Your buffer zone (and how it is affecting your FE Exam results)
One of the first (not always) common sense lessons we get when learning how to drive is that of maintaining a buffer zone between us and the cars around us.
But we are ignoring this concept altogether, and it’s affecting our FE Exam results
Maintaining a buffer zone on the road is just good practice, it keeps us safe and it keeps others safe.
We have been ingrained with and indirectly learned to protect it no matter the circumstances.
But what about our personal buffer zones?
Do you treat your time with the same respect?
My guess is a solid “no”.
It seems that as we age, we more or less sell out on the fundamental importance of protecting our own personal time.
We, without much resistance, hand the keys over for others to drive the trajectory of our lives.
It all starts with a single request coming our way, and over time, this request balloons in to many until our life is being driven completely inline with other peoples agendas and goals – not our own.
Is this something that resonates in your life today?
I get it, it’s hard to say NO, but in order to see successful FE Exam results, saying NO is a fundamental precept we must reintroduce in to our lives and protect it by any means.
There’s a story I once heard about a meeting had between Warren Buffet and Bill Gates that illustrates the importance (and power) of honing the ability to say No.
At some point during the meeting, Buffet pulled out his personal calendar, and to everyone’s surprise, it was relatively empty.
How could one of the most successful investors of our time have a schedule that was practically wide open?
Buffet was quoted as saying:
You’ve got to keep control of your time, and you can’t do that unless you say No. You can’t let people set your agenda.
This is wisdom we must adopt for ourselves.
Productivity Starts at No
It’s hard to say No – and it seems the older we get, the harder it becomes.
I don’t know what it is, but my guess is that it has something to do with our natural tendency to want to please others.
Going in to our careers, we have our minds set on progressing, and though we come in with clear intentions, the buffer zones we set around our goals slowly degrade until they are nearly non-existent.
Where we were once going in to our days with a clear focus on what we were going to get done, we are now letting people tell us what we are going to do every waking second.
We succumb to the social pressures of feeling that we will be fired, or not get that promotion, if we say No to our supervisors request to do a task that we had never planned on doing…
Even if it keeps us away from spending time on a task that is of far more importance.
As we mold in to our standard corporate routine, the tendency to “sell out” on our buffer zone becomes part of what’s reality.
So now not only are we accepting the “reality” of working 60+ hours at work, but we are now giving in to the inundation of people’s requests for our time outside of work.
Before we know it, we are booked from dusk to dawn with obligations to be somewhere or some place to do some thing that we don’t even want to be doing just because we weren’t able to maintain our buffer zone.
And all it would have taken was a simple, genuine, and honest, No.
This is our reality.
This is the world we are living in.
A world that is constantly pulling us towards committing our time to something that at the end of the day will bring limited benefits to us when it’s all said and done.
We need to recognize this for what it is.
It’s holding us back at work.
It’s holding us back at home.
And it’s holding us back from preparing for and seeing the FE exam results we want and need.
Own Your Time, Do Work That Matters
Our time is finite and it comes down to the buffer zone that we build around it that will determine how far we get with this limited asset.
I was reading through a discussion where former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong defined with clarity how time is limited in 3 distinct ways:
- Time is highly limited: As humans, we’re immature in our first decades, and declining in health in our last.
- Time is uniquely limited: You can’t bank, transfer, or recover time, unlike money.
- Time is equitably limited: Americans can, on average, expect to live about 77 years. That expectation isn’t equal with resources like money.
Some may read these limitations and suddenly be struct with feelings of anxiety.
Some will take action.
Some will let it go in one ear and out there other.
Whatever route you choose for yourself, at the end of the day, your life is your canvas.
You can do anything you want to do with it, and if FE Exam results is what you want, make that your reality.
Your Life Your Canvas
Warren Buffet explains how Berkshire Hathaway is his canvas…a canvas that he gets the Blessing to paint every day.
If you are to be successful in painting your personal canvas, and ultimately achieving the desires in your own life, then you are going to need to build, maintain, and/or reconstruct buffer zones around the limited and declining asset of your time.
Kevin Ashton, the British technology pioneer who co-founded the Auto-ID Center at MIT, wrote an essay where he pointed out that being stingy with your time is part of leading a creative, productive life.
Saying No has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.
Being successful isn’t about doing everything.
It’s about doing the right things at the right time – being productive and honing the ability to say No when it needs to be said.
So I have to ask this again…
Do you have a hard time saying No?
We all do.
