As I noted when writing about the pitfalls of time management, some time management strategies are truly helpful. One of those is learning to say “no” at the right time.
Andy Orin at the Lifehacker website asked Jason Fried, the CEO of the software company Basecamp, about his best time-saving shortcut or life hack, and he replied:
Saying no. Techniques and hacks are all about managing what happens when you say yes to too many things.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of saying yes to too many things. If you find yourself overcommitting on a regular basic, you could use the technique that Ana Menendez wrote about for confronting her mistakes when she was a reporter. When she made a mistake that got into a published story, she was required to complete a form that included this information:
How the error happened:
How I will prevent it from happening again:
When you find yourself overcommitting yet again, reflecting on why this happened and how you’ll prevent it from happening again, could be useful.
Elizabeth Grace Saunders wrote an article entitled “Quitting as a Productivity Tactic” where she recommended dropping some things from your to-do list. I like the two questions she suggested asking yourself: “Does this make me happy? Do I need to do this?”
Some tasks you’ll need to do even if they don’t make you happy, such as filing your tax returns. But you might realize you’re participating in some activities because they were enjoyable in the past, but no longer are. Or you may find things that you started doing because you thought they were important, but now you can see they really aren’t.
But sometimes you may need to make some difficult choices and eliminate things that you really do enjoy. As Leo Babauta explained on his blog, Zen Habits:
You might have to say No to certain work projects, or community groups, or committees or boards or parent-teacher organizations or coaching sports or some other worthwhile activity.
I know, it seems horrible to say No when these are very worthy things to do. It kills you to say No.
But the alternative is that you’re going to do a bad job at each one, and be stressed beyond your limits, and not be able to focus on any one. …
Saying No to worthwhile projects, and letting go of the idea that we can do everything, is very difficult. But it’s not more difficult than trying to do everything and not getting enough sleep and being overly stressed out. Saying No is hard, but it means you say Yes to focus and sanity.
When you’re organizing stuff, you’re aware of the physical limitations. There’s only so much that can be fit into a closet, cabinet, or garage. If there’s too much stuff for the given space, it’s time to unclutter. Similarly, you can’t fit 28 hours of activities into a 24-hour day. So you may need to unclutter your schedule and to-do list by saying no to some things. As with any uncluttering, that can be challenging — but you’ll almost certainly feel much better when you’re done.