Writers, like other creative people, have to learn to say "no" when others make too many demands on our time. If we try to please everybody or cram 48 hours worth of work into 24, our creative output suffers (or disappears).
HOW TO SAY NO TO OTHERS
Quite a lot has been written about how to say no, including these useful tips:
* Give a reason, even if the reason is just "Sorry, I'm too busy." The terrific book Influence by Robert Cialdini, cited examples of how giving even non-specific reasons helped pursuade others to go along with you.
* Suggest an alternative. Maybe you know that somebody else isn't so busy right now and could help.
* If you tend to say "yes" too quickly, insert a cooling-off period. Tell the other person you're not sure whether you have time but will get back to them in a couple of hours (or the next day, if it's not urgent). This gives you the chance to remind yourself of your other commitments.
* Negotiate. If the request (or demand) comes from someone to whom you can't say no, try negotiating either for more time or to take on part of the requested task and have someone else take on another part of it.
THE HARDEST PERSON TO WHOM TO SAY NO
Comparatively little has been written about how to say no to the one person who tends to sabotage you the most: you.
Most of us, me included, often struggle to stay on the path we've set for ourselves when in a rational, planning state of mind. "
WHAT WE PLAN
The rational plan: "I'll take care of sorting out those invoices first thing the morning, then I'll have the rest of the day free to do the tasks I find more enjoyable!"
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS
The typical process the next morning: "I'll just check my email quickly to make sure there's nothing urgent that requires my intention, then I'll do those invoices
...Hmm, George has posted something on my Facebook wall, won't take more than a minute to check it...
Ha ha, great video!...This one looks good, too, let's see...
Is that the time already? I'll just take my coffee break now, then I'll have the energy to tackle those invoices...
(Let's jump forward in time to the end of the day:)
"I'll take care of sorting out those invoices first thing in the morning..."
HOW TO SAY NO TO YOURSELF
I haven't found a foolproof way to say no to myself all the times I should, but here are a few strategies I've found helpful:
* When you succumb to Facebook or Twitter or surfing the web (my weakness is the Zite article aggregator), set a timer for five or ten minutes so that you don't lost track of the time.
* Attach a reward to getting done a task you'd rather avoid and put control of the reward into someone else's hands to avoid rationalising that you deserve it even though you didn't do the task
* Instead of following up fun things (like videos someone is recommending or reading the New York Times online) in a row--a chain of distractions--make a note of the next one you'd like to pursue and use that as the reward for getting a task done.
* Start doing a task you dislike even more than the one you are avoiding. If I start cleaning the shower, I have no trouble talking myself into the idea that sending out invoices would be more enjoyable. Of course, sooner or later, the shower has to be cleaned (where's the number of that cleaning person again?).
* Write down the task you intend to do next just before you do it (or just before you typically would decide not to do it). If you decide not to do it, write down why. Then take a moment to ask yourself, "Really?" Given that your email probably hasn't contained any news or information or requests that couldn't have waited an hour, how true is it that "I'd better check my email first because there could be something in there that can't wait until I've caught up with paying the bills"?
If you have discovered any good ways to say no to yourself, feel free to share them my clicking on "comments" below and let us know.
(There are lots of useful right-brain time management techniques in my book, "Focus: use the power of targeted thinking to get more done. You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite bookseller.)