You are human and it’s not in our nature to disappoint, and when we find ourselves in a position where saying Yes would be easier than saying No, we tend to fold our convictions and fail to maintain the integrity of our own buffer zone.
There are many reasons why saying No is hard, and the first step in maintaining (or reconstructing) our buffer zone is to understand these reasons deep down.
Five Reasons Why It’s So Hard to Say No
- We want to be helpful
We all want to help others when they are in need.
You are kind, sensitive, and empathetic and want to see others who may be struggling have it easier.
When we find ourselves in a position where we could potentially make an impact, we tend to lean towards setting aside our boundaries and give in.
What I am saying is that being helpful can become tainted to a point where every request that comes your way seems important and you no longer have the ability to help yourself.
- We are afraid of being rude
I was raised to respect my elders, to respect those in authority, to respect others.
Today I teach my daughters these same life lessons, they are important.
But there is one thing I failed to learn in the process of learning how to be respectful, and that’s how to respectfully say No.
Maybe this is your story too?
- We want to be agreeable
You don’t want to be an outlier.
You don’t want to stand out from the group because you have a different opinion on how things should be done.
So with that, you resort to Group think, where the default response to any and all requests is a simple (although tough)…Yes.
- We fear potential conflict
Saying No is hard.
I am going to go out on a limb and assume that you want people to like you, to look to you as a good person…you want to be agreeable as we just discussed.
I am right there with you.
You may feel that saying No to a request might cause that person to get mad or feel like we have disrespected them.
Even if a confrontation doesn’t arise, you might feel there will be collateral damage filled with dissent created leading to negative consequences in the future.
This is uncomfortable…no one likes uncomfortable.
- We fear losing future opportunities
I remember when I was working for the first time as Project Manager and the Project Director called me and asked me to do some (very inconvenient) company training.
I was in the middle of a project, racing time and money to get the facility we were constructing open for the client – yet, here I was being asked to do some training.
This was the wrong time, but I said Yes because I felt as if I said No, I would be closing the door to some future opportunities.
We by nature want to be helpful, agreeable and avoid coming across as rude. We want to stay within our comfort zones as much as humanly possible and skirt anything that may result in us losing future possibilities.
If any of these (or all) resonate with you, then let me be the first to tell you that you are not alone.
We all are in this battle together.
Some will admit it, while others will hide behind a false narrative.
But regardless of where you sit on this spectrum of acceptance, understand that these mental bombs will continue to put heavy stress and strain on our ability to maintain buffer zones – and the slow drain on the limited resource of time will continue unless we take accountability and start working on…
Breaking False Beliefs
This is my story, and I am a continuing work in progress.
What I have found, is that ever since I began implementing an intentional No program in to my day to day life, all of these reasons I stated above are revealed for what they truly are:
People don’t get mad, people don’t get broken, you don’t lose opportunities, you aren’t looked at as rude.
On the contrary.
Saying No actually earns you respect and understanding from those you are interacting with.
They begin to see what your priorities are and that they you are true and genuine in building something that matters.
Your Customized No Program
When it all comes down to it, maintaining (or rebuilding) your buffer zone all comes down to you nurturing an ability to say No…and to deliver that No in a way that is graceful and meaningful.
It’s about communicating it in a way that says “I value my time and space”.
But how do you say No with grace and conviction without coming off like you don’t care about the person your talking to?
We need to (re)learn to say No.
If we want to excel to where we want to be in life, it’s time that we begin implementing a solid No program in to our own lives.
Learning, knowing, and feeling comfortable saying No is an art form that comes with time.
And I’ve done a lot of the dirty work, here’s what I have learned along the way.
7 Simple Ways to Say No
When I began intentionally saying No to others, I realized something right off the bat…
It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
Those who I was saying No to were understanding and the resistance I thought I would be getting was not there.
I’ve come to the conclusion that saying No can be placed in the bucket with all my other irrational fears that have traveled freely through my head throughout my life; ie, I don’t think I am smart enough to take the FE Exam, I’ve been out of school for too long to pass the FE Exam, I will not get a good raise if I don’t say Yes to this request…
The list is longer than a CVS receipt.
If you are unsure how to begin your No campaign in route to reestablishing your personal buffer zone, then here are 7 simple scenarios that you can get started on.
Mix it up or choose the method that works best for you in your particular situation and run with it:
- I can’t make the commitment to complete [FILL IN THE BLANK] because I have other priorities that I am currently working on
This was the first road I went down when I launched my No campaign.
