Our lives are becoming ridiculous. Not in a good way. Ridiculously busy, overscheduled and stressful. You don’t need me to tell you that.  You know what you have to do every day just to “survive”.  So today, I would like you to think about the list of Nos. When and how do you say no to demands, opportunities and random encounters? Do you have a process, an organized way to decide what to commit to, what to say maybe to, and what to say absolutely not to?

I am the worst at this. I say (or used to say as I am trying to stop that) yes to everything and everyone, in the process stressing out myself, my family and everyone around me by trying to squeeze one more things into the mix. But I am also a person who believes in processes, lists, and an organized way to analyze a problem. As a result, recently, I implemented the following system in order to make better decisions on this topic. I call it my “List of Nos” for work related demands.

Here is how it works: For every commitment that comes my way and would take me more than one hour (I know, arbitrary but we need to start with something), I go through the following list of questions. The second I encounter a nope, I politely decline and move on. So far, I said no to at least 2-3 major requests per week. Here is my list. I am still working on refining it. Take what works for you, make it better, and tell me what you improved so we can all get to a place where we have control over our time and our lives.

  1. Is this really, really exciting me right now?
  2. Is this still going to really excite me in one month?
  3. Is this going to make me a 8/10 happy? I got a whole system of rating happiness in case you did not know. Only 8s, 9s and 10s cut it.
  4. Is this going to bring me any income now?
  5. Is this going to bring me any income later? Do I have a way of knowing that or is this more of a dream income? This question is optional. It works well for someone who is motivated by money.
  6. Is this going to help me grow my business with the type of clients I really want or is this going to help me in my academic career? How exactly and what will it lead to?

If I said yes to all the questions above, there is one last question to ask myself. And for this one, we do not want a Yes. A Yes is bad. The final question is: “Is this going to make my ego feel good and this is really why I am undertaking it?” Am I doing this for an imaginary pat on my back? It is probably a good idea not to engage in such projects then.

By the time I am done with asking these questions, I am left to consider further only 2-3 out of 10 requests.  Still too many but this is life. Not everything that comes my way fits this model and that is ok. There are still things I want to do regardless of my answers to the above questions. If someone asks me for an hour of my time to discuss the potential move into a PhD, I will make it happen despite of my list. At one point a long time ago, someone gave me one hour of his time and saved me lots and lots of time of research and wrong turns in life. I would like to do the same for someone else despite the lack of benefit, income or any tangible benefit to me. Those are deeply personal choices that have to do with what each of us values in life. Yours will be very different from mine and it is ok to continue doing them.

My list is a list of questions related to professional requests. I am currently working on something similar for personal/homework pressures on my time.  I am the type of person who does not go to bed if there are dishes in the sink. And recently, I started changing that.  The bottom line is that you want to get your time to be enjoyable, meaningful and fun. That means very different things to different people.  If you never thought about what makes you enjoy your time, I would recommend you do that and see how much of your day is spent on  fun things and how much is spent on things you don’t like but feel like you have to do. Then, cut those things you dread out, one at a time. Get a housecleaner by making it part of your budget and instead, go on a run. Do what you say you want to do instead of what you have to do.

Which leads me to the money part. What does this have to do with money? Most of us are doing things that in some way relate to money; either saving it or making more of it. At the end of the day though, you need to be very clear about two things:

  • Does the way you spend your time actually bring the financial benefit that you think it does? Would you not get tenure, make your rent, max out your IRA, whatever the financial benefit you are working towards if you said no to this one thing? If you are not sure, you probably do not have to do it. Let it go.
  • And do you really think it is worth to trade an hour of playing with your kids, reading, yoga, sleeping, [insert what you like doing here] for $X dollars? If you really want to have more free time, then do you really need to do one more project or is that just a habit that needs to be changed?

At the end of the day, it is your life so spend it any way you want. There will always be outside pressures, have a system in place for dealing with them.