The Art of Saying No

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None of us are guaranteed decades of health and prosperity. What are you spending your time doing? Is most of your day spent on reacting instead of creating?

Time must be guarded and managed carefully and with extreme caution. And sometimes, that means saying NO.  

Companies, ideas, and collaborations have a momentum of their own. Once things get rolling, it’s very easy to get drowned in a deluge of emails, meetings, calls, and discussions. You may find that you don’t have time to ‘create’ or to think about new ideas or work for 3-4 hours without being interrupted. 

If you’re reading this article right now, you probably have some degree of professional options available to you. To be successful, you will have to explore some of these options sooner or later. Once you reach a moderate level of success, you might come across a lot of options on a regular basis. While it might be tempting to be involved in a lot of interesting things at once, you must stop before you spread yourself too thin.

Now it’s important to understand context. There is a time in most of our creative careers where you have no choice but to say yes. Saying yes in those moments can mean valuable experience. It can mean making a connection that helps propel you forward. It can be an invaluable “yes.” 

There comes a point once you’re a little more established, where a mind shift needs to occur. The creative freelance world can be so unpredictable, it can be hard to shake the old mentality. The one that rightfully (at the time) was grateful and willing to jump into whatever work comes. How could you not?

Once you start getting work more consistently or are getting the kinds of projects you set out to, it’s time to start filtering.

Here’s a helpful way to think about new opportunities – Unless they make you go “Yes! That would be amazing!”, just say NO. It doesn’t mean you’ll start missing out on everything. It doesn't mean you’ll be perceived in a negative way. You need to make decisions that will protect your ability to give your absolute best to everything you do.

 

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What are you working towards?

Have you ever stopped in the middle of all the chaos of working and owning a business and asked yourself – Why am I doing this?

For most people, the answer is “quality of life” or “success” or “happiness”. But there’s a problem with using those words. On the surface, they sound like the right thing to strive or aim for. However, if you don’t have a clear, real-world translation of what “success” or “happiness” looks like, it’s an impossible target to achieve.

If your goal is to use your wealth and resources to improve quality of life, then break it down into tangible real-world things like

  • Spending more time with your kids

  • Finding more time to write

  • Traveling more frequently

Make sure you have a clear mental picture (or at least a very close approximation) of what your life looks after you win. Once you’ve created this image, you’ll be able to identify bottlenecks and things that get in the way of you living the best version of your life. It will make saying NO to endless lunch meetings and conference calls a lot easier.

 

Moderation isn’t always enough

There are activities in your life that you currently engage in but don’t really enjoy. It might be working or spending time with a certain group of people, relationships that you currently have etc. You might be indulging in these out of a sense of obligation, but you’re fully aware that in a perfect world you would rather be spending your time doing something else.

Sometimes, moderation isn’t enough. If the people you hang out with are the kind who always bring you down, the solution isn’t to spend less time with them: it’s to stop spending any time with them. Your health is too valuable.

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You can always reintegrate relationships, habits, hobbies when things have gotten more in order. If you can find a healthy (emphasis on healthy) balance, do it. Just don’t set yourself up to slip into old habits.

 

Decluttering your life

Track your day-to-day activities over the next week or so. Log every activity and every block of conversation time on your favorite note-taking app. Once you’ve got about a week’s worth of activities ready, you can perform the following What-if experiment by asking:

  • What if I were to stop doing this thing for one week? One month? One year?

This will quickly help you identify things that are eating up your time so that you can eliminate them from your schedule.

There are more entrepreneurial opportunities available today than there have ever been. Navigating the vast ocean of potential things you can invest your time and energy into to find the ones that truly enrich you is a tricky process. It is a tricky process that must be navigated with finesse.

But you can start by saying NO.

To your success,

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