Time Management: The Art of Saying ‘No’

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One of the most difficult things for me to teach in my workshops is how to say ‘no’, especially when the other person feels that they really have no choice about the matter. Some people really do feel that their jobs, or their bosses, do not allow them to say ‘no’ to anything. My suggestion is that, not only can they say ‘no’ but, in fact, they are already saying ‘no’ to something; and if that were not true, they would not be on my time management course in the first place.

You see, time management is for people who cannot get everything done; it is not for people who can complete everything they are asked to do. To say that another way: if you can get everything done that you are asked to do, then you have absolutely no need for time management. You simply cannot generate more time, so time management is the business of using the time you do have productively, and that boils down to saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the right activities.

If you cannot get everything done, you need to focus on getting the important things done. So be clear about what you are trying to achieve and quantify those things as goals. Ensure that you stay focussed on your goals: they are, by definition, what we mean by the word ‘important’. Make sure you spend time, every day, on goal-directed activity. Recognise that there will always be short-term emergencies that will demand some of your time and deflect you away from your goals, but when such emergencies are over, get back to the plan.

Every time someone asks you to do something, irrespective of who they are, evaluate the task against your responsibilities. Yes, you do need to attend to those responsibilities – whether to your boss or your family – properly. But, other than those obligations, you should resist getting drawn into any other activity at all if you want to achieve those goals. Saying ‘yes’ to tasks and activities that don’t really matter necessarily means you are simultaneously saying ‘no’ to goal achieving.

Remember that it is not negative to say ‘no’; it is actually positive because it is one of the key ways you will buy time. And you buy time, in this way, in order to spend it wisely on your most important goals. So, learn to develop strong criteria for saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to people, based upon your responsibilities and your goals and your productivity will sky-rocket.

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