As a person who wants to please everyone, I've always had a hard time saying no to requests for my time. Before I committed to writing (finishing!) a book, this wasn't much of a problem. "Sure," I would say. "I can definitely volunteer for the Save the Platypus committee. While I'm at it, I can also clean the dog poop off your lawn, even though I don't have a dog, and drive your kids to school so you can go to the gym. I can also design the marketing materials for your new blended-compost smoothie invention, and correct the typos in your son's college application essay. Sure, no problem. My time isn't my own, anyway. It's yours, so I can feel duly productive. By the way, if you need me to file your toenails while you watch American Idol, I can do that, too. You see, I like staying busy."
I felt very productive, being busy all the time, running around, doing this and that for everyone. I'd be tired at the end of the day, feeling like I did A LOT. Trouble is, feeling productive isn't the same as being productive. If you have goals, such as writing a book or organizing your kitchen, or becoming physically fit, at some point you have to commit your time to yourself. Since there are only 24 hours in a day, really only 16 if you factor in the unfortunate need to sleep, then that means there are only so many hours to go around. If you need to eat and work and shop for food and pay bills and maintain a relationship and take care of kids and take out the trash and get the car fixed and groom your body (which takes the women in my area half the day), then you won't have much extra time to waste. So that means saying no to some things. Saying NO to cleaning your neighbor's dog poop (okay, I never actually did that, but you thought better of me for it, didn't you?) means saying YES to yourself. All that extra time without the pooper scooper is time you can devote to your own goals. When you start putting that time aside for yourself, you will start to see results. Little by little, day-by-day, you'll write those pages or clear out those cluttered cabinets, or jog an extra mile. You'll begin to see that being productive and taking steps toward concrete goals feels much better than being busy for busy's sake. It all starts with saying no.
When I started saying, "I'm sorry, I can't go for a ride with you on your new five-wheeled bike," then I started using that time to work on my book. I gained an extra three hours a day just by telling people I already had commitments on my time. It didn't mean I didn't still say yes in a lot of areas. It's just that by refusing to be overscheduled, I gained an extra three hours a day. Those 1,092 hours year added up to one finished (finally!) book! That feeling of satisfaction can't be duplicated. Don't get me wrong, it's not easy to say no. After all, who wants to turn down a door-to-door salesman who invites you to a demonstration on how to sell water softener? But saying no is necessary if you're ever going to achieve your goals. Time is a precious commodity. It's not an ever-abundant resource, unlike Kim Kardashian's butt. Saying no to time-drains in order to say yes to your own goals is one of the best life decisions you'll ever make. Trust me, as a former yes-girl, I'm living proof.
On a side note: Although saying no is important, sometimes it's possible to say no to the wrong things or to go too far the other way. Tomorrow's post will outline my own mistakes in this area, of which there are many.