“No”: The Answer To The Busy Epidemic

It’s been well established that there is an epidemic of busy-ness– that our society has over-valued the practice of working too hard, burning yourself out and staying “busy”. It’s not at all unusual to talk in weary tones about just how incredibly tired you are all the time, as if that is the measure of our goals – as if working ourselves to exhaustion is the only way of knowing you’re working hard.

Yet, studies have proved that this busyness culture isn’t even helpful for our careers, and is a disadvantage towards doing a good job. Because of this, we need to learn how to stop ourselves hopping onto the out-of-control busyness steam train and hurtling into the abyss – and the best, and first way to do this, is to learn how to say no.

Why saying “No” is the new “Yes”, Maybe

Saying no as a practice seems inherently negative – like it’s in direct opposition to a lot of pop-inspiration practices which focus on saying yes and allowing yourself to go with the flow and let life do the driving (and other phrases likely to be found in an Instagram hashtag). And while I do think the “yes” philosophy has its quirky positive points, it’s got to be a limited game, a practice in moderation. If you say yes to everything, you’ll eventually get so inundated that you’ll be swamped beneath the sheer number of hikes and Eat, Pray, Love experiences that they won’t be worth it.

Saying No is a similar exercise in moderation – it’s about being mindful of how much you have on your plate, and knowing that there’s no inherent value or need in agreeing to do everything that comes your way. It may seem like opportunities could be lost by following this path – but in reality it’s about putting your time and best effort into what you’re already doing. It’s about husbanding your energy so that one project can be done efficiently and well, instead of three projects done half-heartedly. Or – for those of you who can manage to do three jobs at the same time at maximum energy, it’s about making sure you’re not so burnt out from doing it, that the next task suffers.


When it’s time to say no, you’ll no

One of the most obvious ways to understand when it’s time to say ‘no’ is in the workplace – being ‘completely swamped’ all the time isn’t the ideal way to be. It could mean that you’re managing your time inefficiently, or it could be a systemic problem with your work, or it could mean that you’re taking on more than you need to, in an effort to look productive. However, in this BBC article, Ed Baldwin, a human resources strategist from the US says that looking busy all the time is not impressive to either supervisors or co-workers

it could mean that you’re taking on more than you need to

‘The real message you’re sending is “I’m not very good at prioritising my time” and, at the moment, you’re not a priority at all’, he says.

And this isn’t just the case in the workplace – while it might seem like a necessary and perhaps even admirable sacrifice, sacrificing time with your friends, families and loved ones in order to work more is saying the same thing. And while people will often understand this martyr behavior in the short term, eventually it’s hard for them to not be slighted by your need to be busy, and your relationships can suffer. People don’t stick around forever.

What saying no looks like

Of course, it’s all well and good to make a commitment to saying no, but when your boss comes and asks you to take on a new project, it’s probably not the best idea to simply refuse and then go drink a cocktail somewhere. The language we use in the workplace to say no could sound like an equivocation, but is actually about being on top of both your priorities and your own abilities. Saying ‘I am currently working on project x, and should be finished in Y amount of time, in which I can then get started on project z’ is a confusing, yet completely valid way of going about things. It should be fine to discuss what are the company’s (and therefore your) most urgent tasks – if it’s not, perhaps consider saying no to working in the office altogether.

As a freelancer, the urge to accept every single client is quite overwhelming, as there is the worry that you’ll miss out on the much-needed money. However, most clients react pretty well to being accepted and scheduled – plus it shows that you are professional, and sought-after.

In the end, you’re doing nobody any favours by struggling to reach deadlines just because of over-committing or wanting to seem busy. Both your boss or your clients should prefer judging your work on your productivity, rather than the harried illusion of being busy. Saying no to the right things is actually saying yes to being a more efficient worker.

Patrick Lenton is a writer and digital marketer. He runs Town Crier, a social media and marketing consultancy for authors.