Lessons in the Art of No

Posted by in Productivity

Lessons in the Art of No

For good reasons, most people do not excel at “no”. To blame is, for the most part, inadequate insight into the extent of one’s current task load combined with a healthy fear of conflicts. So, how exactly does one go about becoming a black-belt naysayer?


From whence tasks are bourne


Have you ever stopped to consider where tasks actually come from – that is, where they all start their journey towards something that may end up on a list for you check off? Momentarily overlooking the problem of a million potential delivery channels (e-mail, telephone calls, Facebook, texts, Twitter, IMs, voice mail – and the list goes on), most potential tasks can be derived as originating from the following sources: the society at large, family, work, groups of common interest or oneself.


Since tasks from several sources arrive through a multitude of channels in complete disarray and without context, it is – alas – seducingly simple to slip into a state of assumption regarding the unlikeliness of shackling such an unruly beast. This response, in turn, leaves the brain responsible for recalling what exactly a task is, where it came from, where it is stored, what to do with it, when to do it and how to do it. That’s ad minimum six recollection points for every potential task. Oh, and then there’s the whole issue of order of completion.


It’s rather disturbing when you start thinking about it, isn’t it.


An unlikely way of growing a pair


Assuming that the average person may have as much as up to 100 separate tasks (all with 6 or more recollection points) to handle on the immediate, day-to-day basis if everything is properly accounted for, how would you judge your ability to correctly estimate whether you are able to assume yet another task without being in complete control of your current task load? If your answer lies somewhere in between “it’s snowing down under” (no, not Australia) and “gee, I don’t think so”, well done.


Fortunately, there are better ways of managing tasks than relying on the old noggin.


To remedy the situation, however, look no further than the latin proverb “Sciente est potente”, which translates to “Knowledge is power” – and in this case, the power to say no. If you have clear definitions of your personal and professional goals, you will know how to shape your task portfolio so that every step brings you closer to the fulfillment of these. Accordingly, you will be able to argue clearly as to why a potential task does not belong in your queue, which will aid you in conflicts both external and internal.


You see, a fear of conflict typically stems from two things: evolution, which has cleverly wrought an intricate ecosystem in where risking life and limb is counterproductive to the proliferation of ones genes, and the more tangible fear of not being able to beat a specific opponent – whom may well outrank you in some way or manner.


If, however, you can explain expertly – or even prove – to a spouse, the chief of your local Outlaws chapter or your superior why this specific task simply does not belong with you, the chances of succeeding with a no suddenly increase dramatically. And here’s the gem of it all: realizing the effect of being able to do so repeatedly will increase the odds exponentially.


Call it the geek’s guide to growing a pair, if you will.


On misfits and the value of chasing opportunities


Remember; there are people who simply cannot say no because they are so excited by the prospect of doing something new and… well, exciting. If you have ever had a DISC behavioural assessment, these will be the people with strong scores in the D and I categories; people with drive, enthusiasm, ambition and optimism. In my experience, they represent a comparatively small part of the population – yet are perhaps among the foremost drivers of change as they do not let opportunities go them by, for better or worse.


There is value in that, too, despite the polarizing nature of such individuals – look around you, and I’m certain you will recognize a few of them in your immediate surroundings.