Setting priorities and saying “no” to people, groups, causes, and activities can be tough — but it’s also rewarding. I’ve been reminded of this as I’ve done some priority setting and no-saying of my own recently.
There’s a group I’ve been involved with for eight years; I’ve met some delightful people through the group, and it was a wonderful fit for me when I first joined. But over time, things have changed. A few weeks ago, I finally dropped out. It was hard to acknowledge it was time to move on. But, now that I’ve said my goodbyes, I’m really appreciating the extra time in my schedule. I’m also noticing that some projects I’d put aside for years are now getting done. And, saying goodbye to the group doesn’t mean saying goodbye to the friendships.
Learning to say “no,” when appropriate, is an important skill. As Merlin Mann said in a Beyond the To Do List podcast:
Everything you agree to do is other things you can’t do.
The most productive people are often those who do learn when to say no. Kevin Ashton highlighted this in his article “Creative People Say No,” which resonated with me even though I’m not an artist, a novelist, or such. I recommend the whole article, but these are a few excerpts:
A Hungarian psychology professor once wrote to famous creators asking them to be interviewed for a book he was writing. One of the most interesting things about his project was how many people said “no.” …
No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. …
How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code? The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less. We do not have enough time as it is.
Peter Shankman, while encouraging others to say “yes” to new opportunities, noted in his article “Saying Yes vs Saying No” that there are many requests to which “no” is the right answer:
There are times when we should say no. The “can I pick your brain without paying you for your time” requests? Yeah, those are pretty much always a no. Not that I don’t want to help you, and if you’re just starting out, or have one question via email, I’ll always say yes. But I’ve learned to say no to those more often than not, because they negatively impact me. (As they do you, as well.) And that’s fine. There are times to say no.
But the best advice, for me, comes from Lisa Barone. She said this on Twitter, and it’s become a new mantra for me:
We only get 24 hrs in a day. So if the answer isn’t “OMG, YES!” it has to be “I’m sorry, but no.”