The Ultimate Productivity Hack is Saying No

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To HACK = verb; to find an alternative or different way to into something

            “The best hack for making bread is to let your dough rise in the refrigerator”
“The police are attempting to hack into the criminal’s phone”

written by JAMES CLEAR


The ultimate productivity hack is saying no.

Not doing something will always be faster than doing it. This statement reminds me of the old computer programming saying, “Remember that there is no code faster than no code.”

The same philosophy applies in other areas of life. For example, there is no meeting that goes faster than not having a meeting at all.

Comparison: X is ______-er THAN Y

                Single consonant adjectives take a new form when we emphasize them:
                Big > BIGGER > The biggest
                Small > SMALLER > the smallest

                This “____-er” form is used to compare two subjects and is always                 followed by THAN

                “There is no meeting FASTER THAN not having a meeting at all”

NOTE: We never use this comparative (_____-er) with “as”: FASTER AS

This is not to say you should never attend another meeting, but the truth is that we say yes to many things we don’t actually want to do. There are many meetings held that don’t need to be held. There is a lot of code written that could be deleted.

How often do people ask you to do something and you just reply, “Sure thing.”

Sure thing” = idiom; “no problem / absolutely / yes, of course”
               “Could you bring a snack to the meeting tomorrow?” –– “sure thing”

Three days later, you’re overwhelmed by how much is on your to-do list. We become frustrated by our obligations even though we were the ones who said yes to them in the first place.

It’s worth asking if things are necessary. Many of them are not, and a simple “no” will be more productive than whatever work the most efficient person can muster.

But if the benefits of saying no are so obvious, then why do we say yes so often?

To be Obvious = adjective: absolutely clear and understood by everyone
                “It is obvious who is going to win the football match”
“It was obvious that the student didn’t know the answer to the question”

Why We Say Yes

We agree to many requests not because we want to do them, but because we don’t want to be seen as rude, arrogant, or unhelpful. Often, you have to consider saying no to someone you will interact with again in the future—your co-worker, your spouse, your family and friends.

To interact = verb; to share a physical space
                “Your son is so polite! He interacts with the other children so well!”
                “Try to avoid interacting with persons who are obviously sick”

Saying no to these people can be particularly difficult because we like them and want to support them. (Not to mention, we often need their help too.) Collaborating with others is an important element of life. The thought of straining the relationship outweighs the commitment of our time and energy.

For this reason, it can be helpful to be gracious in your response. Do whatever favors you can, and be warm-hearted and direct when you have to say no.

But even after we have accounted for these social considerations, many of us still seem to do a poor job of managing the tradeoff between yes and no.

The tradeoff = noun; the balance between good and bad / positive and negative in a decision
                “I was able to get tomorrow free, but it means working late tonight –– that’s the tradeoff”
                “I like my job, but it means I need to wake up early to avoid traffic –– that’s the tradeoff”

We find ourselves over-committed to things that don’t meaningfully improve or support those around us, and certainly don’t improve our own lives.

Perhaps one issue is how we think about the meaning of yes and no.

The Difference Between Yes and No

The words “yes” and “no” get used in comparison to each other so often that it feels like they carry equal weight in conversation. In reality, they are not just opposite in meaning, but of entirely different magnitudes in commitment.

Magnitude = noun; great in size and importance
                “The magnitude of being late to the wedding was obvious”
                “The representative  didn’t quite understand the magnitude of the customer’s problem”

When you say no, you are only saying no to one option. When you say yes, you are saying no to every other option.

I like how the economist Tim Harford put it, “Every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time.” Once you have committed to something, you have already decided how that future block of time will be spent.

To PUT IT [into words] = to find a clear way to say something
                “How can I put this into words you’ll understand….”
                “I’m messing up the quotation, I don’t remember how Shakespeare put it, but it as beautiful”

In other words, saying no saves you time in the future. Saying yes costs you time in the future. No is a form of time credit. You retain the ability to spend your future time however you want. Yes is a form of time debt. You have to pay back your commitment at some point.

To RETAIN = verb; to hold onto even in challenging situations
                “The company was able to retain most of their employees after the merger”
                “After changing the menu, the restaurant was not able to retain its clients”

No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.