Time Boundaries2 min read

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

—Steve Jobs

You may create the best schedule in the world, but if you don’t follow through, all you have is a wish list. It is essential, then, to protect your time from other people’s demands. Unlike money, time is a non-renewable resource. It’s the stuff your life is made of!

Protecting your time requires observing the simple—yet often challenging—discipline of saying no. No to other people offloading their responsibilities onto you. No to meaningless meetings and needless tasks. No to answering the phone when exercising. No to checking emails during a family dinner. No even to some good things that come at the wrong time.

Every decision has a cost. Every decision matters. Every decision is either a +1 or a -1 in your life. Oftentimes saying yes to someone’s request is saying no to your aspiration. So don’t be afraid to say no. Saying no keeps you in control; it allows you to live your best life, show up as your best self, and decide what really matters to you. 

If you can’t say no to others, you can’t be disciplined—you are not in control of your time and energy. As a result, you can’t be effective in your tasks, and you can’t live an authentic life. You unconsciously relinquish your priorities and gravitate toward other people’s. The end results can be regret for missed opportunities, frustration for lack of progress, and resentment for unreciprocated kindness.

Saying no is that important. So commit to learning this important skill. Practice saying no in a graceful yet assertive way. Remember, you are saying no to the request, not the person. 

The author of the book Essentialism recommends these responses:

  • “I’m afraid I don’t have the bandwidth”
  • “Sorry, I’m overcommitted at the moment”
  • “I’m going to pass on this”
  •  “Not now, but maybe later
  • I can’t do X, but you might want to try Y
  • (At work) “Yes, I can make this a priority. Which of these other projects should I de-prioritize for that?”

If you are bold, you can even try this: when a request comes your way, remain silent for several seconds. Almost always the other person then fills in the gap, giving you an easy way out: “I mean, just if you have nothing to do, if not it’s okay, I know you’re busy…”

Saying no mindfully is not selfish. In a society obsessed with fitting in and people-pleasing, saying no to other people’s requests—when they conflict with your goals or values—is a great gift you give to others. Every time you say no like that, you give them permission to be equally focused and purposeful. You normalize freedom and personal space. You help create a culture of authenticity.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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