Do you often find yourself caught in the whirlwind of busyness, constantly juggling tasks but struggling to truly get things done?
As the afternoon sun starts its descent, you glance at your work and wonder:
“Why does it seem to take me forever to accomplish what should be swift tasks?”
And when the day draws to a close, that familiar pang of frustration sets in, knowing that your day could have been far more productive.
Sound all too familiar?
Believe me, I’ve been there too. In fact, I reached a point where I couldn’t ignore this nagging issue any longer. Some days, it felt like I’d poured my heart into work only to see minimal results.
But here’s the silver lining: You’re not alone in this struggle. Research reveals that a mere 26% of people leave the office having crossed off their intended tasks.
Now, let’s dive into the heart of the matter: What’s sabotaging your productivity?
Picture this: you’re in the zone, ready to conquer your tasks and get things done. But then, like clockwork, interruptions swoop in, hijacking your focus and slamming the brakes on your productivity.
Did you know that, on average, office workers face interruptions every 3 minutes and 5 seconds? It’s a relentless assault on your workflow, and it’s nearly impossible to escape this daily interruption dance.
When you’re on a tight deadline, these disruptions are more than just bothersome. Handling an interruption takes around five minutes.
This snatches away a whopping 23 minutes and 15 seconds of your precious momentum. Jonathan Spira, the author of Overload!: How Too Much Information is Hazardous to Your Organization, crunches the numbers.
He revealed that interruptions and the avalanche of information overload cost businesses an astonishing 30 hours a week. That’s a jaw-dropping 28 billion hours each year, resulting in a mind-boggling loss of nearly $1 trillion for the US economy.
Here’s the kicker: a staggering 80% of the 50 to 60 interruptions you face daily are utterly unimportant. Now imagine a world where you could magically shield yourself from these inconsequential disruptions.
You’d gain a remarkable 3 hours and 12 minutes of pure, uninterrupted productivity every single day. But wait, there’s more!
A McKinsey study unveils a hidden gem: when you steer clear of interruptions, you’re primed to enter what psychologists call “the flow state.” This magical state boosts your productivity to levels that are at least five times higher.
So, how do you safeguard yourself from that adorable puppy video your colleague just had to share? How do you catapult your productivity and finally get things done?
It all comes down to a game-changing productivity hack.
Productivity hacks are like secret keys that unlock innovative and creative ways to supercharge your ability to get things done.
Now, pay close attention, because this particular productivity hack revolves around doing just one thing:
Mastering the art of saying “no.”
Admittedly, saying “no” can be a herculean task. It often carries connotations of selfishness, instability, and a supposed failure to prioritize the greater good over personal needs.
According to Dr Alex Forsythe, a psychologist at the University of Wolverhampton:
“The psychology theory of reciprocity suggests that people have a tendency to reward kind actions. Work in this area has been key in understanding the powerful forces that explain why people feel obligated, indebted and duty bound to say yes, or no, to requests.
The reluctance to utter that two-letter word often stems from a desire to please others. You’re hesitant to say no because you fear the potential fallout—perhaps the other person will react with anger or dismissal.
It’s the knowledge that others depend on you that imbues you with a sense of importance. Your reliability becomes a cornerstone of our reputation, making us feel indispensable.
But the trap many of us fall into is saying “yes” too swiftly and “no” far too reluctantly. In doing so, you generously give away your precious time, leaving little room for what truly matters to you.
You’ve cultivated an aversion to disappointing others, going to great lengths to avoid uttering that seemingly dreaded word, “no.”
Yet, there are moments when you must harness the power of “no” without a hint of guilt or the need for elaborate justifications or defenses.
Here’s your roadmap to mastering this invaluable skill.
There is no better place to learn how to say no than from the Essentialism playbook. They have a system to discern what is essential and then dismiss everything that is not.
When you follow the Way of the Essentialist, it is no longer about getting more done in less time. It’s all about doing only what is necessary and essential.
Their aim is to contribute as much as possible to the things that matter. Hence, the Essentialists don’t say “no” once in a while. In fact, it’s a part of their regular repertoire.
Also known as the awkward silence, this rule has been embraced by both Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. When you receive a request, pause for a moment, count to three, and think deeply about how you want to respond.
The pause might even extend to 5 or 10 seconds. It’s for this reason that it’s known as the “awkward pause.” When you use the awkward pause, it keeps your emotions in check and allows you to respond perfectly.
There’s a distinct difference between a “hard no” and a “soft no.” A hard no sends a clear and concise message of “No, thank you.” A more ‘polite’ hard no would sound something like “Thanks so much for asking. But I’m not able to this week.”
A soft “no” makes it an easy delivery for the people pleaser. It also tones the rejection down a few notches. Here’s McKeown’s example of a soft “no”:
“I am consumed with writing my book right now. But I would love to get together once the book is finished. Let me know if we can get together towards the end of the summer.”
