“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.”
Do you find yourself always busy, working, shuffling between tasks and hardly getting things done?
It is already late in the afternoon and you glance over your work and say to yourself:
“Why is this taking me so much longer than it should?”
Then, at the end of the day, you’re frustrated that you didn’t spend the day more productively.
Have you ever experienced this dreadful feeling?
I know I have. And after experiencing it so many times, I got very concerned. Some days I felt like I had put in a lot of effort yet accomplished very little.
Don’t get upset if you realize how little you get done during the workday. You are not alone. According to research, only 26% of people leave the office having completed the tasks they set out to achieve.
So, what kills your productivity?
One of the biggest (if not the biggest) productivity killers is interruptions. It diverts your attention, undermines your motivation, and interrupts the flow of your day.
The average office worker is interrupted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds, according to researchers at the University of California. It’s nearly impossible to get through a workday without being interrupted at least once.
If you have a deadline to meet and need to focus, interruptions are bothersome. It takes an average of five minutes to deal with an interruption.
And it takes you up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds just to get back to where you left off.
As a result, the US economy has incurred a loss of almost $1 trillion.
80% of the 50 to 60 interruptions each day are not important. Imagine if you were able to somehow block out all these interruptions that didn’t matter…
You would gain 3 hours and 12 minutes of productive time per day. This isn’t the only benefit you will receive.
According to a McKinsey study, when you’re not interrupted, you’re more likely to enter what psychologists call “the flow state.” This is a state of mind where you are at least five times more productive.
So, how do you not get disrupted by that YouTube video of a cute puppy that your colleague showed you?
How do you boost your productivity and get things done? Well, it all boils down to this awesome productivity hack…
Productivity hacks are clever solutions that improve productivity in an innovative or creative way.
This productivity hack only requires that you do ONE thing:
I know it is hard to say no. It’s hard because it is associated with selfishness, instability, and a 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 downside of this human indebtedness is that we can be driven to preserve dysfunctional relationships at significant personal cost. We find it hard then to say no when we really need to say no.”
The reluctance to say no arises from a desire to please others. We find it difficult to say no because we are afraid of what might happen if we do. Perhaps the other person will become enraged or dismissive.
Knowing that others rely on you gives you a sense of importance. Your dependability has become a cornerstone of your reputation. It makes you feel valuable.
Most of us are likely to say “yes” too quickly and “no” too slowly. When you say yes, you are giving your time. Then you’re left with no time for what you really want to do.
Somehow, we dread the thought of disappointing others. Thus, we go to great lengths to avoid saying no.
But there are times when you need to say “no” without feeling guilty. And to say no without defending or justifying yourself.
Here’s how to do it.
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.”
Instead of being pressured into a quick “yes,” this response allows you to take control of your own decisions. It allows you to take a moment to think and contemplate before responding to whether you are available.
This is just like saying, “not right now.” Even if they ask you for a better time, you can offer a specific time in the future. By then, they will have either forgotten about it or done it themselves.
Or ask someone else.
An autoresponse is not only a perfect tool to respond to emails when you’re travelling or out of the office. It’s also the most acceptable way to say “no.”
You’re expressing that you won’t be able to contact them for a while. It’s not that you don’t want to respond to their e-mail.
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!”
This approach appeals to me because it provides reasonable options for both parties. When you want to support a request but can’t commit to it, this can be a very successful tactic.
If your colleague asks for a lift, you might say, “You are welcome to borrow my car. I am willing to make sure the keys are here 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:
He illustrates this challenge with an old Japanese fable about a samurai and a fisherman:
“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.