The Power of No

     Photo G.M Groutas, Creative Commons

     Photo G.M Groutas, Creative Commons

I've been looking at time management recently. And I find that looking at it is far easier than doing it. That is, we seem to know what to do to manage it better, we just don't seem keen to actually do it. Which is odd since time management is not monumentally difficult in its own right; figure out what needs to be done, how long it will take, put things in the right order and off we go. Doddle - err, maybe.

And yet, I've seldom met anyone who says they have enough time. Which suggests to me that there's something wrong about the way we relate to the whole topic of time. We rail about there never being enough of it, and yet we cram the day with more and more stimuli and things to do and stuff that's 'really important', and then complain that we have some kind of temporal indigestion. Humans, eh?

My opinion is that often we're not clear on our real priorities. Or find it tricky to carve out enough time for them. So here's an idea that may indicate your priorities - write down what's most important to you now, and what you most enjoy - really - the top ten things - off you go.

Now, write down what you spent your time doing over the last week and how long you spent doing those things (to the nearest hour). Now, what do those activities and that distribution of time tell you about your real priorities? I mean the ones you actually live? If there's a good match - hooray - ginger beer all round. If not - hooray - food for thought all round.

For some of us, it may be that any mismatch arises because we lack the conviction to do the single most powerful thing we can do to reclaim our time: to say no...politely (well, most of the time, anyway)...but nevertheless to say no when due consideration reveals that it's not in our interests to say yes. So what holds us back?

There are several things that happen when we practice saying no - one or two folks around us might be disappointed (though probably fewer people and to a lesser extent than we fear); we may feel awkward and difficult about it; or we may worry about the negative consequences. But are our concerns founded in reality (are we really going to be fired for not doing that thing)? And how do they stack up against the benefits that may accrue? Benefits that may include enhancing self respect, gaining the respect of the people we turn down (politely) and even removing the burden and creating some breathing space.

And in that breathing space, we might find that productivity really is not a question of working longer hours and doing more, but of making wise choices and setting realistic expectations of quantity, quality and output. Hard choices, perhaps, but choices that will lead to a more fulfilling, and slightly less crammed life.

Tempted to practice saying no? Yes? Good. No? Well done.