The Art of Saying No

One of the hardest things for me to do is to say “no” to people. It gets me in all sorts of trouble, too. I get over-committed, over-booked, over-stressed in an effort to please everyone all the time.

It’s a common problem – I know lots of people for whom saying “no” is the worst thing they could possibly do. However, there are times when saying “no” is exactly what I need to do. The crazy thing is, 99.9% of the times I have ever said “no” to someone, it’s totally okay. There’s none of the backlash, hurt feelings, and disappointment that I often make up in my own head.

As I get more busy in my business, my personal life and as I continue to grow my online network, I find I am having to say “no” more often. Don’t get me wrong…I have absolutely no issue with helping people when they ask me for it. In fact, I enjoy helping people. That’s why I do it. But there comes a point, where, if it’s too much for me to balance with my job, my family etc., that I have to say that nasty “no”.

I’ve learned that there are techniques for saying “no” gracefully. And the number one way to say “no” to someone nicely is to communicate with them. Seems kind of backwards, since you’re trying to NOT have to do something, but communication is the vital key.

Don’t Ignore. Ignoring and avoidance is the worst thing you can do. The problem with ignoring someone when you should be saying “no” to them is that they think you don’t care. If someone sends you a request or asks you a favour and you just can’t accommodate, better to send a polite response saying why you are unable to fulfill their request than not to respond at all.

What if Volume is an Issue? Feeling overwhelmed by all the people wanting a piece of you? We’ve all been there. I have weeks where my inbox is chock full of people wanting something from me. My voice mail is also full. It’s pretty overwhelming, and my first instinct is to run away and hide. How to deal with volume requests? Well, I hooked up AwayFind on my email, that at least helps me to determine what requires my urgent attention and what doesn’t. But the man who has this one cased is the inimitable Gary Vaynerchuk. You see, if you send Gary an email, he sends you an automated reply. Now, before you go getting all bent out of shape about automated replies..check out what he sends:

Hey, here’s a link that will explain everything!

http://tv.winelibrary.com/garyvs-inbox

Thank you
Gary Vaynerchuk

Click on the link. You get Gary, on a video, explaining how he deals with email, and asking for people’s help in helping him manage his correspondence. He provides contacts for all his online outposts, and contacts for his “people” too. He is saying “no”, and doing it in a personable, polite way.

Delegate delegate delegate. Trying to keep up with responding to everything all the time is impossible if you’re super busy. So find ways to filter information to people who can more easily and quickly help. In essence, what you are doing here is saying “No, I can’t help you, but I’m referring you to this person who I trust to help you.” Of course, you want to make sure that the person you are delegating to is available and willing to say “yes”. Delegation is hard to do – but it’s worth it, always. Just make sure that you have people you absolutely trust on board…because every time you delegate, it’s still your reputation that’s on the line.

So there you have it – these are a few interesting ways that I’ve learned about how to politely decline. We all have times that we have to say “no” to people, and it’s never easy. Please share some techniques that you use when you need to say “no” in the comments.

Oh, and by the way – if you say “no” to someone politely and they get mad at you, start flaming you, or have an otherwise negative reaction, before you feel bad about it…consider whether they were worth helping in the first place.

Surviving the Topsy Turvy Job Market

It’s a funny thing about how I write this blog. Last week, I couldn’t stop the posts from falling out of my head. This week, it’s everything I can do to come up with just one decent idea. So today, I decided to reach out to my network for some inspiration. I put the call out on Twitter, of course. I got several great responses. Some of the ideas are going to take a bit more time to research and put thought into, but this one suggestion from @plabonte really stood out to me as something I could easily talk about. His suggestion: “The economy and tech…how to stay current and valuable in tough times to not get laid off”.

I was immersed in the high tech industry during the big tech bust. In fact, I was working at one of the largest and hardest hit corporations, Nortel Networks. When I started there in 2000, there were over 98,000 employees worldwide working for Nortel. When I left a year and a half later, there were 28,000.

