Saying no is the ultimate productivity hack.

It is always faster to not do something than to do it. This statement reminds me of the old computer programming adage, “Remember, no code is faster than no code.”

The same philosophy can be applied to other aspects of life. There is no meeting, for example, that moves faster than not having a meeting at all. Learn More Productivity hacks at PublishingBooth.

This is not to say you should never go to another meeting again, but the truth is that we often say yes to things we don’t want to do. Many meetings are held that do not need to be held. There is a lot of code that could be removed.

How often do you get asked to do something and simply say, “Sure thing?” Three days later, you’re exhausted by the amount of work on your to-do list. We become irritated by our obligations, despite the fact that we agreed to them in the first place.

It’s worth considering whether certain things are absolutely necessary. Many of them are not, and a simple “no” will be more productive than the most efficient person’s work.

But, if the advantages of saying no are so obvious, why do we say yes so frequently?

Why Do We Say Yes?

We agree to many requests because we don’t want to be perceived as rude, arrogant, or unhelpful. Often, you must consider saying no to someone with whom you will interact again in the future—your coworker, spouse, family, and friends.

Saying no to these people can be especially difficult because we care about them and want to help them. (Not to mention that we frequently require their assistance.) Collaborating with others is an essential part of life. The thought of straining the relationship outweighs our time and energy commitment.

As a result, being gracious in your response can be beneficial. Do whatever favors you can, and when you have to say no, be warm-hearted and direct.

Even after accounting for these social considerations, many of us appear to do a poor job of managing the yes/no tradeoff. We become over-committed to activities that do not significantly improve or support those around us, and certainly do not improve our own lives.

One issue could be how we think about the meaning of yes and no.

The Distinction Between Yes and No

The words “yes” and “no” are used so frequently in comparison to one another that it appears they have equal weight in conversation. In reality, they are not only polar opposites in meaning, but also in terms of commitment.

When you say no, you are only rejecting one option. When you say yes, you rule out all other possibilities.

“Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time,” economist Tim Harford says. When you commit to something, you have already decided how you will spend that future block of time.

In other words, saying no now saves you time later. Saying yes now will cost you time later. The word “no” is a type of time credit. You keep the freedom to spend your future time however you see fit. Yes, represents a form of time debt. You must repay your commitment at some point.

No is a choice. Yes, there is a responsibility.

The Function of No

Saying no is sometimes regarded as a luxury available only to those in positions of power. And it’s true: it’s easier to turn down opportunities when you have the safety net of power, money, and authority. But it’s also true that saying no isn’t just a luxury reserved for the wealthy. It is also a strategy that can help you succeed.

Saying no is an important skill to develop at any stage of your career because it preserves your most valuable asset: your time. “If you don’t guard your time, people will steal it from you,” said investor Pedro Sorrentino.

The Power of No

More effort is wasted doing things that don’t matter than is wasted doing things inefficiently, according to the Power of No. And, in that case, elimination is a more valuable skill than optimization.

I’m reminded of Peter Drucker’s famous quote, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently what should not be done at all.”

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