David McKinnon – Why it’s OK to say no once in a while

In business, as in life, there are times when demands for my time, energy and resources can be overwhelming. Business can be up or down, and a leader is constantly bombarded for decisions, meeting requests and information.

I believe Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix can help prioritize the most important and urgent tasks. I love this quote by Covey: “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.”

By embracing Covey’s message, I learned how to be selective with my choices.

Important and non-urgent actions take discipline, and include long-term planning and re-evaluating strategic goals, which are true measures of our success: growing revenue, profits and selling franchises to help people achieve the American dream of business ownership.

I still refer to Covey’s matrix, and over time, have developed my own nine principles to conquer an overwhelming workload:

1. Ask what would happen if a task does not get done, and be brutally honest. 

The answer will often surprise you.

2. If your To Do list has too much on it, consider what can be postponed for the next 90 days, six months or year.

Learning how to speak Spanish and driving down Route 66 are on the list of things I would like to do, but not on the list of what I have to do.

3. Calendar items blocked out for multiple days should be scrupulously reviewed. Upcoming trips, vacations and meetings requiring travel should probably be rescheduled, alleviating some of the stress you are feeling.

4. Perhaps most of the items on your list are critically important and can’t be postponed. Look at them with a fresh perspective. It sometimes feels like only you can accomplish certain tasks, but you have built a great team. Utilize their talents, trust them to follow through and communicate their progress.

5. Call on outside resources to get through an exceptionally hectic phase. Think about what role would help you get to the finish line. Whether it is a life coach, consultant, personal assistant or temporary, executive-level individual, use the network you have built to mobilize support.

6. Some projects are extremely important but are not the most exciting. If there is any way to make the work more fun, you will enjoy it more and have a better outcome.

7. If you are doing everything you can and it still seems you may miss the deadline, stop and ask yourself if the deadline was even realistic.

If it can be delayed and will still work, then make the decision to change it.

8. Get support and commitment from your team and your family. Your spouse can be incredibly helpful by simply supporting your schedule as you work through a challenging time in the office.

9. Finally, the most powerful tool is to just say ‘no’ to any new tasks or calendar invitations until you are “caught up.”

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman and ProTect Painters. Email him at [email protected]