To Spend Your Time Wisely, Learn How to Say No

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often find yourself spending time on unproductive activities that add neither value nor enjoyment?  Do you struggle to say no to distractions and discipline yourself to focus on what’s important?

From the workplace to home, our lives are filled with distractions that prevent us from spending time on what’s important to us. As an adult, however, you have to learn to spend your time wisely and say no to time-wasting activities.

In this article, you’ll learn how to say no to distractions and pursue the activities that matter to you.

Learn to Say No

As a child, you learned that saying no to something your parents wanted you to do wasn’t an acceptable answer. Later, as an adult, you may have avoided saying no because you didn’t want to upset someone. But successful people learn how to say no to benefit their career and personal lives. For example, if your boss gives you an impossible deadline, it’s reasonable to refuse to do the work or negotiate a different deadline. 

If you want to spend your time wisely, you must learn how to say no. Here are two strategies to make saying no easier:

  1. Make a list of things to stop doing. These could be activities that direct precious energy away from what you’d like to focus on. Write them down and follow them like a policy. When you share this policy with others, it helps them respect your boundaries. For example, one item on Canfield’s stop list is to accept no more than five speaking events per month.
  2. Use the “I support you, but I’m doing this” technique. For example, if the PTA president asks you to help with organizing their spring fundraiser, but you’re afraid it’ll take too much time away from your family, tell the president that you support what they’re doing, but you’re not going to participate because you’re prioritizing spending time with your family.

Seek Great Opportunities

Some opportunities yield great benefits, like increased pay or networking potential, while others deliver far less for the time they demand. If you focus too much on good or mediocre opportunities, they may consume so much of your time and energy that you can’t seize better opportunities when they come along. 

For most people, about 20 percent of their activities contribute to 80 percent of their success. Successful people learn to identify and pursue great opportunities over good ones, which helps them achieve their goals with less effort.

Here are three steps to assess potential opportunities:

  1. Make a list with two columns, one labeled “Good” and one labeled “Great.” Write down your opportunities in the column you think fits best. When considering where to place them, ask how they fit with your goals and identify what additional information you’d need to pursue each of them.
  2. Discuss your opportunities with one of your advisors. Your advisors—people you turn to for support, expertise, and advice—can suggest which opportunities best suit you based on your interests and goals.
  3. Do a test run. Before committing completely to a new opportunity, try a small test run to determine whether you want to pursue it. For example, if you’re interested in changing careers, try doing an internship in the new field to assess whether you’d like doing it long term.

Seeking Greatness as Rocky: Sylvester Stallone’s Story

When Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky, many producers were eager to make the film and pick its lead actors. But Stallone wanted to play the role of Rocky and produce the film himself on a small budget. He found a studio that would let him star in it and produce it for under $1 million. The movie earned more than $225 million and Stallone achieved stardom, all because he said no to good—but not great—prospects offered by other filmmakers.

To Spend Your Time Wisely, Learn How to Say No

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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