Tag Archives: priorities

How to Say No

Say Yes!

Image by erix! via Flickr

Last week I wrote about making time for what truly matters to you and a key part of that is being able to say no to less important things.  I know, this is easier said than done.

For the longest time, I knew I needed more sleep yet time and again I would catch myself staying up way too late to watch movies.  And usually, they weren’t even all that good.  In my sleep deprived state, I’d kick myself for doing that.  But next week, I’d do it again.  Why?  It wasn’t until I realized that I was afraid of missing out on a really good movie that I was finally able to break the habit of turning on the TV before going to bed just to see what’s playing.  Sure this fear is irrational in the age of on demand movies but most fears are.

So what are some reasons it’s so hard to say no, both to others and to ourselves?

  • we don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings
  • we worry we’re going to miss out on something
  • we don’t want to appear selfish or unhelpful
  • we want to be liked or needed
  • we feel pressured to do the socially acceptable thing
  • we worry we won’t be asked again in the future
  • we don’t want to create conflict

The bottom line is that we have a hard time saying no because of fear in some form.  It’s important to recognize what you’re afraid of.  Be compassionate and acknowledging your concerns.  Then focus on what you have to gain by saying no.  There are opportunity costs to every decision.  By saying no to the less important, you have a chance to say yes to what really matters to you.  This is true not just of time but also money.

So how do you graciously say no?  I once heard author and healer Judith Orloff say, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”  It’s a great line but we humans are biologically and socially programed to care about what others think so it’s not as simple as that.  The key is to be direct.  Don’t over explain but don’t lie either.  Here’s some language you can try:

  1. Sorry, I can’t.  I have other plans already (even if your plan is just spending time relaxing at home)
  2. I have a full plate right now.  I’ll call you if my schedule opens up.
  3. I need to check my calendar (or check with my significant other) and get back to you.  (This is a last resort.  It’s best to just decline immediately and get it over with.)

Take a look at your current commitments.  What would you say no to if you knew there would be no negative consequences?  This helps you see what you should be letting go of.  Of course in real life there are negative consequences sometimes but usually it’s not that big of a deal, either for you or for other people.  The dinner party will go on without you.  The charity project will be completed without your help.  Your friend will find someone else to bail them out.

It’s okay to change your mind after you’ve said yes.  If you’re someone who reflexively says yes, it’ll take time for you to learn to respond differently.  In the mean time, give yourself permission to change your mind and let the other person know.  As you make better decisions and stop agreeing to things you don’t want to do, you’ll need to change your mind less often.

Being able to say no comfortably is an acquired skill.  It just takes practice.  Learn to say no so you can say yes to the life you really want to live.

Making Time for What Really Matters

Time management matrix as described in Merrill...

Image via Wikipedia

In recent weeks, I’ve written about eating healthier, becoming financially stable, and letting go of clutter.  That’s all good but most of us lead very busy lives.  When do we have time to do those things?  Some of us barely have time to eat, much less cook.  It’s all we can do to keep track of our wallet, much less create a second source of income.  How do we make time for additional activities?

The answer is we don’t.  Trying to do more and more is foolish.  Not only is overloading ourselves stressful, it takes the joy out of living.  It’s an illusion to believe that through better time management, we can do, be, and have everything.  While time management techniques may give us a boost in productivity, the real key to having time is to do less.  It’s really about prioritization and self management amidst demands and distractions.

How do you actually spend your time right now?  It’s best to keep a time log for a week to get the most accurate information.  If you really can’t manage that, then estimate how much time you spend on different activities each day of the typical week.  How long do you spend sleeping, showering, grooming, working, socializing, running errands, taking care of others, commuting, web surfing, watching TV, volunteering, having fun, being with loved ones, praying, cleaning, cooking, relaxing, etc.?

After a week, take a good look at your log and be honest with yourself – what adds little value to your life?  What adds excessive stress?  If you really enjoy a TV show, keep watching.  But is it worthwhile to watch the show after that and the one after that simply because the TV is on?  The volunteering you do at your kid’s school – are you doing it out of love or guilt?  That old friend who likes to do nothing but complain, do you really want to continue having coffee with them?

What can you let go of all together?  Can you delegate household chores more equitably so you don’t have to do it all?  Leave a friendship that drains you?  Are there activities that you can spend less time on?  Can you work less?  Spend less time online or watching TV?

Like carving in marble, you chip away what is not essential so that the beauty of your life can take shape and shine forth.  It takes courage and strength to do this.  It’s a process of learning to say no to less important activities in order to say yes to what you really value.  Choose joy, meaning, and fulfillment over busyness.

As you reduce and eliminate activities, give yourself some breathing room before filling up the time with other things.  Allow some space in your life.  This helps you get in touch with what truly matters to you.

Ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to spend more time on?   This could be anything, such as being with family, having fun, growing a business, or simply sleeping more.
  2. Are there areas that need my attention such as health, finances, or spirituality?
  3. Knowing that I have a limited amount of time on earth, what is most important to me?

Reflect on these questions.  Then judiciously add activities to your life that are of real value.

We all have the same 24 hours in a day.  It’s up to us to use it wisely.  Be selective.  As life coach Cheryl Richardson says, don’t confuse tough choices with no choices.  Make time by simplifying your activities, by doing less.  Make time for what truly matters to you.  Life is precious and short.   Live accordingly.