For most of my career, when I’ve been unsure of how to be more successful, I’ve simply said ‘yes’ more. Yes to more projects, yes to helping someone else with work, yes to networking, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes again. I was of the perspective that doing the most equaled me being my best, most productive self. I thought that proving I could do it all was either the same thing or better than doing my best. But as everyone who’s ever taken on too much and burned out knows, it’s actually the exact opposite.
The problem with taking on everything is that, at a certain point, you can’t focus on anything. When there’s so much on your plate that you find yourself swinging from task to task, not really focused on any particular project as much as somehow getting it all done, then it’s time to rearrange your workload. Sometimes this means delegating work when you’re used to taking it on yourself. Other times this means slowing down the pace on a particular project. Almost always this means learning how to say no.
There are benefits to saying yes more, but thoughtfully saying no can be far more productive. When you make yourself say yes to everything (or that is simply your first instinct), you’re not being thoughtful about your work. If you have the privilege of having a significant amount of work coming your way, then you owe it to yourself and your craft to be picky. And even though saying no may disappoint some people, that ‘no’ is nowhere near as disappointing as pushing back deadlines or being lazy about small details — both of which are things that tend to happen when someone overwhelms themselves with too much work.
Saying no to more things really means saying yes to quality. And saying yes to quality means more meaningful projects, bigger paychecks, and (maybe most importantly) more room for you to breathe, grow, and develop your skills and business. If you’re unsure where to start, simply make a commitment to yourself that going forward, you will pause before accepting or reaching out for more work. You will give yourself a chance to ask, “Is this worth it? How will it benefit me or my business? Is the outcome worth the amount and time and energy this will take from my day-to-day life?”
A lot of times the answers to these questions will probably end up with you taking on some projects, but not all the time. This, in turn, means every project is more meaningful. It means every piece of work has thought behind it, and a plan. It means that you have given yourself room to grow and expand in a workforce that often says that more is always better, at any cost. Even if you only take on 50 percent of the projects, this outcome is always going to be worth it in the end.