As the layoffs started to rampage through our division, I watched as entire teams of people were let go around me. Every day I went to work wondering if it would be my last. I cringed every time the phone rang, thinking it was going to be my turn to head down to the HR office. But, I was fortunate to be one of the survivors. I lasted close to a year before I got a better offer and decided to quit.

I’ve been asked before what I think the reason was that I survived. I do think that a lot of it, at that time, had to do with the luck of the draw. But I also like to think that there were some behaviours that helped me to stick around as long as I did.

In this time of economic turmoil, people always say “there’s no guarantees”. But you know what? What I’ve learned is that whether the economy is good or bad, there are no guarantees. Anyone is at risk of losing their job at any time. There’s really no such thing as job security anymore. Sound depressing? It can be. Does it have to be the end of the world? Absolutely not. It’s all about finding ways you can try to gain some control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation.

Be a Valuable Employee
When I was feeling insecure about my employment status, I took it upon myself to be an even more valuable employee. Part of the problem with laying off 30% of a department in one go is that the workload doesn’t decrease by 30% to go along with it. So when times were tough, instead of complaining about it, I stepped up to the plate. I took on extra work, offered to help out people who were struggling, and did what I could to make sure I was making a valuable contribution. Sure, I ended up not sticking around. But, my positive attitude and extra effort won me enough points that I ended up forging a great relationship with my boss. Even though neither of us work there any longer, I’ve been hired by him many times since then for other projects. Why? Because I was a trooper, and proved to him that I could get the job done, even when the chips were down.

Have a Plan B…and a Plan C….and a Plan D
Feeling confident about your job? Well, what if you were to consider that every day you go to work could be your last day? It’s true – and it can happen to anyone. Never get too cozy has always been my job security motto. I have had jobs I thought were the best jobs in the world – great money, great benefits, great environment, great people…but even still, I always kept my resume up to date. I always went out and networked and let people know that I was seeking new challenges. Not that I was unhappy with my job – but I never closed a door. As a result, when the bottom did fall out on a few jobs, I didn’t have to work too hard to sweep up the mess. I remember getting laid off from a job, and on the drive home, I called my brother with the news. A few weeks before he’d told me that someone in another department was looking for a web content developer. I asked him for that person’s number, hung up that call, and phoned her right away. The next day I was in her office for an interview and the next week I started at Nortel. Always have a back up plan. And a back up plan to your back up plan too.

Consider Making the Break Anyway
Three times I’ve had great jobs, and quit them cold turkey. Once was when I worked for the community channel. After 7 years I gave it all up and went back to college. The second time was at Nortel, when I couldn’t take the stress of impending layoffs anymore and quit to take a better position elsewhere. The third time was when I quit my proposal writing job to start my company. Was it scary? Damn straight. Do I have regrets? Not in the least. If you are truly fed up with the job market, consider what you would need to do to break free of those corporate ties. Maybe you can start part time, building up a clientele in your off hours.  See how it goes. You may realize that you can find a market for your services or products and start a business that will survive the tough times we are facing. Always consider that you have the power to do what you want with your career. YOU ultimately hold the cards.

Develop Your Network
Now more than ever, we have the opportunity to build a worldwide network of people that can open our eyes to new career opportunities. Now more than ever, you need to be working on building solid relationships with people. Now more than ever, you need to secure your place and build your reputation in the online world. This is where the new opportunities are. You need to spend some time seeking them out.

Seek Opportunity in Adversity
Not only must you seek the opportunities in the online world, but you must seek these opportunities IN SPITE of the dark days ahead. Great opportunity often comes out of the most adverse situations. Don’t be dragged down by what’s going on around you. Stay positive, keep your eyes and ears open, and find ways that you can make a contribution. With the right attitude, you will be amazed at what can transpire.


