Time Management Tip: “YES Makes Less”

Photo: Cellar Door Films ~ WANA Commons

Photo credit: Cellar Door Films via WANA Commons on Flickr

If you’ve never heard of Steven Pressfield or Shawn Coyne, you’re missing out on some amazing lessons. Pressfield wrote The War of Art (edited by Coyne) and they often blog about creativity.

This last week, in Why and How Creative People Say No, they referenced a post by Kevin Ashton.

Fascinating stuff!

The part that resonated with me the most:

Time is the raw material of creation.

Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating.

Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation.

The common thread that links creators is how they spend their time. No matter what you read, no matter what they claim, nearly all creators spend nearly all their time on the work of creation. There are few overnight successes and many up-all-night successes.

Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.

We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.

Creators do not ask how much time something takes but how much creation it costs. This interview, this letter, this trip to the movies, this dinner with friends, this party, this last day of summer. How much less will I create unless I say “no?” A sketch? A stanza? A paragraph? An experiment? Twenty lines of code?

The answer is always the same: “yes” makes less.

We do not have enough time as it is. There are groceries to buy, gas tanks to fill, families to love and day jobs to do.


Amen! And now I have a new motto. 🙂

Are you a “YES” person, a “NO” person or somewhere in between? What helps you guard your creative time? Do you have any time management secrets to share?? It’s Thoughty Thursday, and enquiring minds love to discuss these things here at More Cowbell!


Note: Laura Drake shared her #1 Reason To Keep Writing over at Writers In The Storm yesterday. Great post!

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
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42 Responses to Time Management Tip: “YES Makes Less”

  1. Really good stuff. I once heard someone say, “No is a complete sentence.”. Love that.


  2. Jenny, “Yes makes less” is going up on my wall. What a great way to look at time. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  3. Jane Sadek says:

    The trick is saying yes to the right things. Much of my creativity occurs in my head, far removed from my desk. My ideas come when I’m out there, not when I’m glued to my desk. However, I need butt in chair time to commit those ideas to my hard drive and right now my biggest priority is to create query letters. I hate query letters!


  4. Diana Beebe says:

    I agree to do things too often. I have said no to a few things lately, but it’s so hard! Thanks for this post today–it’s a great reminder for me.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      We all agree to things way too often, Diana! I saw a call for volunteers on one of my loops and I literally had to hold my arm down from the keyboard for 5 minutes until I got my “helper gene” under control.


  5. This. Blew. My. Mind.

    I mean…we all “know” exactly what they are saying but we don’t always realize it so “in your face” and I think we need to do that more often. I am a “yes” person and more often than not, I feel like it’s costing me more than I want to spend yet…there I go again saying “yes” to someone/something else and “no” to myself.


    Is it approval? Is it worrying about what others will think? Is it expectations I put on myself? How do I break away from these self-imposed chains and live more selfishly (although mostly a negative connotation, I say selfishly in a most positive and self affirming light) in an outward facing “no”!

    How many times have I said to hubby…I am just going to say “no” to everyone and everything and concentrate on these 2-3-4 “Natalie priorities” only to then watch them slowly slide to the back burner of my life. I think sometimes it’s because deep down, I am unsure of what I truly, heart desire so I’m easily led astray?!?! I don’t know but I think deep inside I believe that if I took the time to truly become centered in my heart’s desire, saying “no” would become much easier and top of mind. Maybe not though. Maybe it’s more a habitual and retraining exercise…requires much more thought! 🙂

    Beautiful post and so thought provoking! Thanks for sharing!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ahhh, Nat….Only you know the answer to this, but it sounds like it’s an issue that worries you a LOT. Is it possible for you to say no to everything for a month and just see what changes that makes for you? Perhaps it will open up amazing new avenues for you….


  6. filbio says:

    We all have busy lives with many responsibilities. We all want to say yes to as much as possible, but sometimes we also need to learn to say no more often. I guess it depends on the situation. We need to say yes more often to our own lives I think.


  7. susielindau says:

    If flattery gets in the way, it is harder to say no…..


  8. Lord have mercy, I needed this today! A former employer wants me to come back to work for him, but I know the job will be time-consuming, inconvenient, and will take over my life. I have to tell him no, but I just hate letting him down when he needs me. I’m just going to keep repeating “Yes means less!” while the phone rings, and then try to let him down gently.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Good girl, Juli! You can do it. Think of all the other things you’ll get done in the meantime. Or, if you really don’t want to turn him down, tell him you only have 45 hours a week for him and get it written into your contract.


  9. I’m a “try to hide” person. LOL I duck calls and try to blend into the woodwork. But if its family, yeah, I’m there. I really have to keep “what’s important” in my sights. Great blog post!


  10. Okay, one REALLY good piece of advice I received years ago (and when I remember to do it works great) is to NEVER EXPLAIN. If you start explaining why you can’t do something, the asker will “help” you work out YOUR problem so you can do what they want. Just say, sounding regretful but firm, “I’m so sorry, but that’s just not possible” or some version of this. If they press, just repeat. And repeat. You can change the words, but don’t fall into the explain trap. It’s actually none of their business why you can’t do something. They ask a question, they get an answer.


  11. Wow. Great advice. It’s taking a revision in rules from RWA for me to step back in my Chapter. Now I have “No” choice. Great post. Thank you.


  12. S. J. Maylee says:

    I’m terrible at saying no. I was raised catholic and guilt has a tendency to eat me alive, lol. I’ve tried a few times lately and each time does get easier. It’s an important tool for that whole balance thing I’m constantly trying to reach. Great post, Jenny. Thank you.


