Out of all the small frames to adopt that can cause massive change, the strongest one may be learning how to say no.
We live in a cultural environment where everything we take part in can be co-opted by others in some way, so learning to say no enables us to liberate ourselves, our time, and also regain a sense of control over our world.
Here, then, is a primer of the lost art of actually owning your time.
Why saying no is important
Saying no is critical to the success of your business and personal life because it allows you to reclaim an incredible amount of lost time– time that you didn’t even want to give away in the first place, and that you don’t even really know is yours. We feel the need to agree to a bunch of requests all the time because we have an obsession with pleasing people that we learned long ago from parents or society in general.
Because it’s so pervasive, it can only be changed slowly, loosening the reigns that others have over you with several slow steps. Each of these are beneficial on their own, but put together, they’ll teach you a lot.
So take these steps, one at a time, until you get to the end. Do them as often as possible until they become second nature. If one of the steps already is, then move ahead, but try each one of them at least once to see if you encounter any resistance while doing it.
Step 1. Stop opening unwanted mail.
You probably do this already, but we wanted to mention it as a first step in the changing of your frame because you already clearly understand what unwanted mail is– spam. When you see credit card applications, you realize its someone trying to get you to behave in a manner you don’t want to, by buying something or subscribing to some magazine. Nothing good can come of this. Shred and recycle unwanted mail and forget it even existed.
Step 2. Stop reading/watching advertisements.
This is only a small stretch from what we’ve described above, so no big deal. Advertisements in magazines are distractions that are intended to dissatisfy you by making you feel that you want something you don’t have, but once you have the object in question, they don’t talk about how fleeting that sense of satisfaction is.
This step might seem like it’s only tangentially related to the art of saying no, but it’s actually pretty important. Once you recognize that incoming messages (from either media or people) are largely irrelevant to you and almost never urgent even if they are relevant, you start to see how much more control you already have– and can get back.
Step 3. Stop habitually picking up the phone.
Is your house on fire? We’re going to guess it isn’t. That said, practically everyone we know picks up the phone whenever it rings, wherever they are and whomever they’re with, relegating whatever they were actually doing at that moment to the backburner until the caller is done with them.
You don’t need to behave this way. Your mobile phone is just one more incoming source of distraction you don’t need to pay homage to. Itâ€™s an outsider asking for your attention– itâ€™s a request, not an order. If the caller has important information, they’ll leave a message, text you, or call back. When I was in Japan after Trust Agents was written, I effectively left my life for a whole month. No emergencies occurred, no horrible thing happened. Everything went just fine.
You can definitely do the same for a day. Try carrying your phone around with you all day, but watching all calls hit voicemail. Take note of who calls, and call them back the next day if you feel the need to. But avoid it for 24 hours. Later on, assess whether you lost or gained from the experiment– make the decision yourself whether each call was important.
Step 4. Saying no through email.
You can probably tell by now that each one of these steps is a slow process of putting control of several parts of your life back into your hands. The next step is email, but it could have just as easily been before the phone, so do this one first if its easier.
Email is the easiest way for someone to reach a million people at zero cost so, for this very same reason, it’s among the most taken advantage of. People abuse web communication most of all because it’s difficult for people to see that you also have 500 other emails in your inbox with the same level of urgency as theirs. Thankfully, email is also distant enough from real people that it’s good training wheels for saying no. On the electronic level, we start here, because itâ€™s easy and effective.
Saying no to email is different than using priority inbox. Priority inbox is not seeing any incoming messages in the first place, but this method helps you look at incoming requests and actively delete or refuse them, denying them control over your time. The distinction is important.
So say no by email to a few requests, whether parties you don’t want to go to, or favours you don’t want to do. But here’s the key: tell the truth. Do not, under any circumstances, make excuses– they are another form of avoidance as pervasive as saying yes. Don’t avoid answering the email either; just quickly press reply and explain that, no, you can’t participate in this or that thing. If you want to, explain why– but that’s optional. Why? Because it’s your right to decide not to do anything, and you don’t need a reason for it.
Step 5. Stop reading blog posts.
This step was recommended by Rufus and desperately needs to be added. Yeah, I know, you’re reading this on a blog. Amazing right? Still, when you subscribe to blogs, you’re basically offering up future time of yours, and as a result, devaluing your own future. Ask yourself why you’re doing this.
The concept of a “backlog” is flawed unless it is one of your own choosing. By definition, this permission marketing stuff basically says, “you can have my future attention as long as you use it wisely,” but often, people who push information through their channels don’t.
I’m sitting here at the TED conference and just watched Al-Jazeera director generalÂ Wadah Khanfar spoke about what was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, etc. I thought about how this channel is respectful of their audience, vs CNN, for example, whose mockery of news has started including things like Lindsay Lohan upskirt pictures.
For this reason, you should stop reading blog posts for a week via your RSS reader. During that week, what sites do you go to? Those are the ones you actually care about. Start with those– fresh. The rest should be flushed.
If you’ve taken all the steps we’ve mentioned so far, you’re probably feeling at least a little bit more powerful than you do on the average day. You might also be enjoying your time more since it isn’t interrupted as often, like when you get up very early and no one is up. You might also recognize this feeling as one similar to the kind of freedom you feel on long plane rides, except that now, you can get it whenever you like.
This sense of power is important for you to have before you proceed to the next steps. But there are a lot more steps than these.Â What follows is more intimidating, and harder to get the nerve to do when the moment arises.
To be continued. See you then.