You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage – pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically – to say ‘no’ to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.
– Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
I am not there yet, I am getting better….I’m getting much better at learning to say NO.
So many of us are task rich and time poor, juggling different elements of our lives; be that work, children, parents, friends, hobbies, interests, looking after where we live, paying bills, worrying about paying bills, washing, education, illness, partners, pets, weekly food shop, cooking… oh, so maybe you wouldn’t find me personally cooking, something I have managed to avoid given I really do manage to burn beans, however you get the drift, we have really busy lives.
Often people will ask me how I fit so much in a day, how do I have so much energy, they think I am uber organised and a time management supremo. The thing is I don’t think of it as time-management, I think of it as self-management.
There are only so many hours in the day and by learning to say no, not only do we conserve some of our precious energy, we also are saying yes to an infinite number of other things.
It hasn’t always been this way, and it is still a daily conscious act.
Saying yes when we actually want to say no
You see…. I love to be involved, if I don’t say yes, I might miss out. I like to be helpful; it is the right thing to do, if I say no maybe that means I am not being very nice or I could be perceived as rude. I want to be kind, if I can be kind why wouldn’t I say yes and be kind? I like to learn; I don’t want to miss opportunities. I like to feel that I have stuff to do, that little nagging voice of making the most of our time. I want to be thinking about planning for the future, for me, for the family, for the ‘what ifs’, so surely it’s best to say yes, just incase! And let’s be really honest, given it is an innate human trait; I want to be liked, I don’t want people to make judgement of me for saying no, so I often found myself saying yes; saying yes when I wanted to say no.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, summarises this brilliantly; he says,
No is a decision. Yes, is a responsibility.
He talks about No being a form of time credit, signposting that when we say no we are able to retain the ability to spend this future time saved however we want. Whereas the other side of the coin would be that yes therefore becomes a sort of time debt. We will have to pay back our commitment at some point. And what might that look like? Well maybe a little less time doing something that we choose to do, something that we would like to do at work and have been putting off, maybe a hobby, maybe more importantly time with a loved one; maybe even more importantly time for ourselves. Time to pause, to think, to sleep, to be! We are living in a world where everything is so fast and busy, to really thrive we must take time to slow down. And we must, must, must learn to be more gentle with ourselves.
Giving ourselves time to think, breath and be
Now I am not advocating always saying no to stuff and never saying yes. Goodness, not at all. I have so much passion to get involved, helping where I can and going above and beyond for others, it is my very core to be kind. At the wise old age of 43, as my children are becoming teenagers, losing my father this year to Covid, ramping up opportunities with my career… there are parts of life that seem to be whizzing past, or ‘zooming’ past this year (terrible joke but you can have that one!) Some parts are absolutely out of our control, some parts are very much within our gift to make choices that are right for us.
This year of all years, with the challenges we have faced, it can be so very tempting to hang onto what feels familiar, what feels safer to do so, infact that’s human nature. It is just sometimes the holding on, the not saying no, quite often can be doing even more damage.
So, as we begin to look to the last couple of months of this year, it is so important to not routinely say yes. Take a big deep breath and pause. Give ourselves time to think, breath and be.
Being deliberate in our approach
Switch off the notifications on emails or our phones, to give ourselves a little bit of space. Do think about how our yes decisions fit in with our other priorities and goals. Do use our networks personally and professionally to think who else may be able to say yes for us- delegation can work in our personal lives as well as our professional lives. Be clear on your important things to get done in a day, think about how your yes to other stuff may impact them, be really deliberate with your approach. Sometimes I replace no with a not now, it feels a good halfway house in self-management.
I love to help others, it fills me with absolute joy, I love saying yes. I am getting better at making sure I help myself too, sometimes saying no or not now means I am conserving energy for an infinite number of other things, it means I am saying yes to myself….. And the magic is that some of those future opportunities I won’t even know anything about yet, but I am giving myself the space to say yes when I find out what they are.