10 Things To Say No To

Say No
This post was previously published. It has been updated.

As often happens when I realize I have overloaded myself again, I recently began to think about things I could say no to in my life. Saying NO is essential if I want to keep going on the things I want to say YES to. I need to be very clear on what I want and be able to keep all else out.

In Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management*, Mark Forster likens saying yes to being in a restaurant. When you order one dish, you are saying yes to that one, and at the same time saying no to the rest of the menu. He says that you must have this type of clarity in order to succeed.

Likewise, in Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (BK Life)*, Brian Tracy says that with new stuff rolling in as we finish old tasks, we will never be caught up. We have to be able to say yes to our most important task. And that means choosing what we will do as well as what we will not do.

When I first considered this topic, it was all about productivity. Now I realize it is a key tool in my pursuit of living my life deliberately.

So what are 10 things I can say no to?

  1. Volunteer activities that land on me by default.
    One unspoken and unacknowledged rule of any volunteer organization is that the people who are already volunteering are generally the people who are gone to when new stuff pops up. As a result of this, I once spent the better part of a weekend making reusable shopping bags out of discarded bedsheets because the person who suggested the plan didn’t sew. I need to consider if the activity is something I want to do, and I’m not doing it simply because others see I have the skills. Just because I have the talent doesn’t mean I have to use it.
  2. Music gigs that don’t provide some challenge and satisfaction.
    This one may seem mercenary, but it takes time and effort to prepare for any musical performance. Weddings are the worst. Weddings are usually fraught with disaster, and as Robert Fulghum observed, “since weddings are high state occasions involving amateurs under pressure, everything NEVER goes right.” I no longer do weddings for acquaintances for free. I still sing with my quartet, but I’m holding back on recommitting to the choir until I see who the new director is and their plans. I refuse to go to a 2 hour rehearsal every week to sing unison on simple hymns.
  3. Surfing the internet.
    This is a hard one for me, but the truth is I still get sucked into reading and clicking my way through hours on the internet. It is pointless, much like channel surfing on television. Unless I have a specific reason written down on a sticky note in front of me, I don’t allow myself to open the browser.
  4. Too many craft projects.
    I enjoy crafting, and it is a good way to relax. But if I have more than one going at a time, I finish nothing, and I get stressed about the unfinished projects. I have to say no to starting new things until the old ones are finished.
  5. Books that aren’t worth it.
    I caught myself reading a book through to the end, just because I told myself it had to get better. It didn’t. I could have used that time on other books that have a payback in my life.
  6. Friendships that are not positive.
    This is going to sound cruel, but a few years ago I had to cull my friends. Some of them were just not positive influences in my life, and I found myself sucked into constant crises. I don’t do drama anymore. And I certainly don’t have time in my life for people who only show up when they need something from me.
  7. Activities I  really hate but are necessary.
    This is the category that includes grocery shopping and laundry. Both are necessities. I outsource both to my spouse.
  8. Unnecessary email.
    This includes all the email jokes and urban legends my older relatives seem to think I cannot live without. It also includes the constant barrage of email from she-who-shall-not-be-named, also known as the Mulch Dictator, who emails every committee head at church several times a week to complain about us *gasp* using the church. All these email go directly into the trash, thanks to the magic of filtering. This leaves me free to answer email from this blog, as well as respond thoughtfully to other emails I receive.
  9. Social engagements I don’t want to go to.
    I am an introvert. There was a time when I would go to things just because I felt an obligation for being invited. I have learned, however, that such parties do not show me at my best. I have learned to politely avoid the social activities I really don’t want to be around. This has only been reinforced by the pandemic.
  10. Unfocused home work.
    One of my big problems is that I can get started doing something in the house, then see something else that needs doing, then something else…ending up with nothing accomplished. When I write things down, rather than jumping into the new activity, I get things done.

This list is my most recent version of a list I have been updating since 2007. Items change on it, but reading the list at least once a quarter reminds me that by saying no, I get to say yes to things that really matter.