“No.” Yes, “no.” Now, say it out loud with me, slow and loud —“No…..”

Don’t like going to that weekly meetup? Do you feel like you’re showing up just for the sake of it, and not learning anything new anymore? Then don’t. You don’t need to keep going because of inertia or habit. You don’t have to continue contributing to that open source project if you don’t find the work rewarding. There’s no need to squeeze something into every free bit of time you have on your calendar.

It may be easy breaking casual agreements, but I have news for you. Even promises and commitments aren’t ironclad. If you’re someone who always dots your i’s and crosses your t’s, the idea of breaking a pledge might seem terrifying, something you do only as a worst-case scenario. Believe me, it really is possible if you put your mind to it. You may think that if you start saying “no” in the office you'll get fired or demoted, or if you say “no” to your friends, they might stop calling you back. In fact, in most cases the opposite is true. By saying no to the things that stretch you too thin, you can produce higher quality work and even spend more quality time with the people you love. Chances are, the people around you may already have realized that you need to take a breather.

Breaking commitments is tough, but next time practice saying “no” before you enter into one. By saying “no” to projects at work, you can spend more focus time working on the areas where you’ll have the most impact. It’s better to communicate that upfront so that you don’t have to feel guilty about how long the work is taking, or feel apathetic about the project later on.

If you do need to break a commitment, then it’s important to do your best to offer alternatives. Think about other options. Can you delegate? Can you point the person to someone who may have more information? Can you recommend someone who’s better skilled or suited for the task? Can the project be put off until some other time, when you’ll have fewer obligations? This effort will help mitigate any issues that crop up.

Don’t get me wrong -- I still have trouble saying no and turning down work and obligations. Luckily, like most things, it’s a skill that gets better with practice. Next time you’re faced with something that you don’t have the bandwidth to tackle, try saying “no” instead. If you have a hard time saying “no” to someone’s face, you can imagine them asking you for $1,000 instead. I’m sure you won’t have trouble saying “no” to them now!

As adults, we have limited attention and limited time because of endless distractions. It often takes us longer to actually do something than we anticipated. By saying “no” and stepping away from too many unattainable commitments, culling excessive social appointments, and turning down unnecessary responsibilities, you’ll also be stepping away from guilt, stress, and worry. It’s entirely reasonable to back out from a promise if you can’t handle the extra load. In the end, you’ll have more free time left over for what truly matters -- hobbies, friends, family, and most importantly, free time for yourself.

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