a task list is complete and priorities are finalized with both myself and the requestor, we use the list to come to an agreement.  If I know that I only have time to complete 3 of the 5 tasks listed, then this is the time to let the requestor know.  At the conclusion of the conversation, we should both be in agreement with what is expected to be completed that week.

3. If something changes or new tasks are added, use the list to re-negotiate

A change in direction or the addition of new, high-priority tasks happens often.  If the requestor comes back with a new task a few days later, the best thing to do is to re-negotiate the priority list rather than add more items to your plate.  Ask the requestor where the new task fits in the list of priorities and because you probably won’t have time to address the new task along with everything else, ask the requestor which items should be pushed off until the following week.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have the requestor make the decisions based on your boundaries or work load.  Remember, this is a re-negotiation of terms.  It’s up to the two of you to figure out the best path forward given the items listed on the priority list.

Priority Lists are Powerful Tools

Priority lists are powerful because they help set boundaries and expectations.  They can also be used virtually everywhere – with your boss, co-workers, spouse, or whoever may be sending requests your way.

If you’re not using priority lists yet, give them a try or attend a leadership training class to help you get started!  Let us know how it goes in the comments below.