When to say “no” when you want to say “yes”

September 18, 2023

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Welcome! We're all about realistic time management designed for professional working women here in this little pocket of the internet. I'm glad you're here.

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Sometimes, an opportunity seems too amazing to pass up – and sometimes, it is. But it’s even more important to take a beat in those moments and make sure it works and will help you have the life you want to have. Let’s go over three things to think about when evaluating whether to take on a new project when you really want to take it on!

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To learn more about and sign up for the Bright Method 8-week program, click here: https://kellynolan.com/the-bright-method-time-management-course-with-kelly-nolan.

Full Transcript

Episode 21. How to Avoid Overcommitting with Things You Love

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey there! Alright, so today I want to talk about how to say no to things you want to say yes to and when you should do that. And so, just taking a step back, I tend to work with women who are overcommitted and overworked. I think, generally, we all are. I think a lot of us, most people out there, are overworked and overcommitted, and so, the people I work with (no surprise) fall into that category as well. There are kind of two different reasons that can happen, and sometimes both exist with the same person.

Two Main Reasons We Might Feel Overcommitted and Overworked – 1:03

So the first reason is a lot of other people outside of you are asking you to take a lot on, and some of that might fall into the category of things you don’t want to do. You don’t want to do certain things. You know you should say no. You want to say no. And yet, we struggle to say no. I know this from my past experience of being pretty sure I was drowning in work but not knowing where the line was of when I could take on more work versus not. And because I didn’t know where that line was, I didn’t have a lot of confidence saying my plate was full so I would say yes, even though I was pretty sure I was overworked. I just wasn’t confident that it was objectively reasonable for me to believe that. And so, I would keep saying yes to things. So you kind of have this first category of, “I’m overworked because other people keep asking me to do things, and I’m not totally sure when or how to say no so I say yes.”

The other category is, “I want to take on all of these things. I want to do them, and so, I say yes to them, and then I’m overworked and overcommitted.” Again, both things could happen for you. Both could be true for you. Some things could be more true in certain phases of life than others, and we both can have these things happening. That said, I have noticed with some clients that they are people who just love life and are excited about all these things, and that is an awesome thing. There are just some people who have so much love for all of the things going on around them that they want to do it all. And while that is so admirable, and sometimes I’m very intrigued by it and I wouldn’t say envious of it, necessarily, but would like my life to have an injection of that too, to a degree, that can also lead to its own problems. I mean, it makes sense, as those people still have the same limited time and energy that we do, that everyone does, and so, when they say yes to too much to things that can’t fit within the limits of our time and energy, they can also end up being overcommitted.

And so, if this is you, this episode is for you, and it goes for everyone. I think it’s relevant to everybody because whether or not you resonate with someone who has that love of life and wanting to do it all or not, I think a lot of us have those moments where we get that one thing, that one ask thrown our way that we really, really want to do, and we need to still evaluate and challenge ourselves as to whether it’s the right thing for our life to say yes. I shouldn’t even say the right thing because I don’t think there is a right or wrong. I think you can be happy most of the time, either way, with a decision. But we still want to evaluate and really challenge ourselves and our drive to say yes of whether it’s the right fit for us, so I want to talk about that today.

I want to go over three points of, essentially, when you get an ask or you see an opportunity or you think of something you want to try that you have that, “I cannot wait to start this thing! I am so excited! I want to jump into it right away,” still just taking a beat, taking a pause, and thinking through some of this stuff to make sure that you do want to take it on and that it’s the right time to take it on for you. The reason for that is not — I’m not trying to prevent you from doing things you love by any means. I’m all for women getting out there and accomplishing things and going for things, but the tricky part is when it tips into a lot of yeses, and a couple months later, that person is feeling overwhelmed. They’re not enjoying all of it or any of it, as a result, and that’s the situation I’d like to help you avoid. If you want to push yourself and challenge yourself and all that kind of stuff, go for it! My intention is not to hold you back. But I do want you to feel like you are enjoying that process and all the different parts of your life that you would like to be in the process of doing that.

So just want to clarify why I think this is an important thing to think through, and sometimes it’s almost the things that we get really excited about and want to say yes to that cause us to more quickly overcommit than the things that we know we probably shouldn’t jump into in the first place.

