Saying No

Saying No

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May 02, 2023 • 4 min read
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We are often too busy to notice that we do not have to hurry. The modern world we live in contributes to our ever-growing aspirations to pursue many activities and pursue them quickly. However, the quantity of our activities does not translate into the quality of our thinking. When under time pressure, we tend to multitask, which leads to a decrease in our IQ. We have recently learned that a restless mind and a cluttered living space can impair the quality of our lives. Less is more, and it is no different regarding our agendas.

Life is too short to be in a hurry.

— Henry David Thoreau

We are human beings, not human doings. Free time and solitude allow us to think, reflect, daydream, and imagine. Only by slowing down can we realize the proper leverage to bring positive changes in our lives. We can end time poverty by saying “no” to useless activities that kill our time and drain our energy.

Saying “no” helps you do less but better and enjoy it more.

Countless pieces of new age advice suggest saying “yes” to every new opportunity, which is not inherently wrong if we look for new experiences. The advice in this lesson, however, is to be selective. Creating personal space for our chosen activities is a prerequisite for carrying them out with mindful attention.

Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.

— Soren Kierkegaard

How can there be 64 priorities on our agenda? Imagine being a competitive athlete and winning a race with 63 other athletes, finishing first place. How would we feel? This is how much attention each priority in our agenda receives.

Rupert has found some space for his full agenda. Literally.


Here are some benefits of saying “no”:

  • Improved focus
  • Increased quality
  • Increased efficiency
  • Increased effectivity
  • Increased enjoyment
  • Increased creativity
  • Increased reflection
  • Reinforced memory

Research on multitasking at work shows that having an email client open while focusing on another task causes our IQ to drop by 10 points. If our email client has been constantly open until now, we can increase our IQ effortlessly by simply closing the app if we are not reading or writing emails. Another study has shown that 1 to 2 hours of quiet, uninterrupted time during the workday leads to a better work experience.

Action steps

Here is how you can generate space in your agenda:

  1. Choose what is essential to you. Consider what positively contributes to your well-being, close relationships, and the quality of what you do. If you do not choose for yourself, you risk others to choose for you.
  2. Say “no” more often to what is not essential. You can point out what matters to you—your health, family time, a new skill you are learning, or an assignment at work. People who care about you will understand, and you will gain more respect by respecting yourself. At other times, no justification is needed. “No” is a complete sentence. If you face people who take your “no” personally, remember that they judge you based on where they are in life, not where you are.
  3. Increase your standards. Use the gained time to increase the quality of everything you do, including the time for reflection. What can you see when you zoom out? What are you missing or overlooking? If you do less, you can see your life more clearly, and only then can you influence it for the better.
Life is too short to do what I have to do. It is barely long enough to do what I want to do.

— Tal Ben-Shahar
Now Rupert has more space for his hobbies.

Why do we overcommit?

Let us explore why we do it in the first place to prevent us from using up our free time again with new, useless commitments. Here are the most common reasons we say “yes”:

  1. We feel guilty saying “no.”
  2. We want everyone to like us.
  3. We have a fear of missing out.
  4. We want to prove we can do it all.

All these reasons relate to our worries about what others think of us. Sure, sometimes they do, but mostly, they wonder what we think of them.

If everybody likes you, you have a serious problem.

Live playfully

The time we enjoy playing is well-spent. Playing reduces tension and lowers anxiety levels. It improves physical health (cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility) and emotional health (enhancing mood, reducing depression, and increasing self-esteem and confidence). Furthermore, playing stimulates cognitive functions, promotes creativity, develops problem-solving capabilities, and encourages social interaction. Taking a break to play increases productivity at work. Above all, it is enjoyable and brings happiness to our lives.

If time is money, then enjoy it.
Rupert is not wasting time. Rupert is playing.

Time abundance makes us nicer

There is a Bible story of a Good Samaritan, a man who selflessly helped a stranger in trouble. Let us imagine we are theology students and about to give a speech about the Good Samaritan, but we are in a hurry. On the way to the auditorium, we stumble upon a stranger on the floor who is clearly in pain. Would we help? Only 10% of people would, according to one study. It did not matter what topic the students had prepared their speech on or whether their study was motivated to help others or help themselves to determine whether a student would help the stranger. The only significant predictor of helping the stranger was whether the student was in a hurry.

Now or never

For the next two weeks, reflect on your daily activities and identify those killing your time or draining your energy. Say "no" to them. Create a daily reminder.