Too Much to Do? Eliminate THIS…

This week’s article was written by my friend and colleague Elise Holtzman in her lawyer newsletter Tuesday Morning Counsel, but it will benefit anyone who thinks he or she has too much to do:

Envelope with Declined stamped on it

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage– pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically–to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way to do that is to have a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.” -Stephen Covey

If you are overloaded, exhausted, and burning the candle at both ends, here’s a newsflash: You don’t have to do everything! I know–it’s hard to accept. You may believe you have to be all things to all people and say yes to everyone so you won’t miss an opportunity or run the risk of offending someone. Perhaps you think that hard work and an unyielding devotion to your employer, clients, community, family, or friends is necessary to merit the respect of others.

If that’s the approach you are taking, you are either burnt out, or on your way there. And rather than earning you brownie points, your inability to say no may mean that you are undermining your future.

No matter how efficient you are, how hard you try, and how well-meaning your efforts, you simply can’t do everything. Something has to give, and it should not be the health of your practice, the future of your career, the well-being of your most important relationships, or your own physical or mental health. In order for something to give, some things have to go. And it’s up to you to make that happen.

Why Eliminate? 

As author Jack Canfield says, If you are constantly saying yes to other people, then you are constantly saying no to yourself and your goals.”

Your inability or unwillingness to say no to others is interfering with your ability to achieve what you want! You may think you are working hard to create the career, practice, or life you deeply desire, but you are unwittingly working against your own self-interest by taking on tasks and responsibilities that aren’t serving you. It’s a bit like trying to drive with the emergency brake on.

Ask yourself whether what is being requested of you aligns with your goals and desires. Will it benefit you and move you forward in achieving success, or are you spending your time fulfilling someone else’s goals? Consider how much time you may be wasting with projects and activities that you don’t enjoy and don’t serve you simply because you are uncomfortable saying no. As Canfield says, “Success depends on getting good at saying no without feeling guilty.“

What to Eliminate

On a regular basis, ask yourself the questions: What can I eliminate? and What can I say no to? Start with the following categories:

  • Stop doing things you don’t have to do,
  • Stop doing things you don’t want to do, and
  • Stop doing things that don’t serve you and your goals.

You might cancel your membership to an organization you’re not really getting much out of even though you joined because your friend is on the board. You’re not saying no to your friend, you’re just choosing to spend your time on your goals.

Perhaps it’s time to cancel a subscription to that magazine you never read. You know…the one that’s piled up 6-issues high in the corner of your office and stresses you out every time you look at it.

Maybe you are still volunteering for a cause you cared deeply about many years ago because you feel guilty. Allow others to take up the cause and, if the organization’s mission is still meaningful to you, make a financial contribution instead.

Only you know which activities are dragging you down, overwhelming you, and creating obstacles to your success. Make the tough choices. Remember–saying no to others is really saying yes to yourself.

How to Eliminate 

Once you’ve decided that an activity, project or event doesn’t serve you, how do you say no? Try some of these tips for getting the message across:

  • Don’t give a lengthy explanation. You need not justify yourself.
  • Don’t lie or make up a story. It will only make you feel guilty later, which is what you’re trying to avoid in the first place.
  • Be direct: “I’m sorry, but I have to pass.” “I wish I could, but I’m maxed out right now.” “I appreciate the opportunity, but I’m not taking on any new commitments right now.”
  • Be polite: “Thanks so much for asking.”
  • Don’t say: “I’ll think about it” if you know you don’t want to do it. That just prolongs the agony and makes the situation more awkward.
  • Make it clear that it’s not about them. “I’m not saying no to you, I’m saying yes to me.”
  • Practice saying no if you have to.

Get out of the habit of people-pleasing and into the habit of taking care of yourself, protecting your time, and empowering yourself to work on what really matters to YOU.

(And always, keep REACHING…)

About Elise Holtzman, JD, ACC

Elise Hotzman

Elise Holtzman, The Lawyer’s Success Coach, is an experienced lawyer and certified business coach who specializes in helping attorneys generate a steady stream of clients using a simple system she designed based on extensive study of best practices used by leading marketing experts and rainmakers.

Coach and Speaker. An experienced lawyer and the founder of The Lawyer’s Edge, Elise is a business development strategist who coaches individual attorneys, offers unique CLE courses, and is a frequent speaker for law firms, bar associations, and law schools.  Organizations for which she has spoken include Columbia, Cardozo and Rutgers Law Schools, the New York State Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New Jersey Women Lawyers Association, and

Legal Experience. Elise practiced law in the New York offices of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, concentrating in the area of commercial real estate transactions.

Legal Education. Holtzman earned a BA in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and her JD from Columbia Law School, where she was an editor of the Columbia Law Review. She is currently a Board of Trustees member of the Columbia Law School Association.

Coach Training. Elise earned her coach certification from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC).  She is a past president of the New Jersey chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF), is accredited by the ICF, and holds an ACC certification (Associate Certified Coach).

Elise lives with her husband, who is a practicing attorney, and their three children in central New Jersey.