Say No, For Productivity Sake!

Saying NO takes skill and it has a direct impact in your ability to manage your time and you immediately have productivity gains.

Hand holding NO sign with a megaphone pointing at sign
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

A few years in the service sector and slowly you find yourself with back-to-back meetings, meetings over coffee to make the most of your day, endless email inboxes, just because it’s the way things are done.

Reality is that coming from manufacturing, being taught by the best in productivity and time management in the manufacturing sector, you feel like all the tools you have in the ched need sharpening. And even if you sharpen them, it will take years to go back to where you were.

I was not alone

As part of the transformation program I was running, I often had to send meeting invites to stakeholders to get buy-in for a phase, to show progress results or even to get their views on next steps to their department. As a result of one of these invites, I got a call from the Head of Operations for all Business Hub in India. At the time we were already bonded with the fact she also came from manufacturing and was struggling like me to completely reduce the productivity rhythm with the transaction to the services sector. During the call she asked one specific question:

“The subject of the meeting is a bit vague. Does the content have to be discussed in a meeting format to be solved? Or could it be an email with an attachment that she would review and provide feedback?”

After a few explanations, she concluded that she was attending. However, she got me curious: Would she call everyone that sent her an invite too? So I asked. I was surprised to learn that she rejects most of her meeting invites! That’s right: just “NO, thank you”.

Saying NO it’s ok

The conversation led to a lesson I carry till today. We started comparing the goods and bads of rejecting a meeting and the goods always outnumbered the bads:

  1. What if people perceive that as rude? “Their problem” she would say. Saying yes would be rude to the customer. If the meeting didn’t had an agenda, a specific goal in mind, for example. After all, having stakeholders around a meeting room for an hour or so with no specific objective in mind, means waste of time – costs that will eventually be carried to the customer;
  2. What if you stop being invited? If your concern is to serve a customer to the best of your ability and you are in a position of leadership, the less I am invited, the more time I am available to my team and more time I have to assist them in their journey servicing our customers;
  3. What if they tell you you are a key stakeholder and you should attend? If they want my involvement, they should send a proper invite, with a specific objective rather than keeping me updated. If it is to update me only, send via email or I will send a delegate to represent my areas.

Reality is that this behavior was unique from all the other behaviors I had witnessed before. Moreover, it all made perfect sense. She concluded by telling me that, if she didn’t say NO, she wouldn’t have time to do actual work, being constantly invited for EVERYTHING that people would perceive she should be in the loop of or across all details.

Productivity and saying NO

As you can predict, this was a game changer for me so early in my career. In fact, I started transporting this ability to say NO to other things that were consuming my day and didn’t add value at all. If we think of how productive your day could be, there are a number of things that prevent us from getting there:

  • Interruptions during work time;
  • Phone distractions;
  • Last minute work requests;
  • Endless meetings with no minimum standard that would make you wonder how you lost an hour right there;

So all I did was to find a way to say NO to the above:

  • Interruptions during work time – Blocked my agenda and went to a meeting room;
  • Phone distractions – Created disciplines to check every so often only;
  • Last minute work requests – Would set expectations on when I would be able to do that in the following days;
  • Endless meetings with no minimum standard that would make you wonder how you lost an hour right there – Started to say NO!;

Reality is that time management has a direct link to productivity and saying NO means being able to time manage better.

“Focus on signal over noise. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t actually make things better”, Elon Musk

That said, how often do you say NO?

I dedicate this article to all the REDs in my professional and personal life. You know who you are!

If you are curious to know what means to be a RED, here is further read!

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.

I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.