In life today we are asked for more than ever. More things to do, more plans to make, more people to appease, more books to read. More. There is no shortage of ways to fill your time and if you aren’t intentional about where you’re investing your time, then someone else will decide for you.
A piece of advice I’m sure you’ve heard before is to “say no more often”. That’s because when you say “yes”, you’re actually implicitly saying “no” to 10 other things that you might prefer to do. But saying “no” is not easy, many people struggle with it because of the social pressure and perceived confrontation it creates. But it’s incredibly important for you to be able to enforce your own boundaries.
In Greg McKeown’s pioneering book “Essentialism”, he argues that we can do more by doing less. This is because our efforts aren’t being split in so many ways, and therefore we can make more progress when we commit to fewer tasks. But he knows this is easier said than done, so in his book he outlines a few ways to say “no” more gracefully.
First is to delay. Instead of saying "no" outright, you can say “let me check my calendar and I’ll get back to you.” This creates more space for you in a moment where you feel like you’re being pressed for a decision. You always have the right to be intentional with your commitments.
Or if someone asks a favor from you, you can communicate your boundaries by saying ”You are welcome to X, I am willing to Y.” Like if someone asks for a ride you can say, “You are welcome to borrow my car, I am willing to coordinate with you to give you the keys.”
And last, you can make an alternative suggestion. You can refer to someone else who might be more capable to help, or suggest a different version of the request that you want to say “yes” to. As in when someone asks for a phone call, you can say “How about next week?” or “Could we try seeing if we could handle this over email first?”
When you get better at saying “no”, and do so in a respectful and tasteful way, you start really making your priorities a priority, and you’ll feel proud of yourself for how you’re making positive choices that serve you.
To apply this right now, let me give you this challenge. The next time someone asks something of you that you’re not prepared to do, commit to saying a version of “no” and see what happens.
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