Busy is as Busy Does

We are all busy. Really busy. Just watch your Twitter feed on any given day and you will see just how busy everyone is. Coming, going, this way and that, at 100 miles an hour in 50 different directions at once. 

The past two weeks has been exceptionally busy for me. My video class is in full swing now, and I just found out I’m going to be teaching a Social Media course in the new year. So that’s going to be a steady stream of work to be sure. Our business is terrifically busy, with a couple of new projects that we have been thrown headlong into with very tight deadlines. I’m pulling 11, 12, 15 hour days and so is my biz partner. 

It used to be, when I was working for other people, that the really busy times would be a source of stress, frustration and exhaustion for me. I’d hit a wall eventually, and so would my projects. I’d end up having to take a few days off, just to recover. But this time it’s different, and here’s how I’m doing it:

1) One thing at a time. It’s a recurring theme for me, this “live in the moment” stuff. But I’ve recently read Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” and I’m telling you, it’s done wonders for me. Instead of focusing on all that I have to do, I focus on what is happening in this moment. All of the other stuff…the stuff that hasn’t happened yet, and the stuff that has already happened…is irrelevant. Totally irrelevant! When I am focused on the present moment, it’s impossible to be “swamped”, “overloaded” or “too busy”. Because the task at hand is the task at hand. When it’s done, it’s done. This takes practice. And sometimes I fall off the wagon. But when I get it, it is truly a magical thing. And the best part is, when I’m living in the moment, life unfolds exactly as it should…no matter what.

2) Sleep well. We all have nights when we just can’t shut off our brains. It happened to me just last week, after an exceptionally long day – and I ended up getting about 3 hours sleep that night. It’s impossible to get a good night’s sleep when this happens, but in the really busy times, sleep is the most important thing! Can’t shut your brain off before bedtime? Do something to give yourself a separation from the day. Take a walk. Read a book (non-business!). Watch a silly TV show (last night I watched “My Name Is Earl” and “The Office” before turning in – the perfect antidote to a busy day!). Sit on the porch and enjoy a glass of wine (or tea) with your spouse. Having some wind-down time is essential to a good night’s sleep. 

3) Take a Selfish Break. Turn off the phone, shut down the email and do something just for you. Maybe its writing a blog post, or catching up on some of your news feeds. Maybe it’s playing a few notes on your guitar, or going out to the garden to snap a few pictures. Maybe it’s just sitting for a few minutes, breathing. Whatever it is, you need to cherish your “Me” time in the most busy periods. It’s your sanity break from the rest of the day and will give you the clarity of mind to continue. 

4) Pat Yourself on the Back. Take a look around at all that you have accomplished in your busiest time. In the past two weeks, I’ve met a ton of new people and learned a bunch of new stuff at a Podcamp, co-produced several radio and TV commercials, launched two web sites, and made a ton of new business connections. I’m pretty proud of myself for that. Every now and again you have to take stock of everything you are achieving in your busy life. Be proud, and happy, and grateful for the opportunities. It will give you the motivation you need to keep on going. 

5) Celebrate. Take yourself out to lunch, or dinner. Have a Happy Hour cocktail. Dance around in circles. Do cartwheels. Go for a massage. Celebrate your success at every step, not just when the busyness is complete. Made it to Friday? Yipeee! Inbox = 0? Woo hoo! No phone calls for 2 whole hours? Yahoooeee! Celebrate the small victories. You deserve it!

I know this busy time will end eventually. But right now, I’ve no reason to dwell on that. In fact, I’m actually enjoying the way things are right now. I’m grateful to be on this journey. And I’m open to whatever comes my way. This is what life’s all about, people. Revel in each small bit of it.

The Art of Discomfort

Tim Ferriss can’t swim. Yes, Four-Hour Work Week, World Kickboxing Champ and World Record Holder in the Tango Tim Ferriss, until recently, couldn’t swim. Was actually AFRAID of it.

