The Best Way To Say No
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the things you could be doing? You’re not alone. All the best and most productive folks I know worry about spending their time wisely. There’s never enough time in the week to answer all the emails, tick all the boxes, finish all the projects attend all the meetings, and that’s even before we think about all the stuff we’d like to entertain ourselves with in our “spare” time.
The Bookshelf Tells The Story
Last week I did a quick tidy up of my bookshelves, removing some dusty old tomes I’ll never read again to make way for recent purchases. I counted at least seven books whose primary message seemed to be – “if you want to be more happy/successful/content/popular/productive, you’ll need to say no more often and remove more stuff from your life.” It’s as if the old architectural design maxim, “less is more” has become the personal and existential challenge of our times.
Where we once craved uncluttered rooms and spaces, we now also crave uncluttered minds and souls.
Part Of The Answer Is Saying No
The best advice all points in the direction of saying no again and again. No to distractions, no to unnecessary meetings, no to time wasting or negative people, no to work that is a poor match for our skills or long term goals, maybe even no to the place where we live.
Derek Sivers recently wrote about this, and why his desire to say no more effectively, drove him to move from Singapore to a more remote location in New Zealand,
“I started many times, but each time decided to chase some other distraction that didn’t put my ass on the line, instead. There are always more emails to answer, always more things to learn, and always more people with enticing requests for me to help them achieve their dreams. (Each one swearing it’ll be just an hour of my time, tops.)
To make it worse, I was living in distracting Singapore, surrounded by so many interesting people, and with a short flight I could be in 16 countries for under $200.
So I decided to do my version of the Steven Pressfield cabin. I moved to New Zealand. I shut off all other options. Time to finish what I started.”
In Saying No, Don’t Forget To Say Yes!
So, we cull, curate and clean out our emails, contact lists and maybe even our homes. The chorus of no grows strong around us. But, is that enough? Isn’t there a danger in becoming so practised in the art of saying no that we come to be defined by our shell of negativity?
The other way to say no, is to say yes, loudly, clearly, to a very few important people and things in your life.
When our few yes’s are clearly before us, in everything we do, the pain of saying no, for ourselves and those we deny, is at least put into some kind of context. After all, the joy of an uncluttered room isn’t the lack of mess and junk, it’s the space for life, for people, for activity. In the same way, the uncluttered mind and soul has room for life, room to embrace love and opportunity and hope, room to grow, improve and flourish.