Make saying no your superpower

I used to want a really full diary with constant trips, social events and things to do. I wanted to be busy all the time, to tire myself out each day, then hit the pillow and wake up raring to go for the next one. I saw busy as a measure of success and linked my sense of achievement to how many emails I received or how much the phone rang.

So much has changed. Now, blank space in my diary is a sign of success. I travel for one month in every three instead of sporadic, smaller trips. Fewer emails is a sign that matters are being expertly taken care of by those in my team. I follow the “hell yeah or no rule” introduced by Derek Sivers. If something isn’t a “hell yeah”, it has to be a “no”. Saying no to more gives me space to breathe and relax and make sure that I can give 100% to commitments I do say yes to.

Guard the blank space

Blank space in your diary is not there to be filled with whomever wants to give you things to fill it with. If you’ve planned a day of nothingness, guard it fiercely against helping people move house or taking people to the airport. Your time and headspace is worth more than a removal van or taxi would cost to hire. Who knows, you could have a million dollar idea on that day, because you’ve cleared the room to think one up. Don’t undervalue your downtime.

Make the no easy

Create a “sorry I can’t” email signature, that you click and personalise each time you need to decline. Keep it polite; give thanks for the invitation, but decline with a fair reason. That reason can be anything you want – it’s your time to allocate. “I’m sorry I can’t I already have plans” is just as valid as “I’m sorry I can’t because I’m focusing on x right now.” For more clarity, and to make saying no even easier, set up a “now page” and include it in your auto responder.

Sinking dread or freeing relief

Weigh up which feeling you’d rather feel. The sense of relief at declining something you just don’t want to do, or saying yes and having that sinking dread the day before when you realise what your tomorrow entails. It might be three months in the future at the moment, but some day it will be tomorrow.

Cultivate selective ignorance

If you’re on all the mailing lists, have all the notifications and alerts then you will know about everything that’s going on, all the time, and you’ll feel an obligation to get involved. Unsubscribe, change your home page and turn off the alerts. If it’s really unmissable, someone will tell you.

Respond accordingly

There’s a huge difference between a perfectly personalised and thoughtful letter and a mass email. If the approach to you has been careless, don’t feel like you have to respond. Give it the thinking time it warrants. Not all invitations were created equal.

Say no: events you don’t really care about, people who drain you, obligations you don’t want to be held to. Say yes: opportunities that make you go wow, people you love to hang out with, places and work that fit with your purpose.

This isn’t about being a social recluse and signing yourself out of seeing people and getting involved forever. This is about guarding your time and your attention so that when you get involved, you do it properly. This is about being able to tackle the projects that will make the most difference because you’re not flitting about doing the things that anyone could do.

Your time and your attention are your biggest assets, not to be given away lightly.