Use the Me-We-World Approach to Say ‘Purposeful Noes’ to Save Yourself (and Your Team) from Burnout.
The risk of burnout is higher than ever right now. And your collapse is not good for anyone — yourself, your team, your family, or the world who needs you contributing your full brilliance now as much as ever. There is a lot we can do to mitigate burnout, including all the basic best practices for body and mind well-being: adequate sleep, healthy foods, physical movement, mindfulness practices, and social connections.
But there is one tool that outperforms all the rest in terms of avoiding burnout: Saying no. And specifically, saying enlightened, or as I call them “purposeful noes.” Simply saying “no” to more things than you currently say no to is a start. But as humans, we’re inclined to please and agree, so it’s actually incredibly hard to “Just say no,” as the ’80s slogan went. Getting yourself to a “purposeful no” is easier to stick with because it feels less arbitrary. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the most powerful tool for protecting yourself from burnout now and beyond.
Is There Even a Question to Say No to?
A purposeful “no” reflects some thought about the action you’re being asked (by yourself or someone else, explicitly or implicitly) to do. The first critical and often overlooked step is to identify whether there’s really an ask at all. Often, we just project “shoulds” that we imagine someone else is asking us to do but are actually not an expectation.
For example, I feel obliged to provide some kind of evening meal for my family (husband and two adult stepkids currently living with us). After a year of quarantine, this adds up to a lot of meals, and I was growing fatigued. But in examining this “ask,” I realized it was my projection. They’re often thrilled eating leftovers, ready-made meals they’ve ordered, or a simple salad from whatever’s in the fridge. Now, I say a purposeful no to making dinner on Wednesdays and communicate ahead of time about which nights I’ll have dinner for them to opt in or out of.
Similarly, for most of the eight years of running my company, I’ve assumed that my team was “asking” me to run meetings. A younger staff member asked earlier this year whether I enjoy running the meetings, and when I confirmed that I don’t, she offered to take over. She loves it, our meetings run better, and we hear more voices thanks to her facilitation as a member of the team rather than mine as CEO.
In the photo: ‘No’ vintage sign. Photo credit: Unsplash.
What Is a ‘Purposeful No’?
Once you’ve determined that there is a real “ask” and not just an assumption that someone actually wants you to do this thing, answer these three questions:
- Am I the best person [available] to do this action?
- Will I get or create more joy in the world by doing this action than the pain it will cause me?
- What will this action prevent me from doing, and is that OK with me?
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll feel much more convicted saying “no,” because it’s just not in the collective best interest for you to say yes!
What Do ‘Purposeful Noes’ Look Like in Real Life?
It’s helpful to frame “purposeful noes” in the Me, We, and World dimensions.
There are “noes” that I have to say to myself. Some are of the “No, don’t buy that color of your favorite Athleta pants,” and “No, don’t count Instagram likes,” variety. Others are more the “No, you don’t have to do that today — it can wait until next week,” flavor. And others are, “No, you’re not lazy or crazy. It takes time, timing, huge effort, luck, and support to build a profitable business.”
Stopping myself from these distracting and/or self-destructive activities (or thoughts) helps me stay on track for the worthy and demanding purpose of Making Work Work for All of Us.
Like most teams, especially those of us working in 2021, there is WAY more that we’d like to get done than is superhumanly possible. So get good at saying “no” to, with, and for each other. Examine the “shoulds,” the urgent-but-not-importants, and the legacy or “everyone else does it this way” tasks. Closely. Critically. And eliminate as many of those things as you can.
In the photo: Burnout is real, and if you’re not on the verge, someone you know is. Photo credit: Unsplash.
Saying no for ourselves and our teams has huge ramifications for advancing the potential of equality across all kinds of divides (racial, gender, body, and mind). Being a workaholic is a privilege assuming that you don’t have care responsibilities, front-line work, or temporary or permanent health factors that limit “productivity” (also known as being human, even super human), and so on.
When you have the courage to say no, set boundaries, and do less, you are changing the precedent of productivity levels. That facilitates contribution from folks with physical, mental, logistical, or other factors that prevent them from grinding 14 hours a day. And enables more of us to get recognized, promoted, and paid.
Why Do ‘Purposeful Noes’ Matter in the World?
As a result of this purposeful approach to saying “no,” the important work you have to do on this planet will be enabled and expanded. Your team members will be grateful — I know mine are! — for the reinvigoration and mind and calendar space provided by buzz-cutting your commitments.
Finally, letting go of “productivity” in the form of quantity of output in favor of the creativity and brilliance enabled by a more balanced approach of doing, thinking, and resting will break ceilings for a fuller range of humanity to contribute in the ways that are possible for each of us.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. Cover photo credit: Unsplash.