Some people seem to do it all. They come up with great ideas, write the books, launch the projects, teach the classes, and plan the events, while the rest of us wonder how they ever find the time. What’s the difference between them and the rest of us? What’s the secret to their success that they are hiding?
Here’s one: they have the superpower of saying no.
They’re focused on their purpose, they know when to say yes and when to say no, and they don’t let the priorities of others dictate their days. The rest of us may need to declutter our schedules.
After all, we spring-clean our houses, weed out our wardrobes, minimize our closets. But how often do we reevaluate our calendars?
No matter how many commitments we take on, no matter how long the to-do list, we never get more than twenty-four hours in a day. The way we spend those hours should reflect our values and priorities.
To use our time well, we need to get rid of all those tasks that creep into our to-do lists. We can’t be always going, always on, always busy. What keeps us from simplifying our schedules and focusing our time?
People-pleasing. When we say no, we worry that someone else will be disappointed.
Comparison. We look around and see that everyone else is doing something, and we think we probably should do that, too. It must be important if everyone does it this way. And even if it’s not important, we don’t want to miss out.
Interruption. We all get interrupted, sometimes with good reason. Urgent things can’t always be predicted, but they can derail us from what matters.
A culture of busyness. “Busy” feels productive and important. When we’re busy, we feel like we’re working — even if we’re really just spinning our wheels.
Energy. Swimming upstream is hard. It takes more work to evaluate each possibility and decide what we’re going to commit to, instead of doing what the people or culture around us expect.
So how do we slow down?
1. We learn to say no.
2. We focus on the important, not only the urgent.
Interruptions will happen. But we can be mindful of whether those distractions are urgent or important (or not), and we can continually choose turn back toward the work that is ours to do.
3. We make choices that reflect our personal values.
We can’t do everything. Not every day, not every year. There just isn’t time. But you can choose the few things that are most important to you, and use them as a guide when deciding what gets onto your calendar.
Saying yes to the best stuff means saying no to everything else, even some really good things. But the good news is, saying no is a superpower we can all develop. It’s just going to take some practice.
There are two roads open to us every day. The first road is easy to walk down. It’s the path most people take. There’s activity and bustle, but everyone’s stressed out, and their schedules are not their own.
Down the other road, there’s more peace, more calm. There is purpose and focus. Each person is running their own race, doing their own work. It’s the harder road to stay on, but the rewards are greater.
Let’s map our days accordingly.
No Sidebar: At Work
The first ten minutes of your morning can set the tone for the whole day. Here’s how to get the most out of them.
Free up more time by simplifying your work life. You don’t have to start with anything drastic — small changes like writing shorter emails, taking breaks to breathe and refocus, and clearing your desk can have a big impact over time.
No Sidebar: At Home
Our routines are full of tasks that might need reevaluating. Are time drains stealing your margin for relaxation?
When you simplify your schedule, you have more space for what matters. It’s like discovering bonus time in your day. Here are five ways to simplify your family life.
No Sidebar: In Your Soul
Saying no creates space in your calendar, but it has other benefits, too. That “no” can change how you feel about yourself and how others treat you.
To be more intentional about your “yes” and your “no,” it helps to reflect on where you are and where you’re headed. If you need a tool for bringing more reflection to your days, try the practice of ignatian examen.
And don’t forget that saying no is just part of doing to the work you are meant to do. We all have to say yes AND say no.