How I Say No

Patrick Rhone nails it.

“Saying no is simply saying yes to other things.”

As I wrap up “How I… Week” here at, I’m going to dig a bit deeper into where I’ve been and where I am now. A lot of that has to do with saying “yes” to a lot of things, but I know now that saying “no” to a lot of things is going to take me to new heights. And that’s not me being negative or dismissive; it’s simply the way it goes.

When it comes to turning things down, I’ve historically never been a fan of that idea. I am a people-pleaser by nature and don’t like to leave anyone disappointed. The problem is that unless you properly plan your time – and not just by allocating it for projects – you’re not going to be able to live up to your own expectations. Trust me on that.

You see, when I first started doing this online writing stuff, I was still working outside the home for 40+ hours per week. In order to grow my writing online, I had to push myself to build that up – so I started to write in more places, and eventually got to a point where I was writing a lot. And I was still working full-time offline. Something had to give, and despite my fears of not being able to “make it” as a writer, I chose to ditch the full-time job and follow my dream.

I didn’t just follow my dream, though. I followed my gut. It told me that I needed to make a call of some sort, and the thought of not going ahead with my writing career was less sickening to me than staying in that full-time job. It’s not that I was sickened by that job, but I was sickened more with the thought of not pursuing my writing career than I was by pursuing it. So I said “no” to the sure thing and said “yes” to the thing that was less than secure – and would require a hell of a lot more work.

I knew I had to make it work so I could support my family – and that initially meant taking on writing gigs that I didn’t really want to do. I had to write about stuff that I didn’t love in order to do what I loved. We’ve all been there. But as I kept doing these jobs, I felt as if I wasn’t living up to my full potential as a writer. So I was faced with some more decisions, similar to the one where I left my full-time job. I had to decide what jobs I was wiling to take as a writer.

More on that in a moment. Let’s get into more of the overall particulars here now, shall we?

How I Don’t Say No

I don’t leave things unfinished…anymore.

This took a lot of work to make happen. Not because I’m not one to not uphold commitments, but because I took on too many commitments. I burned out. I made promises I couldn’t keep. I overestimated my time. And I dropped the ball on a few occasions because of that.

An example of this would be when I was working on a series for MetaLab’s Flow app. I never finished that. I let it go on too long and the relationship was severed because I didn’t deliver in a timely fashion – a time I agreed upon. I still feel crappy about that, and it’s one of the things that fuels my ability to not do that any longer.

Don’t overcommit yourself. It’ll make your efforts worse instead of better — and your quality of work will suffer as well. Plus, you’ll lose some credibility and damage relationships along the way.

I don’t leave things hanging.

I listen to my gut a lot faster now. If something doesn’t feel right, I turn it down. Sometimes it’s because it doesn’t fit into my “wheelhouse”, sometimes it’s because I’m not ready for it and sometimes I just don’t have the time for it. Heck, sometimes it’s even about the money.

Answer promptly if you’ve got an opportunity sent your way that requires a yes or no answer. Weigh the decision, but don’t wait too long. When you respond, you’ll know you’ve at least taken that action – and it’ll be time to either move ahead or move on. Letting it lie means no movement at all, except for perhaps how the person on the other end of the deal feels about you.

How I Do Say No

I do look down the road.

Before I say yes or no, I look way down the road and figure out what saying yes or no might do for me. Then I bring it closer to home and figure out if I can afford to do it with the time I’ve got. After looking at all of that and I feel I can’t do it but want to, then I either find a way to make it happen for me or I point the person who offered me the opportunity to someone else I know that could help them out. That way I stay in their mind’s eye. I don’t fully endorse the person I send them to, though. I simply tell them I know of a person or two who might be able to help them out, and follow-up with a word or two that (hopefully) distances me enough from things so that if it goes south then I’m not going to look as if I invited it upon both parties. To put it another way: I never directly vouch, but I’ll put in direct touch.

I only take work I want, regardless of pay.

I used to take all kinds of paying work, and found I wasn’t enjoying the writing process as much. That meant the work I was doing for myself wasn’t increasing in value because I wasn’t able to give it as much of my effort. Work you don’t enjoy generally takes longer and saps more energy than work you do; that’s why I don’t do work I don’t want anymore.

Now before you think I can afford to turn down work from a financial perspective, well…I really can’t. My family and I do okay. We don’t make a ton of money (we make enough to make ends meet) and we’re fine with that. The quality of our lives is much improved by the times we have as opposed to the things we have. I also believe that by working on the things I love for little to no money that I will gradually increase the amount of money I make doing things.

And I’m right so far, because it has.

Some Final Thoughts

“But it’s alright now. I learned my lesson well. You see you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself.” – Ricky Nelson

Saying no is never easy. It’s not supposed to be. We want to be able to do more, to do better. As a productivityist, I can attest to the fact that we put these systems in place so we can achieve more and get more done.

But when you try to do too much — whether it is stuff in general or of stuff you don’t like doing — more is definitely less.

Photo credit: id iom (CC BY-NC- 2.0)