Learning to say NO
If you are a writer, like me and want to write, then sometimes, just sometimes, you need to learn to say NO.
I don’t know about you but I find saying ‘no’ one of the hardest things in the world. When a potential client or a magazine editor ask me whether I would like to work with them or write for them, I find myself agreeing not necessarily because I would like to but because I can. I physically can. I understand their needs. I believe I would be the best person for the job. I want to work with them and I am genuinely interested in their project. The thing I never seem to consider is whether I actually have the time to do the work. And so I say ‘yes’ when really I should say ‘no’. And so I spend even longer at my desk. I work weekends. I wake up earlier in the mornings thinking about all the projects I am involved with and meanwhile the paper monster continues to pile things up on the two huge desks in my office and now, all over the floor.
I expect some of you will find this scenario familiar. But then, I expect, there are others who are smiling smugly because they learned the magic N word and they are happily selective about their work.
Last month, I found the person I had been looking for who could really help me to make my resolution a reality this time. I had the pleasure of enjoying a swapsie coaching session with Kate Cobb of Moving Forward Your Way who works with women entrepreneurs. She spent half an hour coaching me on my biggest dilemma and then I spent half an hour helping her to get cracking on writing her books. My dilemma was that I really needed help deciding what to weed out of my life before I was in threat of drowning under a pile of paper.
“What if you wrote a list of all the things you really want to do?” Kate suggested.
“But I want to do ALL of them,” I moaned. “I love everything I do. I just don’t have time to do it all.”
“Have you thought of outsourcing?” she asked.
“Already doing it,” I replied with a glimmer of that smug look on my face. Then I went on to tell her of all the things I am now outsourcing, things at one time I would never have dreamed of handing over. In the last six months I have started to use a virtual assistant to look after my databases, my diary and the marketing of all my workshops. Without doubt, this has changed my life. In his great book, The E-myth, Michael Gerber explains how outsourcing only really works when we outsource work that we also know how to do ourselves. In that way we can control and check their work with confidence. I could tick that box too.
I’ve outsourced to a selection of editors and proofreaders for a while now, and though I still like to check their work to ensure the clients are getting great service, this too has alleviated my work burden while giving clients the benefit of two pairs of eyes on their writing. I outsource the tutoring part of my Write Your Life Stories program to someone who does a terrific job and now I’ve started hiring people to do PR for my books too. I use an intern when I can get one and as my son is on a gap year and is a great writer, I have him proofreading and making book trailers. I guess I have good reason to be smug. I really have stopped doing it all myself.
“So why do you think you are still too busy?” Kate prodded, gently.
“Because I still can’t say ‘no’,” I mumbled. And then Kate proceeded to prod and probe a bit more until I had admitted that maybe I did enjoy some work more than others and that maybe I found some parts of my job more stressful than others and that maybe I was continuing to agree to projects because I could rather than because Ireally really wanted to do it.
“Let’s look at this another way . . .” Kate continued . . .
And as our session continued I recognised that maybe one of the reasons I have difficulty saying ‘no’ is because it makes me feel uncomfortable when others say ‘no’ to me. Saying ‘no’ feels like rejection.
But then it hit me. It wasn’t just about outsourcing. I hated to let people down. I hated to say ‘no’ to people because I knew how it felt. Kate helped me to decide that from now on I would only work with the people to whom I knew I could add the most value – to the expats writing memoirs; the expats writing for expats. This is where my incredible network and knowledge base, built over 23 years, really comes into its own. Now, when I apply my ‘expat’ filter to the jobs that come my way, it is easier to make the decision to refer some potential clients elsewhere. I recognise that it’s not just about outsourcing, but also about referral. Kate was right. There was another way to look at things.
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