When you read about people like Tim who seem to be incredibly successful at everything they do, it’s a bit of a shocker when you discover that even the most amazingly successful people are not good at everything. We all have weaknesses. We all have things we are either lousy at or afraid to do.

Sometimes, when we are working really hard to reach our goals, we are forced to do things we either are no good at or are afraid to try. There are two choices in this situation – either walk away from that which makes you afraid, or just figure out a way to do it, even if it makes you uneasy. Usually, walking away is not an option. So the latter is often the more uncomfortable, but necessary choice.

Lots of people are afraid of cold calling and performing in front of crowds. I used to be terrified of both. I am an inherently shy person, and that shy little girl inside me couldn’t BEAR the thought of having to pick up the phone and sell something to a total stranger. That shy little girl would freak OUT at the prospect of having to stand up in front of a bunch of people she doesn’t know and speak, or (Heaven forbid) sing.

But, in order for my business to survive, I had to learn to cold call. In order for me to teach, I had to learn how to stand in front of a room full of people and present. 15 years ago, I was really bad at both of these things. The prospect of doing either made me immensely uncomfortable. But, my success was dependent on it. So I did it anyway.

The Art of Discomfort is all about embracing that which makes you uncomfortable. Recognize that it freaks you out. Feel the discomfort. Then, take a deep breath, and try it anyway. You’ll do it, possibly make some mistakes, probably even fail the first couple of tries. Feel that feeling of failure, but then try it again. Lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve mastered it. But each time, feel the feeling, learn the lesson, and move on without dwelling.

Tim Ferriss, over-achiever, non-swimmer, is now preparing to do a 1 kilometre, open water swim. I regularly cold-call clients and advertisers and succeed at getting new business in the door. And I teach and present and even sing in front of large crowds. Does it still bother me? Well, I admit that sometimes that shy little girl pops her head in and tries to shut me down, but all in all I really enjoy these aspects of my job now.

The Art of Discomfort – try it on something that makes you uncomfortable and let me know how it works out!

Photo credit: Flying Pete on MorgueFile.

Career, Job, or What You Do. What’s the Difference?

Back in the 50’s, when my parents were entering the workforce, choices were different. Many people dropped out of high school in Grade 10 or 11 and got a JOB.  JOBs were things like working in a factory or working for your Dad in his hardware store. Or selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. If you didn’t want to do any of those things, you could join the Army. If you were a woman, you had even fewer choices: you were either a housewife or you went to business school and became a secretary.

Getting a JOB in those days offered a few extremely important things. Benefits. A steady paycheque. Bonuses. Security. The makings of a happy life.

These days, we teach our young people to stay in school. Go to college. Get a CAREER.  I used to have a CAREER. I was a high-tech worker. It had benefits. It had a steady paycheque. It had bonuses. I falsely believed it had security. I gave it up.

Now, I believe that what I do for a living is not a JOB or a CAREER. These labels don’t fit anymore. Now, my work is what I DO. It’s how I survive, not just financially, but spiritually, and emotionally too. I knew I didn’t fit in to the corporate world. Oh, sure, I did a good job. I got just as many pats on the back as the next guy. But at the end of the day it meant nothing to me. I was doing it for someone else, and that left me wholly unfulfilled.

Perhaps we should be teaching our young people that it’s okay if they don’t want to fit into the mold of a CAREER. But more importantly we should be teaching them HOW to make it on their own if they want to. I certainly didn’t learn anything about owning a business in high school or even college. And that’s not right.

I’m not saying that everyone has to be an entrepreneur. Of course there is room for more than just the self employed. Otherwise, nobody would have any employees! But we need to be giving our young people options. We need to make them aware of all of the possibilities.

