Despite having a months old commitment to catching up, I recently had some friends cancel plans because “life got in the way.” And though I understand that these things happen, I had to chuckle, because they are the same friends who lament our infrequent catch-ups and make plans, only to cancel when life gets in the way. My friends mean well. They want to make plans, and it is never their intention to disappoint me.

It made me think about my values and how important values are within relationships. Things do come up for us all at work and in our personal life and sometimes we need to break our promise to meet a deadline or cancel a date. It also made me think of the power of an absolute yes.

Life often gets busy. I have found that the best way to manage my schedule and avoid last minute cancellations is to give commitments an absolute yes. Give me a reasonable timeframe, an honest answer, and a clear commitment, and I can make my plans around that. I would rather an absolute yes which may be a date six months from now that we can all firmly commit to, than a date a week from now that may need to be cancelled. It is the same at work as it is in my personal life.

One way to more frequently receive (and offer) an absolute yes for important commitments is to adopt the strategy of under-promising. For example, we had a rule with our quotes in one team I worked in that we told our clients that quotes took a week. We did not tell our clients that we aimed at getting our quote out in three days. This way we set ourselves up for success and if there was a unforeseen problem we still had time to deliver our quote on time.

We knew as a team we could give our clients an absolute yes to delivering the quote in one week because we knew quotes normally took three days. Even with an unexpected event in the workplace we still had time up our sleeve to produce the work.

It set our company up with a value of trust. We did not just deliver on time but delivered early exceeding our clients expectations.

In our busy world sometimes it is not so easy to say no. We may also feel pressured into giving a short deadline that perhaps we will struggle to complete. For me it was often being caught on the hop or just being polite—the yes would come before I could stop and think about it. I’ve learned that there is tremendous value in learning to say no (or at least delaying an automatic yes), in my coaching practice and my personal life.

Here are a few tricks I’ve learned to slow myself down, evaluate requests in terms of my ongoing priorities, and position myself to give an absolute yes and exceed expectations:

  • Bring a glass of water to meetings, and take a sip before you respond to questions. This will give you a moment to think, and to swallow an automatic yes if one comes to mind.
  • Learn to say “I need to think about that. When do you need an answer by?”
  • If you can’t commit to something, decline politely and avoid explaining your reasons.
  • Allow extra time in your schedule to complete tasks, or under-promise to set yourself up to over deliver.
  • Write a list of priorities and keep it somewhere visible. Refer to the list before you commit to a task or deadline.
  • Lastly, if you find yourself in an overcommitted position, accept that the situation is not ideal, and complete your work to the best of your ability without procrastinating or complaining. Stick to the absolute yes.

Values are an important part of relationships. The strategies I’ve outlined have helped me to enact my values: respect for my time and the time of those that work with me, a dedicated commitment to doing the things I say I’m going to do, and not over-promise or extend myself.

No one is perfect and if everything fails take responsibility, apologize, and move on. And like my friends, sometimes for all of us “life gets in the way,” but I prefer to save that excuse for the truly unforeseeable.