Time is money turns out to be fairly bad advice. It’s equating two important resources that have a powerful and unavoidable distinction: money is renewable. Time is not. You can’t put your time in account, invest it to breed more of it, or transfer it to a friend.
There are plenty of books, apps, and pieces of advice that claim to have the tools and secrets to the ever-frivolous time management. But many of these just train you to rearrange your full plate of responsibilities. It’s probably time to clear that plate and learn the most powerful word when it comes to managing your time and creating great things:
NO reminds you that you are human, because, well, you are.
We self-obsessed folks have a remarkable quality of assuming that we have many more chunks of “only a couple hours” than actually exist. Here is a faithful reminder that there are 24 hours in every single day, and you should sleep 8 of them at least. Bonus reminder: You can’t work the other 16. You’ll speed yourself straight to some sort of death. Extra super bonus: You are constantly underestimating your work time and overestimating how much you have. The backwards mathematics of time is that the more stingy and focused you are in your work, the more quality work you will produce.
NO allows you to say a better YES.
When you’re constantly catching up on projects and rush-delivering results, you might be marking off a lot of checks on your to-do lists, but they are scribbly, panicked and overdue. You’re adding more to-dos, which means you’re doing a lot less on each one. You’re showing up to neighborhood parties and interesting seminars feverishly catching up on “Sorry this is late” emails, all the while thinking “I wish I could really invest in this. If I could just manage my time better.” It’s a constant curse that leaves you guilt-ridden, and guilt is a dangerous path to YES.
Shorten your to-do list (Mark McGuiness, coach for creative professionals, suggests no more than a 3×3 Post-it) and start doing those things better and fully. You’ll leave the day more confidently, which means better momentum for the next day. Certainly there are days for portfolio work (let’s make it better) and other days for paycheck work (just get it done). But the more ways you can find to merge these distinctive types of work, the more you can find peace and confidence in the YES you find while trashing the rest with NO.
NO feels rude, but it doesn’t have to be mean. And it doesn’t have to be just for people.
Most of our training and instinct leads us to YES on the claims and guilt that NO might hurt someone’s feelings. It might burn bridges, and it might leave someone without help they need. What we forget is that NO is not inherently rude. If it makes you feel better, you’re allowed to tell someone how much you want to attend/meet/join/help while honestly explaining your struggle with time management and asking for their forgiveness and support in your NO. You’re also allowed to just say a plain and simple no. That includes to non-human time-suckers, like social media and email. Turn off the notifications when you need to do focused work. Don’t fragment all your YES time with a million tiny, sporadic responses to texts and articles on twitter. More NO to non-humans means more YES to humans. And if you hurt someone’s feelings, apologize and remember to learn some empathy that you can apply to the next person who says no to you.
Here’s a general rule of thumb: if you don’t have enough time, say no. If you have almost enough time, say no. If you probably have enough time if you cut this or that corner, just say no. Identify that you are so humanly afraid of missing out that you’re spending your whole life showing up halfway. Time is not money; time is time — and you have a limited amount of it. Embrace NO.