Learning how to say ‘no’.

It’s always interesting how things will come into your space, repeatedly. Yesterday, I was listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast in which he was chatting to author Elizabeth Gilbert. One of the things they chatted about was saying ‘no’. Not even two hours later, my son wanted a piece of my daughter’s sandwich and her response was ‘no’. He was now pressurising her to explain why she said ‘no’.

I jumped into the back and forth to tell him that she did not owe him an explanation, in the same way that he did not owe anyone an explanation, when he said ‘no’.

I was forced to learn this, painfully, when I worked for Destiny Man magazine. At some stage, I was getting no less than 20 emails a day that were event invites, requests for stories or opportunity to write for the magazine, amongst other things. There would be weeks where, if I went to every event I was invited to, I would probably spend the bulk of the week at events. I eventually created a system for myself. It was first-come, first-serve (regardless of the event) and I attended a maximum of two evening events a week, none on weekends. I also didn’t do the dreaded breakfast events because, often, the only time I had with my children was when I drove them to school in the mornings.

And, even just the act of replying to all the emails, ended up taking up time that was better served doing my work. In the podcast, Gilbert says, to paraphrase, that she treats her email inbox like her home in that, an email is like someone just walking into your house and helping themselves to breakfast. Her only logical response in that instance is to ask the person to leave.

I now treat my inbox like it’s my home because I think it’s an extension of my home. So if somebody walks into my home uninvited and announces themselves and doesn’t say how they got a key and asks for something, I delete that email. 

Elizabeth Gilbert

I can’t remember who said it but, essentially, an email is someone else’s to-do list that they are forcing onto yours, if you allow them. What’s urgent for them isn’t necessarily urgent for you.

It isn’t considered ‘nice’ but, over time, I have reached the point where I only reply emails when I am ready to. Obviously, if it is something that is related to whatever task or project I am working on at the time, the response will be quicker. Other emails, I reply to during the time allocated on any given day for emails. If it doesn’t require a response, which I determine, then I don’t reply.

The more I explore the idea of productivity as a way of life, the less time I have for things that don’t help me move forward. As someone who writes for a living, I need blocks of time to focus on my writing, whether for a client, a media outlook, my own platforms or my own projects. When I am not focused on work, I also need to allocate time for myself and for my family. And I need to be deliberate and precious about that time, even if it is at the expense of ‘niceness’ or ‘politeness’.

There have many times when I have said ‘yes’ when, intuitively, I know I should have said ‘no’ and immediately regretted it. There have been projects and work and events where I knew that it wasn’t something I didn’t want to do, but did anyway, and was miserable or frustrated during the course of it.

There are 24 hours in a day within which to design the life that you want to live, incorporating all aspects of YOU – sleep, work, leisure, health, relationships, etc. I’m not trying to live a life that is purely about work.

My default setting has become ‘no’.

There are those who will understand and there are those who will not.

That’s alright. I am at peace with it.

Are you?

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