Say No A Lot

Photo by Kvnga on Unsplash

As we get ready for the second half of 2022, I’m reflecting on what success means. Have you ever said “yes” to do something and immediately regretted it?

In an exchange with Michael Goldberg earlier this week, I mentioned that success is the freedom to say no (a lot).

When people ask you — even in a perfectly respectful way — to attend a meeting, perform a task, take their phone call, or participate in a project, remember there is freedom in telling that person “no”.

Even if they are serious opportunities, even if it will only take 15 minutes, even if it’s something that everyone else does, I’d like to avoid it.

Paul Graham, Founder of Y Combinator, has a famous essay from 2009 about why developers and programmers dislike meetings so much. It might also explain why going async is beneficial. I digress.

Graham says there are “managers vs makers”. There are two ways to run your life, he says. Managers know that their day is divided up into pieces for meetings, calls, and administrative tasks. Makers, on the other hand, need to have large blocks of uninterrupted, unscheduled time to do what they do. To create and think.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

Remember, there is no shame in saying it.

People will respect you for being honest and move on. If they continue to pressure you into saying “yes”, then politely explain to them that you feel like you wouldn’t be able to spend the proper amount of time that this project would require. This will make you a more dependable person because you can allocate more time to the tasks that you are already doing.

Your health depends on it.

As we age, it is important to de-stress our lives and direct more of our attention to things that we truly enjoy doing. The time in our lives that we worked 12-hour days has passed and is no longer required. It is all right to do this in your 20’s and 30’s but once you reach 45, it is time to eliminate the clutter in your lives and evaluate what is most important.

You should have a good reason every time you say “yes”.

Assess whether the task is doable. Will the task add value to my life? If I do it, what task will I not be getting done? Set boundaries in your mind for what you can accomplish without feeling resentful and stick to them. Do what is important to you, your family, or your job and so “no” to the rest.

I’m also reminded of Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”. “The things you own end up owning you.” Every time you say “no”, you are saying “yes” to freedom.

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