Know When to Say ‘No’

I’m a firm believer in the adage, “say ‘yes’ until you absolutely shouldn’t.” Especially when you’re just starting out in your career, you should accept every opportunity that comes your way – attend conferences, mingle at networking events, volunteer with non-profits and take on freelance projects. Put yourself out there and generously dole out the word ‘yes,’ as this stage is all about testing the limits of your capacity, honing your skills, stacking your portfolio and establishing your trajectory. At some point, however, you’ll need to turn down opportunities. You’ll need to learn how to close the very floodgates which you so eagerly opened at the outset. Trust me – this is anything but easy. With each ‘no’ comes a wave of guilt, doubt and then regret. Whether for fear of missing out, or for fear of letting people down, we say ‘yes’ to things that we absolutely shouldn’t.

Consider that each time you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘no’ to something else. Fortunately, the opposite is also true. Once you’ve reached a certain career altitude, it behooves you to learn when (and how) to say ‘no.’ There are two approaches to this: 1) Know Your Capacity and 2) Know The Cost.

Know Your Capacity

Your ability to take on a new initiative depends on a careful combination of three things. When presented with a new opportunity, I often ask myself:

  • Do I Have Enough Time? – Do I have enough time within my weekly 168-hour spread to accommodate this new thing? And will adding it to your plate displace time that I need for other priorities?
  • Will I Have Enough Energy?Will I have enough energy to work on this project? By the time I focus on it, will my will-power be depleted? After all, I only have a finite amount of willpower before decision fatigue kicks in and affects my work. Am I excited enough about this project to generate hidden energy? Will this project make me happy and energize me? 
  • Can I Give This Enough Attention? – Can I afford to focus on this project right now? Or does something else have my attention? Am I passionate enough about this project to make it a priority?

Know the Cost

Sacrifice is the act of deferring or diminishing an immediate return for some greater return in the future. All things considered, some opportunities are simply too good to turn down. These might require a sacrifice – a conscious ‘no’ to other things in order to accommodate this new ‘yes.’ Consider the opportunity costs of taking on this new initiative. I approach tempting new projects from three overlapping perspectives:

  • Will This Affect My Well-Being? – Will my commitment result in me compromising my physical and mental well-being? My well-being is more important than a job that I know I can’t do my best on. Will it ultimately affect my performance and my happiness?
  • Will This Impact The Quality? –  Will taking this opportunity impact the quality of the work because I don’t have adequate support? Do I have enough personnel? Am I over-committed? Does the client know what they want? Do I have what I need in order to deliver quality work?
  • Will This Affect My Legacy? – Will I be able to significantly move the needle forward on this project? Can I take it in a direction that is relevant? Where does this project fit within my story? Is this project worthy my time?

When you’re starting out, you stand to benefit from taking every opportunity that comes your way in order to build traction. But as you grow, you’ll need to focus on your well-being, the quality of your work, and your legacy. Adding more to your plate will likely end up hindering your career, rather than improving it. Know your capacity. Know the cost of taking on a new project. Know when to say ‘no.’

Hamza Khan writes at HamzaKhan.ca, where he shares ideas on productivity, startups, hip hop, marketing, leadership, peak performance and making ideas happen. To get a weekly dose of inspiration, join his free newsletter.

This post was originally published on Medium.