  13. Lena Corazon says:

    Oh, this is definitely a timely post! Like so many, I also suffer from that “helper gene.” One thing that I’ve learned is that I not only have to limit the duties and tasks I take on for others, but also the amount of emotional labor that I do as well. I have always been a supportive, “bring me all your problems” kind of person, but I think I’m *finally* learning how to reserve some emotional energy for myself.

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Jenny. I’ll have to start following Pressfield and Coyne.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Ah, that’s a lovely thing, the “helper gene” but so hard on the personal time. You’re now getting to the time in your life where you just have more to do than you used to. You’ve got to conserve your time!!


  14. DeeAnna Galbraith says:

    Oh, Lord. This is my life. I must have read something years ago about ‘volunteering’ helping to get your name out there and thus . . ., more sales. Um, not the way it worked out. I still do some volunteering, but all the initial work got me was on some list of people willing to work for nothing. I got hit up by complete strangers to ‘help out.’ I got hit up just the other day with the “wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could help get this worthwhile project off the ground? Temptation itched at my fingers, but I sent back a response wishing them well and “so sorry, but I can’t spare the time.” It worked!

    Anyway, I covet time more than chocolate these days and woe to the person who wants some of mine.


  15. Excellent post Jenny. Oh how I identify with Natalie on this subject. We are raised not to say no, as you said. Yet, we are also told not to be selfish and to put other’s needs first, family, friends, etc. There’s a fine line between selfishness and generosity and finite definition of time. This is a toughie girlfriend. Yet, I do find as I grow older, I do not have the energy to devote to all the needs of others and have learned that you cannot please everyone. It is impossible and not always appreciated, unfortunately. All we can do is our best to keep the balance in our lives, enjoy life and hope that everything else will fall into place. After all, you cannot push a rope, right? 🙂


  16. Marcia says:

    I’m fortunate, in a way, that I live 2-6 hrs away from all my family and friends. I don’t belong to any organizations where I live and we only know a few acquaintances who never ask anything of us. I rarely have to say ‘no’. When it comes to our kids, I take of myself first, now, and them second. It was a hard lesson to adjust to but, it’s necessary. I have a friend only says ‘no’ when she’s so booked up there isn’t a minute left to spare. She’s crazy busy all the time. Her husband jokes, half-heartedly about how she needs a personal assistant to keep her schedule straight—and she’s retired so she has all the time in the world, but it’s constantly booked. I’ve tried encouraging her to say ‘no’ now and then but to no avail. So when she’s trying to figure out when she can visit me, I just keep telling her I won’t be upset if it’s a couple months off but put me in permanent marker on your calendar. That way she has to say no to someone else when my turn with her comes!
    Great post, Jenny!


  17. WOWZA! This struck a chord with me.

    Here’s the real kicker. Sometimes, the person I have to say “no” to is that inner child (using the term loosely to define the shiny bauble chaser within).

    I began to read a book titled The Bliss List. What makes me happy? What do I want out of life?

    While the book is primarily focused on career choices, I expanded the definition to life choices. I get to do that when my life is my career. Spontaneity, creativity, and adventure are important components. Writing satisfies that and more. It’s an outlet, something I love to do. You know my favorite saying? “In my imaginary world…”

    Fiction is where I get to realize and create my imaginary world.

    There is a list somewhere in my notebooks with the things that feed my creative spirit. How I define my own bliss. For about two days, I kept my internal and external “yes” mode under control by asking one simple question: “Does this action/decision move me towards a goal on my bliss list?”

    Thanks for the kick in the rear, Jenny! I must get back to my Bliss List.

    Off to find that book in this Lost-and-Found department I call a house.


  18. This sounds awful, but I’ve been kind of grateful for the accident because I could always say no while I was healing. And then there’s the hypothyroidism…and I can say sorry, I’m just so tired I can’t do this or that…at least not until I can find a doctor who will properly treat it. People are much more forgiving if you’re in pain or tired, lol. So I’ve become more of a ‘no’ person than I’ve ever been in my life…and it feels good. Of course I wish I didn’t have to be tired to be able to do it. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I did not realize you’d been in an accident, Kristy…how did I not know that??!! I think everyone should say NO enough to preserve their mental and physical well-being. But, it’s always easier said than done.


      • It will be five years in October since it happened…but there were four years or so when I had a built in excuse. And a year or so before I had to worry about not being able to say no anymore – with a good reason – the thyroid became an issue. Prior to that I was always the one who said yes…ALL THE TIME…no matter how much I resented it. Now I have to do what’s best for me, and it is still in my best interest to say no sometimes…so I do. 😀


  19. Oh man. Natalie, Gloria, and Karen are in my mind today! I don’t even know if I know how to say No. I mean, I say it, but then I sort of backtrack and apologize for it. I need to employ Pauline’s Never Explain strategy. Even typing that, my innards are getting all twisty thinking of when the time will come that I need to say no.

    I still feel guilt from a year ago when I couldn’t drive up to the OC to meet Susie Lindau! I guess that’s just something that I need to acknowledge and move the f*ck on. In fact, I’m going to print out two little signs for my desk. The first will say, Yes Is Less! And the second will say, Move The F*ck On!

    Then I’m going to practice saying, “No, thank you” over and over again. I got this.


  20. Sharla Rae says:

    Recently — because of an illness, no less — I learned to say yes to offers of help. I was startled to learn that I didn’t feel like a mooch or a weakling in doing so. I learned something important. People want the opportunity to help, especially friends. It’s a way to show our love to each other. And saying yes, has given me time to heal physically and emotionally so that I can one day return the favor.


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  22. Thanks for sharing, Jenny. Saying “yes” has led me to my current situation and while I’m happy to help out, it has left me less time to create. I’m ready to say “no” in the future. 🙂


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