Time Management: “No thanks!”

Time management. To-do lists. Multi-tasking. 24/7 availability. Many of you are desperately trying many different methods to squeeze more productive time out of your days or weeks, to get more done and to become more efficient.

Forget about it! You cannot manage time. Time flies. You cannot stop it. You can’t do anything to change that. And before you know it, you’ll be dead.

If you feel that you have too much to do, that you are over-worked and close to a burnout, you need to manage something else than time: you need to manage your tasks. Because time is a fixed value, it is the amount and the scope of the tasks accepted by you or given to you which determine how much you work and how exhausted or how relaxed you are.

There is only one proven method of “time management”: Do less!

Because of this, the word “no” is the most important management tool.

Most of us instinctively say “yes” when we are asked if we want to do something. With new tasks come new clients, new responsibilities, more income, more excitement. When I had my own law firm, I was happy that so many people wanted to become my clients that I almost always accepted them. It made me proud that people from around the world wanted me as their lawyer. It made me happy to see that opening my own business right after graduating from law school was the right decision. But then I didn’t have time to deal with all these cases, I had to work nights and weekends, I burnt out and eventually I quit.

Also, it seems to be socially expected to say “yes” when somebody asks you something. “Do you want to come to my party?”, “could you help me with this sales project?” or “would you like to watch my children over the weekend?” If you say “no”, you will seem anti-social, suspicious, selfish, weird. You may simply say “yes” out of a reflex or because you don’t want to lose a friend or a job . You are too afraid to say “no”.

I have developed a few techniques how to deal with this problem:

  1. Say “no thanks” instead of “no”. If someone asks you to watch their children over the weekend and you say “no thanks” in a very nice and genuine way, you make it sound as if they had offered you a favor but you graciously declined. I have often experienced that people don’t even know how to react to that. They just walk away, totally confused. Try it!
  2. Another reply I sometimes use is the famous line from Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener who coincidentally also works at a law firm: when asked to do something, he politely responds with “I would prefer not to.” However, I have found this to be less  effective than a simple “no thanks” as it sometimes elicits the question “why?”
  3. Don’t reply at all. This works very well with e-mails, letters and voice messages (another reason not to answer your phone). Every day I delete some of the e-mails I receive from prospective clients without replying to them. I know I won’t have the time, or I am not interested in their case or they sound as if they don’t want to pay for my services. You find this impolite? It isn’t. Nobody has an entitlement to your time. It is your time and you alone decide what to do with it. You do not owe anything to anybody, especially not an explanation. 
  4. Reply late. That’s a less drastic, but very effective version of method no. 3. Reply after a week or after a month. Usually the project will have found somebody else to do it. Or it will have turned out that it wasn’t that important after all. You will innocently ask “does this still need to be done?” and to the reproachful account of how somebody else already completed the job, you will reply – with a thankful smile – “that’s good, I am happy to hear that.”
  5. I understand that all of this is harder when you are in employment because you have signed a contract that gives somebody else some control over some of your time. My first advice therefore is to avoid employment, but I realize that this is not always possible. When your manager asks you to do something which you don’t find worth your time, I suggest you reply “Sure I can do that, but then I cannot work on something else in the same time. Which other project/client do you wish me to abandon/neglect?” Make sure that your boss realizes that every hour can only be spent once and that every task they give you comes at the expense of some other task.

The last point is also an important point for your own life, even if you are not employed. You may think “it doesn’t really cost me much to go to this party which I won’t enjoy, but it will make other people happy” or “well, it’s only one evening of the week”. But always remember: whatever you do, it prevents you from doing something else! This something else could be something that you would enjoy much more. 

(This advice was also published by Medium.)

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Life, Philosophy, Time and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Time Management: “No thanks!”

  1. Elena says:

    Good ideas! You are right…But how to get some money if not to sell our own time?

  2. Elena says:

    More I read your blog more I agree with you.

  3. John Erickson says:

    I agree with you on the last one – telling your boss “which one”. I had a boss who would dump things on her employees no matter the load they already had. I finally had it out with her one day, simply telling her that SOMETHING would suffer with that much. It was the only negative answer that actually worked with her!
    (And I took FOUR different variants of “time management” classes. Not a one helped!)

  4. Agree with much of what you’ve said. I’d add to the ‘say no’ option that if you can point to somewhere where the person can get what they need the conversation can go more smoothly and faster.

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  7. Kavita Joshi says:

    good tips and advices I must say and I have tried all of them at some point…

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  10. matteo says:

    I have worked a long time and bosses always wanted more time from me and the pay never changed. I started to simply take vacations and make my own schedule. Some that didn’t like my style would fire me but I know regardless if I had worked 110% and given up all my time there was still no guarantee I would not have been sacked or quit. When you hit your 50s you realize my time is really all I have and do I really need to own a house, car etc? Where is the freedom of movement, travel and schedules that are not M-F 9-6? Society expects us to work and if we take a road of I’m fine traveling and studying and if I want to work in the future, I will. People think we should be working all the time and then you remind them, I am single, no kids and great health. What a wonderful freedom to have to do as I please. I say NO a lot more know as saying yes does not always lead to a positive road ahead.

    • Excellent point! If you take on more, it’s not like the workload would stop, whether you are employed or run your own business. You’ll simply find more jobs on your desk or in your inbox.

      This is a fight which is won by walking away from it and focusing on other things in life like you have done. Congratulations!

  11. I have to say I do agree with everything you pointed out here.

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