This week, one of my closest friends asked for my help with a data and communications project that would take a lot of time and collaboration. It’s the kind of project that sadly cannot be done at any time, requires a lot of updating of shared spreadsheets and documents, needs to keep a constant line of communication open with the other collaborators…which isn’t so great for me since most of my writing happens while I’m offline and in traffic, at an unholy early hour of the morning, and can easily not happen at all if traffic is bad enough. (I’m looking at you, New York City.)
So what’s the point?
Sometimes, you have to say no, even to people you love dearly.
It’s hard because I would legitimately like to help. It’s an annual project and I’ve helped for the last two years.
However, when you’re putting your absolute all into maximizing your time, improving yourself, and advancing your career, you’ve got to learn how to say no.
Whether you’re a writer, a designer, a business analyst — whatever you are — when you put your entire self in, there’s not going to be much of you left to spread between other commitments and obligations.
When you say no, try to explain why as best you can.
If your day is anywhere near as insane as mine is, you need to be ready to explain why you can’t make it to that event or why you can’t help with that project.
Occasionally, people aren’t going to want to take no for an answer unless you do explain. I’ve found this to be true particularly with family. It’s really hard for people like us because it’s really painful and uncomfortable to say no in the first place.
Personally, I try to keep my “no” messages brief, kind, and apologetic.
That doesn’t always work though.
Sometimes, I do need to give people the whole song and dance about what my days consist of.
Right now, my life consists of a nine-hour workday with a fifteen-minute break and three to four hours of commuting. I go to bed at 10 pm and get up at 4 am. Sometimes, my workdays end up starting early and I work closer to ten hours. It’s not ideal, but I’m making it work by doing things like maximizing the time I spend commuting. I’m making it work.
I only reliably have two hours in the evening to shower, cook dinner, clean the kitchen, feed my cats, clean up after my cats, and meal prep for lunch the next day.
Odin forbid I need to run an errand, as I had to this week since I was making multiple questionable efforts to fix my flat tire. (It’s slowly deflating in the garage through the botched patch job as I type this, in case you were wondering.) The cycle is so rigorous that I can’t tell you how much I miss my eight-hour workdays in Baltimore and the little forty-minute total commute I had.
Be firm when you say no.
Here’s the part I’m not good at; making it abundantly clear that you don’t have time the first time around.
Saying things like maybe or I don’t think I can make people think that you just don’t want to do it when the reality is that you can’t do it.
It’s hard to tell someone you care about a blunt no.
When you’re giving things your all, you still take care of yourself.
After all, even workaholics need to take care of themselves. You need to make time to practice a little self-care, even if that’s only showering and eating properly.
You need to allot time to cook and prepare meals that will keep your body functioning through whatever it is you’re doing to make a living.
You can put band-aids on things, you can eat out all the time saying you don’t have time to cook, you can drink five expressos with the excuse of wanting to try each flavor, but the financial and physical costs of those things will catch up with you.
And that’s why you need to say no sometimes.
For me personally, the other tough thing is that I really can’t cut back on my sleep. I’m diving for three to four hours a day and only allotting six hours for sleep in the first place, so getting any less and trying to drive in North Jersey traffic is just a bad idea. That’s how you wreck your car.
Mass transit is sadly not an option for me right now, because then it’d take three to four hours for me to get to work, which means a six to eight hour per day commute. At that point, I may as well just sleep in my car in the garage under a thermal blanket.
Ultimately, whatever your circumstances are, say no, even when it hurts.
Especially if you’re close to the person you’re saying no to.
But if you legitimately cannot do it without putting your health or safety on the line, take a deep breath, collect your thoughts, and say no.
Defend your time.