Saying No to Unimportant
Yesterday, I said that the objective of time management is to maximize the time spent on important activities, which means minimizing the time spent on unimportant ones, and that there are only five ways to do this. Today, we will be looking at the first one, which is to say no.
You can’t say no to everything, because some things have to be done, and sometimes you do need to help other people even though you’re short of time. Certainly, you must be very careful about saying no to your boss or a customer.
But if you can get better at saying no, it can make a big difference. If you can say no to just one hour per week, that’s 52 hours a year, which is at least one whole working week you could have extra. A week per year!
Imagine an extra week: not just one of your usual weeks that’s maybe full of meetings and interruptions, but a whole clear week with no phone calls or emails coming in, all just pure time to use for whatever you like! That’s what saying no to one hour a week can get for you!
When to Say No
If something doesn’t contribute to your goals in life or at work, if it doesn’t bring you either achievement or enjoyment, then the first thing to consider is saying no to it. Ask yourself, “Is it top of your list of things you want or need to do?” and, “Will it matter to you or to other people if you don’t do it?”
For example, you might say no to having a drink with that friend you don’t really like, or saying no to the wedding of a distant relative you hardly know. Don’t feel guilty or bad about it: The friend will find someone else to drink with, and the relative will invite someone else to the wedding (possibly someone they would rather have invited—maybe they only invited you out of duty!) Sometimes, you should even say no to customers, if they are loss-making or don’t add overall value to your work—but if in doubt, check with your boss first!
How to Say No
Here are some useful tips when saying “No”:
• Always be polite. For example: “Thank you for inviting me, and normally, I would have loved to come, but I’m so pushed for time, I don’t think I could do it justice, so I’ll have to say no. But thanks again for asking.”
• Use a format like, “I understand/I feel/I want/Is that okay?” For example, you could say, “I do understand how important it is for you to get your project finished, but I’m feeling quite stressed by my other workload at the moment, so I’m afraid I have to say no, I can’t help you this time. I hope that’s okay.” If they reply with, “But I really need you on this,” then you can repeat the same process, just changing the wording a little.
• Never lie. For example, don’t say you are doing something else when you’re not, or you risk being caught.
• Use the actual word, “no.” For example, “I do enjoy a good night out, but I’ve got a load of work I need to catch up on, so I’m afraid I’ll have to say no, but maybe we can catch up another time.”
My Personal “No Crap Policy”
When I was about 30, I suddenly realized that my life had filled up with things I didn’t want to do—work, house maintenance, etc.—and I had pretty much no life to call mine, so I invented my “No Crap Policy” (NCP) (excuse the language!). I sometimes flex my NCP if my wife really wants me to mow the lawn or something, but then, I want my wife to be happy because she’s important, so that’s okay. But my NCP remains my starting point when asked to do anything: “Do I really want to do this?”
See you tomorrow for the second of the five ways to spend less time on unimportant things.
Homework: Make a list of things you spend too much time on. What would you like to say no to? What could you say no to?
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