Rather than succumbing to the rush of a hasty “yes,” this approach empowers you to steer the ship of your decisions. It grants you the precious gift of time to reflect and deliberate before committing to whether you can indeed get things done.
Think of it as saying, “not at this moment.” And if they press for a more suitable time, you can graciously propose a specific future slot. Chances are, by then, they’ll have either resolved the matter themselves or let it slip from memory.
Or, you could always consider delegating the task to someone else.
An autoresponder isn’t just a handy tool for managing emails when you’re on the go or away from your desk; it’s also your secret weapon to gracefully get things done.
It’s a polite way of conveying that you’ll be temporarily unreachable, not that you’re unwilling to respond to their message.
Saying no to someone in a higher position at work is the most difficult hurdle to overcome. You can decline by emphasizing the impact that their request will have on your present workload.
Make your senior consider the trade-off and how saying “yes” will hamper your efforts to get things done. Here’s how McKeown went about doing it:
“…if your manager comes to you and asks you to do X, you can respond with “Yes, I’m happy to make this the priority. Which of these other projects should I deprioritize to pay attention to this new project?”
Or simply say, “I would want to do a great job, and given my other commitments I wouldn’t be able to do a job I was proud of if I took this on.”
McKeown gave an example of injecting humor into his “no” with this account:
“I recently was asked by a friend to join him in training for a marathon. My response was simple: “Nope!” He laughed a little and said, “Ah, you practice what you preach.” Just goes to show how useful it is to have a reputation as an Essentialist!”
I find this approach particularly intriguing, as it offers practical solutions that can help everyone get things done. It’s the ace up your sleeve when you want to accommodate a request but need to ensure it works for both sides.
Imagine a scenario: a colleague needs a ride, and you’re in a position to assist. You could say, “Feel free to borrow my car, and I’ll make sure the keys are readily available for you.”
When someone asks for help, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that your help is indispensable. More often than not, it isn’t.
Sometimes, there may be a better candidate for the job than you. People who frequently ask for help don’t care if you are the one helping them. So long as they get things done.
Saying “no” is a productivity tool that can save you time and get things done. However, in order for your “no” to be successful, it must be delivered gracefully and with thoughtfulness.
“No. The most powerful and needed word in the language today is also potentially the most destructive and, for many people, the hardest to say. Yet when we know how to use it correctly, this one word has the power to profoundly transform our lives for the better.”
Even though “no” is the most important word in our vocabulary, Ury claims that saying “no” is challenging. When it comes to saying “no,” he says we might fall into The Three-A Trap:
This old Japanese fable about a samurai and a fisherman best illustrates the challenge of saying no:
“One day, the samurai went to collect a debt from the fisherman.
“I’m sorry,” the fisherman said, “but this last year has been a very bad one for me, and I regret to say I do not have the money to repay you.”
Quick to anger, the samurai drew his sword and prepared to kill the fisherman on the spot. Thinking fast, the fisherman boldly said, “I have been studying martial arts and my master teaches that you should never strike out of anger.”
The samurai looked at him for a minute, then slowly lowered his sword.
“Your master is wise,” he said quietly. “My master used to teach the same lesson. Sometimes my anger gets the better of me. I will give you one more year to repay your debt, but if you fail by even a penny, I will surely kill you.”
The samurai returned to his house, arriving late at night. He crept in quietly, not wishing to wake his wife, but to his shock, he found two people in the bed: his wife and a stranger dressed in samurai clothing.
With a surge of jealousy and anger, he raised his sword to slay them both, but suddenly the fisherman’s words came back to him:
The samurai stopped for a moment, took a deep breath, and then deliberately made a loud noise. His wife instantly woke up, as did the “stranger,” who turned out to be his mother.
“What is the meaning of this?” he yelled. “I almost killed you both!”
“We were afraid of robbers,” his wife explained. “So, I dressed your mother up in your samurai clothes to scare them off.”
A year passed, and the fisherman came to see the samurai. “I had an excellent year, so here is your money back and with interest,” the fisherman said happily to him.
“Keep your money,” replied the samurai. “You repaid your debt long ago.”
Remember the samurai’s lesson when you want to say “no”:
Take a deep breath and focus on your purpose.
The ability to choose between saying “yes” and saying “no” is what separates the great from the mediocre. The difference between the two is that one creates time while the other consumes it.
Without a doubt, it is tough to say “no.”
Steve Jobs, I’m sure, would attest to that:
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.
You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
You are simply rejecting one choice when you say “no.” When you say yes, you’re essentially saying no to all other possibilities. Saying “yes” comes at a price which you will need to pay in the near future.
That is why I can’t help but agree with economist Tim Harford‘s opinion:
“Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time”
Keep in mind that there is always a hidden cost when you say “yes”. Saying no makes it easier to see the things you want to say yes to.
Saying “No” is liberating.
It frees up your time so that you get things done. You also have more time to focus on the things that matter most to you.
This awesome productivity hack is just what you need if you want to get things done.
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