I have a busy life. I have a full time research position, I write stuff for the internet and I’m a single parent. While all three seem to involve drawing cartoons, they otherwise require a diverse range of work. And all three always want +1 more time than they are currently getting.
In work, this demand is mostly deadlines which are foisted upon me by people with a very keen sense of wanting their lives to be less busy. In general this work is rarely “do it or your fired!” but there is certainly an ever present level of “do this thing” just it comes with either a “please” or a ‘meaningful look’.
In writing for the internet it’s much more a wide array of ‘opportunities’ for new work. Every week exciting new projects that I can do but only if I can find one extra hour a week come across my virtual desk. Some of these are easy to ignore (no I don’t want to help you write a book about quantum free energy space aliens) but others I really really want to do (ErrantScience book STILL pending).
And lastly, being a single parent is demanding in a godfather way, by which I mean it constantly makes offers to use up my time that I cannot refuse. That last bit works better if you read it while doing a Marlen Brando impression. Also the people asking me for my time are adorable and ask in a way that very much makes me want to ditch all my other work.
The net result of all this is that, at any given moment, I am fairly sure if I just agreed to do everything that was asked/offered of me I would have promised my time 3x over.
So, to avoid going completely insane, I have slowly built up a new skill. Now this isn’t one of the useless skills like driving or being able predict the outcome of a coin toss 50% of the time – this is a survival skill.
It’s the skill of saying “No”.
Now saying No is simple. It’s a single syllable, requires very little mouth movement and takes fractions of a second to say. But there are two things about No that makes it very hard. Actually getting to a mental state where you can say No and sticking to No once you’ve said it.
Getting yourself to a place where you can say No is variably tricky. It’s hard to let people down and there’s an ever precent sense of wanting to help people where you can. Also sometimes it’s really flattering to be asked and saying No just feels rude!
But it’s worth remembering that saying No is much less rude than saying Yes and then either not doing it (because your busy) or doing a crap job. If you say No then the person can go sort something else out, no harm done. Saying Yes to a colleague for something you can’t do is just like Yes to giving your ferret some treats when you don’t have any – your are going to get scratched and bitten.
Now once you’ve said it you then need to stick to it. If I say. Puppies are rank amateurs compared to humans for looking sad when they’ve been told no. All puppies do is make with wide eyes and droopy ears. Humans have the eye thing, sadly miss out on the cute ears but have the added bonus of emotional blackmail.
But you need to stay strong. Don’t listen to any pleas of “but it’ll only take 5mins” or “it’ll look good on your CV“. You have your own priorities and need to stick to them to make sure you do the work you already have! And if Nintendo marketing teaches us anything it’s that scarcity of their insanely popular products seems to make more people want them. Just because you’re not available once doesn’t mean people are going to run out and buy an xBox instead.
Alternatively, if No is still eluding you then simply turn your No in to a 700 word article and then submit that to the editor instead of actually doing the piece you were asked for. Not sure It’s always applicable but I’m relying on it working this time.