One: Any Decision Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum – 5:27

So the first thing to talk about is something that you’ve probably heard me talk about before but is critical to really emphasize here. I’ve talked about this in the prioritization episode (which is episode four), but any decision of deciding to take on something does not happen in a vacuum. I know that sounds obvious, but I think so often it’s just natural that we hear about something and we’re like, “Ooh, I want to do that,” or “Ooh, I don’t want to do that,” but we don’t fully appreciate how it’s going to merge and interact with every other part of our life and what it might mean for the other parts of our lives. Even if we think about it, we might think of it more theoretically, and we don’t always have a system to understand how we practically see what it’s gonna do to the rest of our life, and that’s what’s really important here.

So, similar to what I’ve talked about in the past, I think it’s critical that when we are evaluating these new opportunities, that we see in the most practical, concrete way that we can, the impact it will have on everything else. So, taking a few steps back (I never like to sugarcoat time management; I think it’s harder than it sounds, but it’s very much worth the effort) is first getting an understanding, again, of what your capacity is and what your current workload is. That is hard to do. It’s harder than it sounds, is really what I mean, and that’s kind of the whole Bright Method. So I’m not gonna dig into all of that right now.

But let’s pretend you have a calendar that lays out your entire life so that you have a more objective understanding of what your current capacity is, what your current workload is, including that time management underwear in there that we talked about in episode four of all the repetitive things that you do, the invisible to-do list, all of that, all of your current one-off projects, everything laid out so that you really truly have an understanding of what your workload and your current capacity is.

And then what I want you to do is take that thing you want to say yes to, guesstimate how much time you think it would require, and start plotting out in your calendar how much time would it take, when would I do this, what impact does this have on everything else that’s already in my calendar, am I okay with those changes, how does it feel to see this in there. Once I take it out of a vacuum, “Oh, this thing sounds awesome,” once I really break it down and put it into my calendar, does my feeling, does my excitement about this shift a bit when I see the impact it would have on everything else in my life?

You might still feel like, “Yes, I want to do this!” In which case, awesome, and keep going. But I just think it’s a really critical, even more critical exercise to go through when we want to say yes to something is truly understanding how much time it might take, thinking through the energy it might take. Because, again, what I want for you is to say yes to things that allow you to still get to live the life you want, still be excited about things, but also enjoy each part of your life.

Again, what we’re trying to avoid is saying yes to so many things that all excite us individually, but when we remove them from the vacuum and plot them out in our life, if we say yes to all of them and try to do them to the point of excellence that we want, we end up either not enjoying any of it or as much of it as we would like and just feeling stretched too thin, worn out, burning ourselves out. I mean, you can burn yourself out on things you love, and you just need to be careful of that and just make sure that you’re setting yourself up to have the time and energy to give to these various things that you’re saying yes to.

As I mentioned in episode four about prioritization, I just believe that, whether we’re talking prioritization or saying yes to projects that are super exciting, part of our jobs and responsibility in that is ensuring that we have the time and energy to show up in a way that we want, and I would say also to enjoy it in the way that we want, and if you kind of want to live in denial of the limits of time and energy, you’re quickly going to overcommit yourself and not be able to enjoy that stuff. And so, I just think it’s so critical to realize that good things can stress us out. Good things can overwhelm us. And just because something is good and exciting doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be weary of what it could do to our overall life and how we feel about our life.

Two: How Do You Want Your Life to Feel? – 9:56

And so, that takes me to point two which is how do you want your life to feel. I think by now you know that I’m a pretty practical, concrete person, let’s break it down into something I can see and really work with here in a more evidence-based way, but taking a step back from that, and I know it can sound a little feelings-heavy, maybe a little woo woo, but how do you want your life to feel overall? Because I think that relates to point one, but if we take a step back and think it’s not just about finding the space in your calendar all the time to plug it in and be like, “Yep, yep, I can fit it in. Therefore, I can do it.” But does this get you to where you want your life to feel? That question can completely change and evolve with you because I truly believe that there are phases of life that the feelings we want are different.

The first couple years that I practiced law and was completely single and just could give everything to my career in a way that I loved, that pace of life and how I wanted the pace of my life and how I wanted my life to feel was very different than how I want my life to feel right now with two little kids and I’m the primary caregiver, and my husband is wonderful and a wonderful dad, but his job is not flexible. When he is gone, he is off. He’s not answering the phone because he’s in the ER, and that is what it is. The way my life can feel right now and how I want it to feel right now and the pace of my life right now is very different than that before.

