One of the most under-utilized and underrated secrets to doing more and better work in less time is saying “no” more often.
The quest to stand out, to be productive, and to be recognized pushes too many of us to take on too much. High school students who are overscheduled without a moment to breathe. Working professionals who feel compelled to be reachable at all hours. So many of us have somehow embraced the ideas that success is the product of constant busyness. But a growing body of experts, research, and just plain common sense disagrees. Successful people get that way in part because they honor what they’ve committed to by refusing to distract themselves from it.
Lesson #27 of my final 31 posts: Successful people say “no.”
Do you really want or need to add that new commitment to your schedule? That club, meeting, committee, position, etc.—will saying “yes” allow you to give your best work and take some growth, learning, or benefit away from the experience? Or will it simply be yet another thing to say that you’re doing? If it’s the latter, why not say “no” and redouble your efforts to complete what you’ve already said “yes” to?
Saying no doesn’t dilute your ambition. It prevents you from distracting it.
Saying no doesn’t eschew hard work. It honors where you’ve already chosen to do it.
Saying no doesn’t have to be selfish. It can give you more opportunities to be selfless.
Saying no gives you the time, space, and focus to honor what you’ve said yes to.
Here are a few past posts, and some other experts’ takes, on the value of saying no.
My past posts that link to the research and writing on this topic are here, here, and here. Stanford professor Jim Collins calls it a “Stop Doing” list. Study skills author Cal Newport preaches the value of under-scheduling. And author Marcus Buckingham says in his book The One Thing You Need to Know that the key to sustained success and happiness is to “Discover what you don’t like doing and stop doing it.”