The most powerful way to protect your time . . . and your sanity.

I’ve been hearing about getting on the “No Train” for years. And until very recently, I thought I was on it.

I thought I was clear on my priorities.

I thought I was protecting my time.

I thought I was saying no to the wrong things so that I could say yes to the right things.

So why, then, was I feeling like the things that I most wanted to put my attention on were slipping through my fingers?

During a recent workshop Darren Hardy, founder of Success Magazine, shared two quotes that got me just where I needed to be gotten.

For every 100 great opportunities, I say no 99 times.” ~Warren Buffet

I’m as proud of what we don’t do as what we do.” ~Steve Jobs

Woah Nelly! Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs didn’t just start saying no when they got to the top. They got to the top by saying no.

As I sat in the workshop taking copious notes, I realized that since my book launched I’ve been operating under the assumption that at some point the requests to do things would taper off. At that point, my schedule would clear up and I could re-focus on the things that I really wanted to focus on.

As soon as this thought materialized I immediately knew how silly it was. The wonderful opportunities are never going to slow down. In fact, they’re likely going to speed up!

twitter_standingIf we wait for a pause in other people’s requests to reclaim our time, we’ll be waiting forever.

I know I want to spend more time at home. I know that I don’t want to spend another winter on a plane every single week. I know I want to write more and re-focus on nurturing and growing The Freedom Family.

Yet I was waiting for other people to stop asking me to do things before giving myself permission to clear my schedule and lovingly choose which things to put back in.

You know those moments after which you’ll never see the world the same again? This was one of those.

Try This

Per Darren’s suggestion, Mike and I made a list of every single one of our priorities. Then we narrowed it down to the top three. And then we threw out the rest of the list.

Terrifying. Freeing.

I felt like I’d had three shots of espresso even though all I’d been drinking was water.

That was two weeks ago. Ever since then, when an email comes in asking me to do something, all I have to do is check those three priorities. If it doesn’t fit in with them (and if my soul isn’t giving me a very strong yes) then I say no.

The amount of mental distraction and email clutter this has eliminated is remarkable.

Every time I say no I get a little spritz of freedom and also a little spritz of guilt or fear. They both exist. So I decided to investigate how I might shrink that spritzer bottle of guilt and fear. That stuff just isn’t good for growth.

Since I’m not so special, I bet you can relate to these.

Reasons We Don’t Say No

1. I won’t be liked.

It’s true. When we reset our compass to our own agenda and stop calibrating true north based on other people’s needs, some of them won’t like us. I’m still getting used to this. It’s not easy, but my freedom and happiness, as well as my full presence with the people closest to me, is worth pissing off a few folks.

2. They’ll forget about me.

Every time I say no to a speaking gig I worry that I’ll be forgotten about. But then I remember Steve Jobs and Warren Buffet. And unless it’s a “Hell yes!” I say no. I also remember that sometimes the best stuff is hard to get. And I’m some of the best stuff.

3. I’ll miss out on something.

At any given moment, each one of us is missing out on 99.9% of what’s going on around the world. But the real joy comes from being so present to what we are actually doing that whatever else might be going on is easily forgotten.

4. I’ll let someone down.

What I’ve found is that I let people down far more often when I say yes and then don’t follow through, or half-ass it. Plus, when I’m on the receiving end of no’s, I often feel grateful instead of let down. Giving someone a clear no is a sign of respect.

twitter_standingDoing something you don’t want to do to please someone else isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for them. 

So there you have it. The top four reasons we don’t say no and a little rebuttal for each. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to keep this list nearby. When my gut is telling me no but my ego is looking for validation, I shall refer to it and remind myself of the truth.

Over to you:

What are some of the reasons you don’t say no? How does it feel when you do say no? Have you ever said yes when you really wanted to say no?

Tell me about it in the comments below.

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21 comments

  • Andrea

    I love what you have to say! Saying No! to the distractions and saying yes! to what really matters in our lives! Thank You!

  • Meghan

    Thank you for the reminder of protecting your time in order to really expand in the way that you want. I’ve noticed there’s also a guilt associated with saying no to things that I used to give a hell yes to. But why waste another minute in my old world when there’s just so much to look forward to now and ahead?! Cheers to freedom of time. And from one Maine girl to another, hi! :)

  • What a wonderful reminder, Kate. I love how honest you were about the things that make you anxious to say no. I find this closely relates to how I look at myself. When I see myself as “the best stuff” I’m much more likely to want to live up to that. I place more weight on my own values and my intuition, and I want everything I do to come from the best place inside of me.

    When I act and think from my inner victim, however, I am much more likely to fall prey to one of the worries you mentioned. That’s because I give up my power to others and the world. I’m saying “take away my power and my gifts, I don’t want to have the responsibility for them”. And along with that go my values and the worth of what I could be capable of if I threw myself 100% only into things that matter to me and resonate with me.

    I recently wrote my victim/hero stories and discovered a few ways that I can reinstate my inner hero and step out of victim more. I shared my own victim/hero story and these lessons here: http://lauragjones.com/be-your-hero/ I think these can be some very useful applied mindset shifts for those of us who have trouble saying no and being true to our greatness as much as we would like to.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Kate! I always find your content so valuable and helpful.

  • Hi Kate!
    So well put. My issue is saying “Maybe!” to everything. Not committing makes me feel as though I am not saying “No” but I discovered just now, it doesn’t give me any power.
    The “Maybe” holds me in a weird space, a holding pattern, of being wishy washy and non-committal. Though I am the most committed women I know!
    I am re-establishing my forgotten motto:
    “Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Don’t be mean about it.”
    I promise to do my Self and everyone around me justice by saying “No” or “Yes” emphatically.
    Thanks for reminding me of who I am and what I stand for.
    Paula

  • Yes, everything you mentioned is point, blank, and the period ME! I feel if I say no to a client or even to my husband that I’m letting them down or that I’m not there to support them. But then in the process of saying “Yeah, yeah” all the time. I get burned out and tired and then not good for anyone.