And so, I think it’s worth taking a step back and saying — and you can make this up for whatever works for you. But for the next three months, for the next six months, for the next year, for the next two years until my kids are more in school full time, whatever it is, what is the pace of life? How do you want your life to feel right now, and does this project that you want to say yes to get you closer to that, or does it undermine what you’re looking for out of your life right now?

That can be frustrating. I’m not trying to say that it’s not. But it’s much better to make a decision on the front end with your eyes wide open to the limits of time and how you want your life to feel and all of that than saying yes and then every single day for months feeling completely overwhelmed and stretched too thin.

Sometimes hard things can still be the right thing for you in that moment even if they’re frustrating is what, I guess, I’m trying to say. And so, whether or not you decide to take it on, you might say, “Yes! This is gonna make my life a little bit more frantic than I want it to be, but it’s just for two months. I truly believe it’s for two months. I can see the deadline, and it’s not gonna move, and it’s just for two months, and it is worth it to me to have that,” then go for it. But then you are owning that decision. So then for the next two months when life feels that crazy, you’re owning it. That’s what you signed up for. That’s what you wanted. You can have conversations going in with other people in your life around that who can help support you, but you’ve owned that decision versus just kind of closing your eyes a little bit and just jumping in and hoping it works out, and then, every day, struggling with the overwhelm.

So I’m not sure that totally made sense, but that’s what I really hope for you is that you can decide, “How do I want my life to feel?” And you can say either, “Yes, I want my life to feel this way with this project, and I’m gonna own it, and I’m gonna do my best to work with it.” (There’s an episode that came out on Labor Day. I think it was episode 18 or 19 about a busy season.) You could prepare yourself for that busy season of saying yes, or you might say, “This is the year that I really wanted my life to feel this way, and as much as I want to take this project on, it will not get me where I want to go in terms of how I want my life to feel, and so, I’m going to say no to it at this time.”

So just wrapping that up for you is the first point so far is understand that none of these things happen in a vacuum and use a system that helps you see how saying yes to this opportunity would have ripple impact on everything else in your life and helping you decide one way or the other (totally up to you) is that okay with you, is that what you want, are you still excited about that opportunity when you see the impact it might have on everything else. Along those lines is point two of how do I want my life to feel, does this serve that. Even if it blows that up for a little bit, am I okay with that? How can I own that and help future me and my family or anyone else in my life get through that period of time in a way that works for everybody and then maybe how am I gonna build in that recovery time after. That was all part of that other episode.

Three: Know That Life Has Chapters – 14:44

The third point here that I want to go into that has kind of subcategories here is know that life has chapters. We touched on this a little bit, but truly absorb that life has chapters and if everything goes the way we want it to, we have a lot of time. I think that we have limited time, but we have different phases of our life that can allow us to lean into certain parts of our lives more at different times. Trust that even if the thing might be a no right now, you probably can say yes to something like it down the road if you feel like doing it down the road.

So a couple points on this. I’m gonna link in the show notes to an article on my blog that is piggybacking on someone else’s work that I cite to, and just know that it’s her idea and not mine, of creating this Excel sheet that lists out the years, whether you want to do it academic or calendar, what your ages would be. If you have children, what ages and what grades they would be in. I listed out my parents’ ages. Then you have a notes section in that Excel sheet. This is all in that article, but I just want to give some context for those who haven’t read it. You put notes in of maybe a college reunion or a grad school reunion or certain big anniversaries in your life or birthdays in your life or things like that, and you can just kind of take those longer-term things we see coming and kind of put some structure to them.

And then you can start playing with them where you can be like, “Well, this year might be a really good year. If we want to take the kids to Disney, this would be a great year to do that based on ages.” I know I’m using kid examples. I’m trying to think of some non-kid ones. “This year is when both my kids will be in school for full days at this year. Would this year be the time where I really ramp this up?” If it’s not a kids thing but you’re thinking about buying a house or you’ve bought a house and you’re thinking about paying off the house, then you might be using that in connection with what else you might want to do, or student loans or things like that, of, “Once I get through this phase, then this will be done financially, and I can have more freedom in this department.”

There are so many implications, and it’s stuff that we think about anyway, but just by putting it onto a spreadsheet, it really helps make it a little bit more concrete and helps us see the long-term picture more. Why I like that and why I’m bringing it up is it helps you understand when the chapters might change. I’m just gonna use myself as an example. For me, I’m building this business. I’ve been building it since 2017. It really started ramping up in 2020 once I got clarity on how I want to serve people and the format I want to do. But it’s slow, right?

