“Time is what we want most, but what we spend worst.”

William Penn, a writer said that. It’s profound. But surprisingly we don’t do enough to defend our time.

Time is highly limited. You have less than you think and need more than you know. There are 168 hours every week. That is a monumental amount of time. Where could it possibly go? Or better still where are you spending all those hours? Time is constantly being expended, whether consciously or not, hence the need to manage it well.

Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have both said, that, to get your best work done, you have to say no to almost everything. “You’ve gotta keep control of your time,” Buffett says, “and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.”

Guard your time like your life depends on it because it does. And spend it carefully on the most important things. Likewise, it’s crucial to figure out as early as possible what you consider the most important things to you in life and career, because if you mis-prioritise, you can’t recover the lost time.

Many of us have a tough time saying “no,” mainly because we want to be liked — saying no to requests makes you think you will be perceived negatively. You can blame human nature for your constant need to please to others. We all do on some level. We don’t want others to think we are rude or make them feel like we are too busy to make time for them.

Some people also worry about missing opportunities. People who are not comfortable with saying no end up agreeing to too many requests and juggling too many things. It is so easy to be pulled in too many directions. But saying “yes” at the expense of your own needs and desires can cost you. Over-commitment can steal your focus and ruin productivity.

Charles Dickens, English writer and social critic, once rejected an invitation from a friend and said: “It is only half an hour’ — ‘It is only an afternoon’ — ‘It is only an evening,’ people say to me over and over again, but they don’t know that it is impossible to command one’s self sometimes to any stipulated and set disposal of five minutes — or that the mere consciousness of an engagement will sometime worry a whole day … Whoever is devoted to an art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it, and to find his recompense in it. I am grieved if you suspect me of not wanting to see you, but I can’t help it; I must go in my way whether or no.”

Assess the true cost

Saying yes is easy because you think you can handle it. But suddenly things begin to pile up. You have to pay up for all the obligations you accepted in the past. You begin to realise the huge debt of obligation to all the people you’ve said yes to, one at a time. And it gets worse with time. In the words of Paulo Coelho, a lyricist and novelist, “When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.”

Have you looked at your own calendar lately? How many things did you put there? How many things did other people put there? When someone takes your time, it doesn’t cost them anything, but it costs you everything.

”Saying “no” means you have time to focus on your own priorities, tasks and projects, rather than responding and reacting to requests from others. “The ability to communicate ‘no’ really reflects that you are in the driver’s seat of your own life,” said Vanessa M. Patrick, an associate professor of marketing at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. “It gives you a sense of empowerment.” It’s easier to avoid commitments than get out of commitments. Saying “no” keeps you toward the easier end of this spectrum.

Look at your hours. If they’re a bunch of fractions, who or what is doing the division? Are others distracting you or are you distracting yourself? By declining what doesn’t serve your highest goals, you can give your laser focus to what matters. A strong sense of what’s important and what isn’t can help you make more efficient decisions about where to give your time and energy.

Set rules ahead of time

Start tracking your daily activities to clearly see where your time is being spent. Meetings, phone calls, emails, notifications, small chats, and many other distractions are constantly splitting our attention.

Record all your appointments, deadlines, and everything in-between. Analyse the actual time you spend on each activity with what you think is the best amount for each. Schedule the heck out of your days. Take away everything that adds little or no value to your life and career.

Notice where time leaks, then declutter your routine. Revisit your schedule regularly. Check-in with yourself weekly to see if your schedule reflects what you want it to. You can only do great work if you have adequate quality time to do it. Learn to say no by asking yourself; Will this give me energy, bring me joy or add value to my life? Am I the person uniquely qualified to fulfil this request? How much energy and time will this require from me?

When you add responsibilities to your life, be strategic about how and where you spend your time. Saying no can be difficult but once you get comfortable, you’ll be amazed at just how much time (and brain space) you’ll free up for what’s important to you.

Originally published on Medium.

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