    I’m definitely in the process of learning how to say No and still feel good about it; because that is usually the issue for me, I can say no, but then a rush of guilt comes over me. So I appreciate this blog and I’m learning how to remove the guilt I feel.

  • Alison

    Love this post!! This is such a valuable lesson in work and life!! Someone once told me if you can’t say no in a relationship you will eventually say no to it. So true! I am so excited to switch gears in my career because I finally understand that I have been saying yes to things that do not light me up and make me feel joyful. I am so appreciative of your amazing advice and the feeling of support I feel after reading your blog posts and watching your videos! :)

  • I feel so blessed & grateful for your post LOVELY Kate! Thank so much. So precious. It is such a crucial subject! The No train for me is difficult to take. I try since few weeks & it make me feel still guilty & actually as you said I imagine that people are surprise & not satisfy with this (yep, I say I imagine not 100% sure). I have such the habit to please others & to forget about myself ==> oualalala bad bad points! I feel like I am in a trans formative process! Much much love : you’re such an inspiration. Cloé

  • Kate, You really hit the mark on this one: It’s true, what we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to. Taking a look at our core desires and ambitious and making choices that keep us in line with our goals help us to maintain an authenticity that feels purposeful.

    And you are right, we don’t say no because we want to be liked, we don’t want to miss out, and we have such high expectations of ourselves not to let anyone else down that often, we end up letting ourselves down by not following our true “why.”

    I also believe that sometimes we keep saying yes because we aren’t sure what we really want and therefore haven’t given ourselves the space to really bring clarity (and thereby abundance) into our lives. Thank you for this insightful post :)

  • Dearest Kate,

    This is perfect for me today!
    Just this morning, I read in Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work” about a work habit he calls “chain smoking”. He talks about the momentum that builds up in our work life and rather than taking the end of a project as a stopping point after which we pick up the pieces and begin a new project, he suggests using the energy from one project to light up the next project. Neither you nor I love the smoking image, I know, but he helped me see- as you are here this evening, that saying yes to what literally and metaphorically lights me up allows me focus and discernment.

    For me, it is a tiny bit terrifying to say no, or to delete one of the tens of promotional emails I get from women doing cool things. I could never in 10,000 years do all of them, so why do I keep allowing this stuff in to my inbox? Slowly but surely, I am disengaging from mailing lists if the material does not fuel me, as your post has tonight.

    Thank you Kate. And please send my best to Mike and your Freedom Family project. Very cool!

    Much love and thanks, Suzi

  • This is genius, Kate! Thank you for sharing your revelations. I’m guilty way too often in my personal life, of saying yes to things that don’t feel like a “hell yes” for me, because I don’t want to let the other person down. I totally realize I am not doing anyone a service by agreeing to things that I’m not entirely invested in, so this is a super great reminder to anchor in my confidence to pursue what feels like a hell yes for me, and a hell yes only.

  • Thank you for this as it applies to me so much now that I am in the middle of B-School and I am refining my business!
    I need to focus to complete my tasks that are on target with my goal for my family, my business and myself!
    Love the list of “nos” and “whys” since I honestly feel the same way! ♥ Thank you again for another relatable post!

  • I completely agree and have tried it– saying “no” works! I decided that I would say no to everything (mostly commitments to committees at work and home) for one year to wipe my calendar clean. I tend to be a joiner and people pleaser so I needed a mantra – NO. After that year, I said yes to just a few things that I am either passionate about or feel compelled to do. The result is a full enough calendar with events important to me now and relief!

  • Anna

    KATE!!!! This could not have come at a better time for me. Thank you for writing and bringing some sanity back into my life. I’m getting on board the no train using your guidelines. Lots and lots of love!

    Xo,
    Anna

  • Ugh, just wanting to keep the peace, thats why I wont say no.
    Great post!!!!
    and …thank you.

  • Rebecca

    This is soooo important! Thank you for the reminder that I am missing out on most things anyway!! Because this is one of my biggest fears, that I could miss out on something. So I get involved in things that are not even good for me and waste time. If we want to accomplish something in life we absolutely need to stick to our priorities. Love you Kate!!! You are such an inspiration for me and your writing style is awesome.

  • […] ♥ The most powerful way to protect your time . . . and your sanity. – Wow!  How poignant! […]

  • I think I find it hard to say no because I remember how much hard work and effort I put into launching my dream. I remember the days when there was nothing to say NO to! Now that opportunities are knocking on my door, I’m eager and excited for them! And it’s part of a defense mechanism – we are afraid that if we start saying no, the opportunities will stop and we will be back to square one. The main thing to remember is that we must follow what makes our heart sing – those are the things that make us say yes! Thanks again! xo

    Best,
    Brittany
    http://www.Soultiply.com

  • […] Een blogpost van Kate Northrup over hoe bevrijdend nee zeggen kan zijn […]

  • […] Most Powerful Ways to Protect Your Time and Sanity as an Entrepreneur {Kate Northrup} […]

  • Wendy Littlepage

    I saw this post this morning, and thought, what an impossible task it would be to have just three priorities, but as the day has gone on my subconscious has been working on it. Here are my three priorities.

    1. My nest. This includes my home, and my family and friends that make up my village.
    2. My work/my calling
    3. Me. This includes taking care of my body, mind and spirit.

    I think I can work with these and sort out just about everything with these priorities. Thanks for getting me to think about this and to put my priorities into words, that I can now follow.

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