I’ve had another baby. I had a two-year-old when I had that clarity moment. I had another baby in that time. I moved in that time. Again, my husband’s job’s not flexible. It’s slower than I wanted it to be. It just is. But when I embrace the limits of my time and energy given the season of life I’m in right now, I’m better able to make better decisions on what I prioritize with higher leverage versus maybe letting go of some stuff that’s a little bit more busy work for now. But I also can see breaks in the mom of young kids, not monotony of life, but that kind of, “I need to be so available to them in a physical sense that when they’re older and I can see that in this chart, then I can start planning and know that the phase of life that I’m in is not forever.”

I know this sounds like a total tangent, but what I mean is when there are things that come to my mind of what I want to do with this business, where I want to take it, what other people I want to serve, things like that, it’s not easy but it’s just smart to table certain ideas of these and really start thinking, “Maybe I’ll do that at this phase of life,” and I can put that in that chart. If I want to do that, I also really like just taking my digital calendar, which you know I love and rely on, and calendaring out some stuff. “One year from now, two years from now, six months from now, consider doing this.” I know then that I can let it go and my system will remind me to do that thing when I want to do it or not. It might roll around, and I’ll be like, “Yeah, I don’t even want to do that thing anymore,” and I can totally let it go. But understanding that life has phases, using tools to help you really absorb that, whether it’s a spreadsheet, whether it’s your digital calendar, whether it’s in tandem the way I use them, you just want to try and really help yourself understand that this is not forever, as anyone says, with the phase that you’re in, and that certain things might be a better fit for down the road.

And so, you could just kind of punt them out into the future, reminding future you at that time, and you’re using your digital calendar to do it, and it truly is something like, “Consider picking up this language. Consider taking on this project. Consider now serving this audience with what you do. Consider reaching out to this partner in my law firm and working with them because I really want to and that period of time would probably be a better time to do it.”

Whatever it might be, I’m just throwing these things out there for you to think about, of understanding life has chapters and phases and then making that practical so that you have a little bit more assurance of not just, “In theory, yeah, I know one day I’ll be able to do that,” but, “Let me guess when I might be able to do that,” and plot it out. That just at least helps me really understand that even the things that excite me, if I have to say no right now, it’s not a no forever. I really might be able to do it down the road and still build the life right now for myself that allows me to show up in all of my roles in the ways that I want to.

Have an Abundance Mindset – 20:41

The last point on that (and again, this is a little woo woo, but I think there’s value in this) is, to the extent you can, having an abundant mindset versus a scarcity mindset. But having the idea of this really cool opportunity I’m being presented with right now that I want to say yes to, if you think it’s the only time something like that is going to roll around for you, of course you want to say yes. Of course you have that pressure of, “I must say yes right now.” But if you instead can think this type of opportunity probably will come around again if I say no to it right now. And of course you can finesse your no to keep the bridge intact with that person.

Even saying something like, “I am truly excited about this. I really wanted to do it. It is just not the right time for me to take this on, but I anticipate next year when you’re looking for someone, I will have that freedom, and please ask me again there.” Something like that. I’m just making it up. Really keeping that bridge intact and showing your passion for it and just explaining that the timing might be the thing hindering you can keep that bridge intact. But even if it doesn’t come again from that person or that company or whatever, knowing that, likely, if you keep showing up the way you’re showing up, more opportunities will come, then it’s easier to say no even if it’s hard. It’s easier to say no to those things.

What I want you to think about from a practical perspective is when you want to say yes, going back to the other things we’ve talked about, “No it doesn’t really fit in my calendar. No, it doesn’t really give me the life that I want life to feel, but I still feel compelled to say yes because what if it never comes around again,” is really pushing yourself to think, “If I knew this opportunity or an opportunity like it would come around again, would I say yes to it right now?” Because I think that can really help you understand where that pressure is coming from. Of course, there are scenarios that truly are once-in-a-lifetime things. I’m not trying to live in denial of it. But I also think they happen a lot less frequently than they want.