I was busy.
You are busy.
So this simple and honest approach will let the requester know that your plate is too full to complete his or her task at that moment.
They will either hold off until a later date and come back to you, or they will go off and find other resources to backfill the request.
I use this all the time when my calendar begins to look a little too thick for my liking.
- Today’s not the best time as I am wrapping up [FILL IN THE BLANK]. How about we rally back at [FILL IN A SPECIFIC TIME]?
It’s not uncommon to get sudden “urgent” requests when you are in the middle of wrapping something up.
Often times, I would get a phone call from someone frantically requesting my assistance on the other line – it’s always a dumpster fire right?
It’s tough to resist the emotion that’s coming through the receiver, so the best approach in this situation is to just temporarily set aside the request with grace and inform them that you will get back to them at some specific time.
This will ease the individuals mind knowing that they will have some help coming, and it also allows you your space to continue closing out the current work you are doing.
This approach is great for two reasons.
For one, you maintain your buffer zone by telling the individual that now is not a good time and that you are doing something. Second, it makes your desire to help known to the individual, at a time that is convenient to you.
The individual won’t feel blown off…they will feel relieved knowing you will “eventually” help them.
- I would love to, but [FILL IN THE BLANK]
This is my gentle approach towards saying No to individuals that respectably come to me with a legit request that I just shouldn’t be spending my time on.
Often times I will get requests from individuals looking to partner with me or have me lead a certain engineering review course, or speak at some conference.
The ideas are almost always great. But I know there are other, more impactful, areas I should be spending my time, so this is my gentle way of letting them know that I respectfully decline.
- Let me take a look at my schedule and I’ll get back to you
This is more like a soft No, borderline Maybe, response.
This is presented when you are actually interested in doing the request but you aren’t able to fully commit at this time.
Sometimes I am approached by other business owners and pitched on some great idea that is completely in line with my ultimate vision in life and would make a huge impact on people around the world…yet I know I need to hold off and gauge where my current commitments lie before I make another one.
If the person who is proposing something to you is sincere about their request, they will not be put off or disappointed that you are asking for some time to consider it.
This is the right move…but remember to specify a date and time that they should expect you to get back to them in the future.
If on the other hand, you are not interested at all in the request, use that next 3 methods and be more definitive about it.
- This doesn’t meet my needs or goals right now but I’ll be sure to keep you in mind
This is my recruiter line.
I often, as I am sure many of you as well, am contacted by recruiters looking to bring me in to some firm or on to some project.
I am wholeheartedly and genuinely grateful that they are reaching out to me, but most all the time, I am just not interested in pursuing their opportunity.
So with that, I respectfully decline and note that I will be contacting them in the future when I am ready to talk.
Definitive and buffer zone resistant.
- I don’t think I am the ideal person to help you with this, why don’t you talk with [FILL IN THE BLANK]?
If you are being asked to do something that you either:
a) Don’t have much to contribute to or
b) Don’t have the right expertise and/or resources to help, then let that be known and point them in a direction that will get them closer to what they are looking for.
If possible, lead them in a direction that they can immediately following up on, whether that be with another person or even another resource online.
When I say No, I always try and add value to that response by identifying potential resources or leads that they can follow up on.
In that case, I might not have been able to help with there task, but I still helped in moving them forward towards getting it complete.
And I am good with that.
Here she is…the straight up No.
This is simple.
This is direct.
This is hard to say.
We put up way to many barriers in our mind in route to simply saying No.
But as we discussed earlier, these barriers are nothing more than false beliefs that lead us towards total destruction of our personal buffer zones.
Try turning off your mind for a second, and just say No.
I am certain that you will be surprised by the response you get and that it isn’t one that you imagined it would be.
Once you get past the first No, the second, third, fourth…one hundredth No comes a lot easier.
And in return, feel liberated in your new freedom and health of your buffer zone.
You will have more time for yourself, to focus on the things that actually matter to you – like spending time with your family, friends…and preparing for and receiving the FE Exam results you have always wanted.
I know I do and I am happy that I finally started down this road of saying No.
Going back at this point will be impossible.
A healthy buffer zone has lead me down a road of productivity that I haven’t experienced since I was in my younger years.
Intentionally implementing your own No campaign will bring in to this same world.
So with all of this, I’ve got one simple question…
How do you guard your time?
How do you protect your buffer zone?
Let us know in the comments.
Productive People Say No.