On the flip side, there’s nothing wrong with having a CAREER if that’s what you want. Case in point:

A good friend of mine has made a CAREER out of what many would consider a regular JOB. He started many years ago working at a convenience store. In fact, that’s how we met. I lived in the neighbourhood and was a regular customer. I loved watching my friend work, he was so happy in it. He loved helping customers, would strike up conversations with anyone. As a result, the store he worked at was like the social hub of the neighbourhood.  After about 10 years as a convenience store clerk, he moved on to work for a large retail chain – a job that pays more but is still, what some would consider, just a JOB. There isn’t anything else he’d rather be doing than working in retail, serving customers. He will absolutely be doing it until he retires.

I bet if you were to ask him, he’d tell you that his work isn’t just a job. It is what he DOES.

Overwhelmed?

I woke up this morning with an anxious knot in the pit of my stomach. My thought pattern went much like this:

I’m traveling to Cincinnati at the end of the week, so my mind is racing with everything that needs to happen before we leave Thursday night. There is a ton of stuff to do to get ready for the trip. (passports, health insurance info, video equipment, laptop, clean socks, toothbrush etc. etc. etc). Drop the dog off at the kennel. Drop the other pets off at their Grandparents’ house. Get pet food. Get fish feeder block. Pack. Figure out how to fit all our crap in the Jeep.

And that’s just the trip preparation. Then there’s work! I have to write a proposal, co-write at least one episode of our show, finish some web content, follow up on umpteen proposals and advertising contracts, develop navigation for a new web site, and make sure our design team has enough to keep them busy while we’re away.

All of this occured to me within about 30 seconds of waking up this morning. No wonder I am anxious.

I sat at the computer, heart palpitating at the thought all I had to do, and what email demands were awaiting to distract me from those tasks. My eyes hit Chris Brogan’s post about Drowning almost immediately. Sometimes hearing about someone else who is feeling similarly can allow a different perspective to flood in. It worked, snapping me out of my ego-minded selfish way of thinking. “Hey, I’m not the only person in the world with a long to do list,” I thought to myself. “How am I going to handle it?” I sat back, took a deep breath, and reminded myself of how I deal with extreme busy-ness.

I’m really in to top ten lists lately, so here’s my top ten list of things anyone can do to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Make a list on paper. Prioritize the list, and schedule when you will accomplish certain tasks.
  2. Once you’ve scheduled a task, don’t think about it again until it’s time to do it.
  3. Re-write the list when necessary. Check things off and don’t worry about them once they are done.
  4. Don’t be afraid to do like Chris did, and ask not to be disturbed. 99% of people will respect that. If they don’t, ignore them.
  5. Turn off the distractions. No email, no CrackBerry, no phone calls until you’ve accomplished a certain task.
  6. Minimize distractions, but don’t wait till 5pm to check your day’s worth of email. That will only overwhelm you more. Make time right after lunch to spend 1/2 an hour dealing with email. File anything you can’t address within 1 or 2 minutes and deal with it when the rush is over. If you have to, send a quick reply telling the person when you will be able to get back to them.
  7. Take a break. The world will wait while you spend 45 minutes to take a walk, do some yoga or have lunch with your spouse. Don’t think about your lists while you are on your break.
  8. Sleep. Nobody is asking you to stay up all night. If you need to rest, even for a couple of hours, do it. You will be much more productive if you aren’t exhausted.
  9. Eat. If you don’t eat, your brain won’t work. Your blood sugar will crash leaving you emotional and frustrated. Make sure you get protein and veggies. And a Big Mac doesn’t count as protein and veggies.
  10. This too shall pass. You WILL get through your list. The crazy busy time will end. You WILL get to take a break. And you’re not alone. We all feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Anything you’d add to the list? How do you avoid getting overwhelmed?

I’m off to get cracking on my list now. Happy Monday!

Photo credit: bourgeoisbee on Flickr.

Jester Creative’s New Web Site is Live

We’ve redesigned our company web site at Jester Creative Inc. It now includes clips of our television series, The House Healers, and some of the fun video and web projects we’ve been working on lately. You can get to know our great team and also check out and subscribe to the company blog. Check it all out at www.jestercreative.com.