I’m super friendly and polite. For the longest time, I also didn’t have the drive to take ownership of my own time. Which means sometimes I’m kind of a doormat. And so I said yes. To everything. I didn’t know how to say no.
And it hasn’t been all bad. For a long time, being helpful was how I made friends and got people to like me. I never felt like I was missing an opportunity.
The downside is that, well, saying yes to everything means saying yes to things you’re not comfortable with, things that waste your time, and things that do you no good whatsoever.
So I learned to stop. And I didn’t have to change my entire personality to do so.
Or, really, anything. I’m lazy; I like putting life improvements on easy mode.
How to Say No (even when you’re a pushover)
For me, saying no was about three things: developing urgency, avoiding distraction when you can, and forcing yourself to consider the cost of distraction when you can’t. When you dedicate yourself to respecting your own time, learning how to say no becomes easy, natural, and – perhaps most importantly for us super-polite people – socially acceptable.
Step 1: Develop a sense of urgency
Perhaps the best thing I did that pushed me to learn how to say no was when I placed myself in the precarious position of making ends meet without a full-time job. It hasn’t been easy. I struggle all day, every day, and still find myself driving for Uber like a madman at the end of every month.
Do you want to know my secret for getting so much done? I fucking have to.
If I don’t, I’ll be homeless.
Uber isn’t sustainable. Ghostwriting keyword rich content for a couple dozen bucks a pop isn’t sustainable. Selling plasma or doing odd jobs from Craigslist or whatever other weird things you’re trying to get by with aren’t sustainable.
When you choose to build your empire, you have to put yourself into the mindset that action is the only way to stop your house from burning down.
And that’s true regardless of whether you still have your full-time job, a sugar daddy, a trust fund, or Derek Smeath beating down your door.
I developed my sense of urgency when I quit my job and moved to a city with low-paying jobs that I’m still not qualified for. My ship is sinking every second of every day. Yours may not be.
If it’s not, then you’re going to need to find another way to show yourself how monumentally important achieving your goals is. Maybe it’s a dream board. You might just write out a reminder for yourself and stick it on your mirror. Or maybe you just say “one day I’ll be rich” every time an angry customer is screaming in your face. Find a way to light your fire.
Step 2: Don’t let yourself go down the rabbit hole
You see, when you make a living on the internet and build your entire livelihood on social media, you’re opening yourself up to distractions. Case in point: I just spent the last hour tagging my blog posts in Google search console. Is it helpful? Sure. Was it necessary? Absolutely not. Was I using it as a way to procrastinate while still convincing myself that I was being productive? Yep.
You’re, like, so observant, hypothetical reader. Have a hypothetical cookie.
And there are millions of ways to procrastinate while convincing yourself you’re being productive. Some of them are more useful than others, but they all have one thing in common: they’re not what you should actually be doing.
Here’s a list that’s by no means exhaustive, but that should give you the gist:
- Commenting on blog posts (Although you should definitely leave a comment on this one, fyi)
- Browsing hashtag services for possible ways to get your selfie more likes on Instagram
- Reading about rich data snippets
- Asking Google whether you should build backlinks to your social profiles for the third time this week
- Checking your YouTube analytics for inbound keywords for the third day in a row
- Hunting Channel Pages for collaboration partners for YouTube videos
- Liking everybody’s posts on Facebook
- Reading Facebook
- Hitting the Stumble button to try and find something to write about (You should also hit the stumble button on this page, though)
Are these things useful on some level? Yep! Will they benefit you? Probably!
But have you written your post, recorded your video, or pitched a guest post?
Do not open the can of worms.
I find it helpful if I write down all the things I want to Google for the day and only allow myself to open one or two browser tabs at once.
Whatever you do, don’t chase the rabbit.
Step 3: Make it inconvenient to say yes
Learn how to say no to inconveniences. At one point, I wrote down a list of all the things I needed to do every single month, week, and day to be successful (in my mind). Some of them offered better results than others, but I couldn’t bring myself to let all of them slip.
So I did what any reasonable person would do: I scheduled a time slot for every single one of those activities.
There’s a time for commenting on comments, finding new blogs, participating in Facebook Groups, on Reddit, and on forums, and scheduling social media updates. I have a schedule for checking my emails, paying my bills, going to the store, eating lunch, showering, and everything else that goes into my life.
And I keep to it. There are only so many hours in the week, and I already schedule myself for 17 hours a day. If I decide to waste a block of my time on another activity, I don’t get that block back. I can’t cut into my sleep time even more. It’s gone. Forever. Permanently.
Know what that means?
If I’m expected to interrupt my schedule to say yes to something, it better be worth more to me than whatever activity I would have been working on. I learned how to say no by forcing myself to confront what I was missing.
If you want me to record a collaboration segment for a video you’re making, I’m more than happy to, but I’m hoping it will fit into my usual recording and editing time. Likewise if you want a guest post from me.
Want to take me on a dinner date at 8 PM on Friday? That’s great. Are you going to subscribe to my YouTube channel? Because that was my time to promote my videos on Reddit.
(I’m joking. Kind of.)
You don’t have to schedule yourself down to the last minute like I do to work this system in, either. Just answer this question: if you want to go out on Friday night, what useful activity are you giving up to accommodate that?
Maybe you’re giving up on something relatively useless – one of the items from the list above. That’s okay. It’s always healthy to give yourself a break.
But maybe Friday nights are when you record your videos. When are you going to fit that into your schedule? Are you going to fail to record anything this week instead? Is going out still worth it?
Make it easy to say no
Find a way to remind yourself of the importance of what you’re doing. Choose to weigh the priority of everything you do. Put on your blinders. Force yourself to confront the weight of all your choices. Perhaps above all else, recognize that choosing to respect yourself and your time doesn’t make you rude or selfish. It’s not wrong. Remember the urgency of your life. Nobody else is going to.
(And yes, you should tweet that, too.)
If you liked this article, make sure you also subscribe to this blog. I write things like this a lot and it’ll probably help you be a better person and a better creator. Also leave a comment below if you’ve had to learn how to say no. Tell us what worked for you! Your advice may save somebody’s career someday.