I cleaned out my closet with Helene, a professional organizer, last week, in preparation for our move to a new house. I said No to countless pocketbooks and belts, all gifts from either my mother or mother-in-law. I also said No to old shoes that I am never going to use:
- Old top-siders I used to wear sailing. I bought them when I was 19. They were quite “worn-in.” Helene said that she sees them in almost everyone’s closet.
- Old bike shoes I used to wear bicycling. I’m never going to bike on the road. Probably not in spin classes either.
- Old tap dancing shoes I wore when I took tap classes. I admit it, I haven’t taken tap classes since I was in my 30’s.
- Several pairs of dress shoes I put on and take off. You know what I mean. They are shoes that never leave the house on my feet.
I removed several polo shirts from conferences, and several non-petite shirts. Who am I kidding? I am petite. Also known as short. Why do I have non-petite shirts in my short-sleeved shirt drawer? Crazy.
My closet looks great. I only have clothes I wear now. I feel great about it. I feel lighter, just looking at my closet.
That’s just the clothes.
This year, I have also said No to several speaking requests. I’ve said no before, but I also increased my speaking fees this year. Why? Because I have more books I want to write, and more workshops to develop. Too much travel for too little money means I can’t write or develop. I need office time to do that work.
When you say No to some things, you say Yes to others. Why? Because you can only manage actions, not time. I have no idea why people call this time management. It’s really action management. That’s what David Allen calls it in Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity—action management.
But, I bet you don’t suffer from having too few things to accomplish. I bet you have more than enough to do. I bet your todo list is like my closet was—full of things that made sense at one time, but make little or no sense now.
If you don’t say No to certain things, you can’t say Yes, a real Yes to other things. You can’t commit.
Saying No allows you to commit to other work. I wrote about this in Manage Your Project Portfolio. When you stop multitasking, you commit to projects and commit to one project at a time. You finish more work and accomplish much more. It’s what I do in my work.
There’s the no-multitasking part of saying no. There’s the valuing-your-time part of saying no. There’s the lightening your load part of saying no, which is what I did in my closet.
To be honest, we do this with people in our lives, too. It’s not as obvious. We don’t go through the people in our closet/rolodex/contact list and yank them out. But, we stop seeing them. Sometimes, over time, little by little. Sometimes, it’s a clean break.
That’s a good thing. We change. Some people are bad for us. They make us feel heavier, not emotionally lighter. You get to say No to those people, too. Seligman discusses this in his book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.
Here’s a way to say No, when those people ask you to meet them for coffee or lunch or dinner: “It doesn’t fit for me.”
Isn’t that a nice way to say it? That’s what I use when people ask me to speak and they can’t meet my requirements. You can add, “Sorry, that doesn’t fit for me. Have a great time without me.” Now, stick to your decision. No going back. Why?
Because you have better things to do with your time. Even—or especially—if it’s cleaning out your closet.
Remember, saying No allows you to say Yes to other, more valuable things. If you don’t say No, you can’t say Yes.
So, what did you say No to, today?