The uncertainty of the economy has left many of us afraid to say no—to anything.
Staying on “purpose” at work—keeping focused on the things that deliver the greatest impact—means sometimes saying yes and sometimes saying no. But sometimes… the best answer is neither. It’s a compromise—a way of refining what you’re doing or how you’re doing it so that your time and energy are protected while the outcome still comes to life.
Modern Mentor is hosted by Rachel Cooke. A transcript is available at Simplecast.
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Hey, it’s Rachel Cooke, your Modern Mentor. I’m the founder of Lead Above Noise—a firm specializing in helping teams and organizations optimize their working experience. And one thing that doesn’t help a workplace experience is rampant overwhelm or worse, burnout.
The uncertainty of the economy has left many of us afraid to say no—to anything. So we all just keep piling more onto our plates. But as I learned the hard way the first time my parents unleashed me at a dessert buffet when I was 5, your body will inevitably let you know when you’ve piled it on too high. My delight at the buffet ended in a “cleanup on aisle 6” disaster. But in the workplace, the over-piling on our plates leads—less repulsively but just as terribly—to anxiety, overwhelm, and disengagement. These consequences are real.
So if your boss—or a client or colleague—is continuing to ask for more, and you’re just afraid to say no, what can you do? Well, you can refine!
One of my most popular workshops these days is called “Achieve More with Purpose, Clarity, and Alignment.” And it’s designed to help a team clarify its most essential impact, determine which priorities—which meetings, projects, etc.—ladder up to that impact, and then make more effective decisions around what to take on and what not to.
And as part of this workshop, I teach a framework called the SRA, which stands for Stop, Refine, and Add. And here’s how we use it. I start by asking teams to complete what’s called a Purpose Canvas—it’s a quick exercise to help them articulate the unique value they deliver, to whom, and why.
Then, with that purpose in hand, I ask them to review their calendars and ask themselves this question: If I need to achieve this purpose, or impact—what are the things I need to stop doing? (And yes, there is always something!) What are the things I need to add or start doing? And what are the things I need to keep doing, but can do more efficiently, effectively, or even more joyfully? This last bucket is where we Refine.
If you’re wondering what it looks like to Refine something you’re already doing—and I hope that you’re wondering—then let’s talk about some of the strategies I share in this program. Candidly, I have so many beloved ones that I’ll be sharing some this week and some others next week.
All of these require you to pause and consider some options before you automatically say yes and run. And it takes practice. But here are some options to consider.
1. Advise. Sometimes we’re asked to do something not because we’re needed for the doing, but for the knowing of something relevant, important.
Like, take my client Jay. He works in Marketing and he’s an analytics wizard. Which means he’s always in high demand and his plate is always spilling over.
When we held up his Purpose Canvas next to his plate, we discovered that much of what was piling up was on his plate simply because the person who should have been owning the task or project was lacking the analytic confidence or capability. And we agreed together that by taking on an advisory role, Jay could offer a unique value to the work without owning the work.
We started with one project that was about to kick off—a detailed analysis of the past 12 months of campaigns that had been sent. Jay, of course, had been tasked with doing this work. But instead, he approached his boss and said something like this: “I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and if I take this on I’m concerned another ball will get dropped. What if instead, Kayla takes it on and I spend a few hours with her upfront setting up the analytics, and I agree to meet with her weekly to talk through progress and advise on the conclusions they’re drawing?”
His boss said yes! He’s since negotiated similar arrangements in 3 other projects. And this is a win for everyone. It means more projects are given the advantage of Jay’s expertise, while Jay maintains the capacity to get his own work done without burning himself out.
Your area of expertise may be less specific or technical. But can you find just one thing on your plate that needs your brain more than your hands? Give it a try.
2. Collaborate. Whatever the thing you need to deliver—a report, a presentation, a process, a product, a safety plan… Before you begin, stop and ask yourself: who else in my world may be working on something similar?
It may be a colleague in your company. It may be someone you met at a conference or on LinkedIn who does similar work. As long as trade secrets are kept confidential—who can you partner up with?
This approach adds value through a few lenses. It can drive efficiency if you and your collaborator opt to divide and conquer. It can deliver a more creative outcome because two minds generate more ideas than one. And finally, it can make doing the work just a bit more pleasurable. And this helps preserve your energy and engagement. Which totally counts in the world of keeping your impact high!
I personally use this one all the time. I get more joy out of the work, and my clients get richer solutions. #Winning!
3. Repurpose. Option 3 often requires a bit of release of our egos. Because we love creating something from scratch.
There’s this great story around the advent of the Betty Crocker cake mix in a box. In short, the original version of the cake mix, launched in the 1950s, required only the addition of water to the mix before baking. In its earliest days, sales were abysmal.
So the company did some market research and discovered that their target customers (in this case, being the 1950s and all, it was women who managed the home) weren’t buying it because it felt like “cheating.” It was simply too easy. And they—the women—didn’t feel a sense of ownership of the cake they ultimately put on the table.
So General Mills changed the recipe so the baker now needed to add eggs to the batter, and suddenly it was flying off the shelves.
The lesson here is that when we’re attaching our name to something we want to feel a sense of ownership in it—like we played a strong hand in making it. There’s no shame in that. But also, sometimes the impact is in the efficiency.
Before you set off with a blank page to build the thing, pause and ask yourself—does something similar already exist? Something that gets me 90—or even 5% of the way there? Something that I can use as a springboard, but evolve to make my own?
OK, I hope you found some value in these strategies. Choose one and give it a try. And stay tuned for more…
Join me next week as I share another series of strategies for refining your work for greater impact. Until then, visit my website at leadabovenoise.com if your organization is looking to dial up its Employee Experience or deliver some leadership development that activates change. You can follow Modern Mentor on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Find and follow me on LinkedIn. Thanks so much for listening and have a successful week.