Because if you’re getting asked to do something that’s amazing, it’s because of the work you’ve done and you’re gonna continue doing that work or whatever it might be. My guess is if you continue doing what you’re doing, you will get a similar request down the road. And so, yes, of course there are times where we bend over backwards to make things happen, but most of the time I really would say 85% to 95% of the time the opportunity or a similar one will come around again. So you need to just keep yourself in check on, “Am I coming at this because I’m fearful that it will never happen again or that no other opportunities out there are out there for me?” And is that really realistic? Is that really true? Just challenge yourself there.

Recap – 23:38
So just to recap, these things don’t happen in a vacuum. Make sure you’re using a system that helps you see that. That is what The Bright Method does. Again, it both helps you understand your current capacity, your current workload, and then it also helps you plot out what this new project might look like in a practical way and how it has an impact and a ripple effect on the rest of your life and helps you just see that and then make your own decisions based on that information.

Two, truly take a step back and ask, “How do I want my life to feel?” Not look like but feel, “And does this project or opportunity or whatever it is help me get there?”

Number three is trust that there is more time to do it down the road (doing it or something similar) and that life has phases, and use tools that kind of help you make those amorphous, theoretical phases a little bit more concrete. Help you see, “Okay, this is probably two years away. This is probably six months away. This is probably five years away,” and put those things in your calendar to go seek out those opportunities if you want and things like that.

The final thing I’ll note, I mentioned this on Instagram, is it bothers me to use the word opportunities like I’m using right now because I think opportunities kind of presuppose that the opportunity is something that you should want to do. The opportunity, using that word in itself is like, “Oh, it’s something that I should take on if I can.” I mean, I’ve been using it because it’s the most commonly understood word. But if you can shift into, “This is an option,” it makes it a little more neutral. It takes away that pressure of, “Oh, I should be taking advantage of this opportunity, and therefore, I should do everything I can, bend over backwards, blow my time and energy out of the water to make this happen,” versus, “This is an option. Likely, a similar option will come to me down the road, and given that more neutral position, do I want to take this on based on what it does to my calendar, what it does to how my life feels,” and things like that.

Join The Bright Method! – 25:40

If you want my help, this is exactly what we do inside The Bright Method program. It’s currently open. We kick things off, so doors close on September 28th! Spots are limited. Basically, what it is is it’s an eight-week program. We wrap up on November 16th, so right in time for the holidays. We can set you up for a lot less stress and a lot more calm and clarity before the holidays. What we work through is the four chapters of The Bright Method, of lightening that mental load, really getting clear on the personal invisible to-dos, shifting into work to help you reclaim control of those work hours. Then we talk about building out game plans that are realistic using my six-step process. And then we turn into a very tactical planning session that will help you build in the maintenance of the system for years to come, to help it evolve to you and your life phases.

That’s the tricky part. I think that a lot of people set up systems but then don’t maintain them, don’t build in the time to continue using them and even know what that looks like. Like what does a planning session look like? What are all the steps? And that’s something I really, truly believe in. It’s the cornerstone of any solid time-management system. Then we have a couple weeks that we get to work together.

How it works is you get video lessons you can watch on your own time, then we come together once a week to work through challenges with the other women in the group. And then in addition, three of the weeks we have industry breakout groups. So they’re legal, medical, corporate, and business owners, and you just get to talk to other people in your field who get it, who understand the specific time-management challenges in your industry. It’s super fun.

The other thing I didn’t mention is there is unlimited email access to me. I truly believe time management is so personal, and I want to make sure you feel like you are getting a system tailored to you that serves you, that you can really make your own, and I just absolutely love helping people do that. So just know that you get unlimited support with me on that component of it via email.

The reason email is so beautiful in this context is we’re all busy, and so, you just get to shoot off an email to me or a Loom. You can record yourself talking and just talk it out, send it to me. I can send it back to you. You don’t have to worry about setting up a meeting with me and vice versa, fitting it into your workday. If you want to be doing it once you’re home and relaxed and things like that, you can do it. Send me an email when it works for you, I’ll get back to you very quickly, and we’ll go from there.

All right! I hope to work with you. It’s super fun. It’s super nerdy. It’s really awesome. I have gotten to work with the most amazing people through this, and I just love helping women who are amazing at what they do accomplish so much impressive stuff but help them enjoy their lives and do it all in a more sustainable way.

So I hope to see you in the program! You can check it out at the links below, but it’s also at www.kellynolan.com/bright, and if you have any questions, don’t ever hesitate to shoot me an email at ke***@ke********.com. I’ll also put that in the show notes, and I will talk to you soon! I’ll see you in the next episode!

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