The power of your Yes is defined by what you say No to. Annie Parker

2016-09-29-13-21-142016 my year of Yes is drawing to a close, it wasn’t as overt as saying Yes to absolutely everything, more a subtle say Yes unless there is a really good reason not to. Other than a few stumbles along the way, overcommitments dictating a No, or modesty when nominated for awards resulting at attempted No’s I have really enjoyed getting involved in new initiatives and opportunities. Everything new I have become involved in has been pro-bono and in the back of my mind had been thinking this should be my normal mode of operation – time permitting.

That was until I heard the inspirational Annie Parker at Canterbury Tech Summit talk about valuing contribution and focusing attention (including my new favourite quote from Annie above) which really stopped me in my tracks recently.

Why do some people volunteer their time more readily than others?

First question to myself after listening to Annie was why do I enjoy saying yes and volunteering my time? is this a gender issue? do women volunteer their time more than men? a couple of studies would indicate there may be some truth to that hypothesis. The aptly titled Priceonomics article The Altruism Gender Gap suggests in the USA 28.4% of women over the age of 15 volunteer their time vs 22.2% of men; Australian statistics suggest 38% of women and 34% of men over the age of 18 volunteer. The Guardian’s figures for the UK however show there is no gender based discrepancy:

The proportion of male volunteers in the UK at 27% has overtaken that of women volunteering (26%) for the first time in 10 years, with men now twice as likely to volunteer than they were a decade ago.

So if it’s not just my gender is there something else in my DNA that preconditions me to say Yes to more pro-bono work? I started researching why some people volunteer more than others, there is very little hard data segmenting the market on this. One essay (exert here on Quora) does have findings that resonate strongly with me:

Extraversion and agreeableness are the most frequently cited antecedent personality traits for volunteers. Those with a moral belief that they should help others in need also predicts volunteer behavior.

Second question to myself was does this mean I have been saying Yes to too much? Rhetorical really but did worry me a little bit – Has this year of Yes been undermining the value of my contributions? 

What to say no to?

If you haven’t seen it do watch Dan Pink’s short clip from his book Drive “Two questions that can change your life” (and if you don’t have a wonderful friend named Robine who gave you the book to read, find a copy). While I don’t aspire to be a great man (or woman) at the ripe old age of 47 it does feel like time to find my true motivation so I can answer that question – What is my sentence?

What is your sentence?

Understanding what our real drivers and motivations are is a great mechanism to inform ourselves when to say yes and, when to say no to. Like in business being all-things-to-all-people might be fun but doesn’t gain focused traction. Distilling our true motivations down to a single sentence is hard – and might not sit well for many of us – but if your agenda is full it’s a great way to sift through the activities.

After considering both Dan Pink and Annie Parker’s advice, done this research on volunteering drivers and motivations moving into 2017 – after my year of Yes – the system I plan to use looks like this:

  • Is this work important?
  • Does it support my sentence?
  • Does it align with my goals?
  • Am I the best person to spend time on this?
  • Will I regret it if I say no?

Refinement will occur along the way – and I will keep you posted if things change considerably once this system is proven – but this feels like a good set of tests to apply. In my experience fragmentation of effort doesn’t do justice to anything in the long run, hopefully I will “drink my own champaign” in this instance and stick to the system. Happy sharing. Vic.

Victoria MacLennan is a busy business owner, investor and director. She is passionate about diversity, women in both leadership and technology, organisational governance and focuses much of her time on strengthening the New Zealand economy through Digital and Technology. You can read more about Victoria here.