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  • ilselarsoncoaching

Decisions, Decisions

A client shared this week that he’s struggling with saying “no” at work. As is the case for most academic physicians, he is being asked to do all sorts of things – to join committees, collaborate on projects, volunteer to teach medical students, mentor residents, cover extra clinical shifts.

As a junior faculty, my client is still exploring his interests and finding his niche, and worried that saying “no” would close off opportunities. And, as a team player (and self-proclaimed people pleaser), he worried that saying “no” might disappoint his colleagues and mentors.

But here’s the thing.

Every time you say “yes” to something, you are also saying “no” to something else.

Sometimes you are saying “no” to a different committee or project, but oftentimes you are (usually unintentionally!) saying “no” to free time - sleep, time with your family, exercise, play, rest.

So choose your “yes” wisely!

Here’s a framework that can help:

  • Does the opportunity light you up? Is it aligned with your purpose, your passions and goals? Is it a clear and easy “hell yes!” (This one is easy: say yes!)

  • Does the opportunity build or nourish important professional relationships? (Be careful with this one – this is different than people pleasing or saying “yes” for fear of disappointing someone else.)

  • Will the opportunity move you towards a longer-term goal? Is it uniquely positioned to allow you to learn a skill or gain experience that is necessary to accomplish that goal?

Psychological studies* have shown that most of us erroneously believe that we will have significantly more time available next month than we have today. Of course, this is ridiculous - just like today, every day next month contains 24 hours, and we will have overcommitted ourselves by previously saying “yes”!

So, consider this strategy – only say “yes” to requests that you would be happy to spend time on TODAY.

* Zauberman G, Lynch JG. Resource Slack and Propensity to Discount Delayed Investments of Time versus Money. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2005. 134 (1); 23-27.


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