Saying 'no' is the key to achieving more in 2018

"A 'no' to something is a 'yes' to yourself." 

So you've started the year with some strong intentions to avoid the trap of busyness. You're going to do less, and be more! But like all good intentions, they will be tested. One week into 2018 and things feel good; the world has slowed down; your resolve is strong. But the first working Monday is upon you, and you're about to find out that the world has not slowed down at all, it was just taking a nice little break. In fact, everyone has recovered their energy, renewed their focus, and refreshed their priorities... 

Someone is about to ask you to do something, and the only way you can stay on track with your own resolutions is to say 'no'. But can you?

You’re probably a very agreeable person; a reliable friend who people can turn to; a dedicated worker who is known for getting things done; and a person with a strong sense of responsibility. You don’t like to let people down, and you feel guilty when you say ‘no’ to a request. However you are letting someone down. In fact you are letting down the only person who relies on you fully and completely: yourself!

When you lease precious spaces in your day out to other people’s requests, you are shuffling yourself to the back of the queue, deferring your dreams, delaying your priorities, and robbing yourself of the precious time you have been given to live a full life.

When you say ‘yes’ to something, you are always saying ‘no’ to something else. A ‘yes’ to attend a breakfast meeting might be a ‘no’ to your health, because it means you’ll miss your morning run. A ‘yes’ to bringing forward a deadline so someone else can complete their project on time, might mean a 'no' to the deadline for your own goals. A ‘yes’ to a networking event might be a ‘no’ to your family because you'll get home too late to eat dinner together.

While it’s important to be giving and generous to others, the more important question is "Am I letting myself down by saying ‘yes’?

A common reason people struggle with saying ‘no’ is because they can’t find a good excuse at the time. To be honest, you don't need an excuse. You are the only person who can set boundaries for your life, and they don’t need to be explained every time you decide not to cross them. But it is easier to say no if you have some simple responses ready when you need them. Try these:

  •  Thanks for the kind offer/invitation. I won’t be able to take you up on it this time, but I wish you all the best.

  •  That sounds like a great opportunity, but I’ll need to say ‘no’.

  •  Thanks for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to take that on.

  •  I can’t do that right now, without something else falling off my schedule.

    With practice, it gets easier to say ‘no’, but like all habit change, it really does take intentional practice before it becomes more natural. Rather than hoping you'll be ready when those requests come, prepare yourself some "no" notes. 

The 'no’ note

Write yourself five ‘no’ notes for the week. These are permission slips to say ‘no’ to an offer, invitation, extra task or responsibility. It might sound strange, but making them physical, tangible pieces of paper also makes them more real in your mind.

On a small piece of paper, write as follows:

I give myself permission to say ‘no’ to this: _____________________ (insert your signature)

Carry them in your pocket or wallet for the week. When you are faced with a situation that you know you should decline, mentally hand yourself one of your ‘no’ notes, then respond to the request with a polite and appropriately worded ‘no’.

Now get the 'no' note out and on the back of it write down all the things you gave back to yourself by saying ‘no’ to that request. Maybe it was time with your children, an opportunity to spend another two hours on something you really wanted to finish, or a peaceful night alone without taking any work home. 

Eventually you will not need the notes. You will naturally assess the trade-offs and make a choice that is a ‘yes’ to the thing that matters most.

+ Check the Trade-off

If you are still stuck, try this. Before saying ‘yes’ to a new thing, identify something that you will give up. If you can’t give up something, then don’t take something on! 

This is an extract from Do Less. Be More by Susan Pearse & Martina Sheehan. All rights reserved.