The Benefits of Saying No

The Benefits of Saying No

In a recent post, I mentioned near the end that saying yes and taking chances on things can be great.

So can saying no.

Time Management Made Easy

So many people complain about not having time. Their days are filled with work, appointments, social media and TV to catch up on, and even — sometimes — doing something a bit out of the ordinary.

Sleep deprivation is not uncommon as people rush to do all the things they feel they must do. The thing is, most of us really don’t have to do all the things we’ve convinced ourselves we must do.

The best way to claim time you feel has slipped away is to say no!

This is What I Mean

Recently, a couple people have asked me to take part in doing things with them. Things I enjoy doing: writing! But…I made a decision to spend the next year focused only on the content I create for myself. Outside of the writing I do for my day job, I will say no to anything that is not mine. By doing so, I’m not adding to the pile of stuff I’m comfortable doing and becoming stressed as I try to manage more than I should take on.

Maybe by the end of the year, something I say no to will be a big thing and I’ll kick myself for not jumping on at the start. (I think that’s why most people say yes to so many things: that hope of something bigger happening.) I’m turning away helping organize a conference and some writing to focus on my own stuff — exclusively — for a year.

I suspect that what I reap in 2014 while focusing on my own work will mean more to me than money and maybe a wider audience by saying yes to others and helping them with their projects.

Maybe It’s Different With You

Maybe saying no to projects isn’t a thing for you because you don’t jump into projects outside of work at all. But I bet saying no to things can still give you back some much needed time. Saying no to a TV show or two, or no to keeping up with Facebook or Candy Crush can go a long way to having time to actually relax. Not every moment of the day must be filled — saying no to the urge to never be alone with your thoughts is a huge step toward stress relief. Saying no to keeping your kids on the go every waking moment not only gives you time, but it gives them time early in life to appreciate time spent being quiet so they’re not as likely to be stressed as they get older.

If I asked you if you wanted even one or two hours totally to yourself each week, I bet you’d say yes…and the way to get there just might be by saying no…

Information Overload

Information Overload

A couple times in recent months, somebody’s asked me if I wanted to do something and the moment I said yes, they changed what they initially said or asked. Suddenly that meal with just a friend becomes a huge event with many people. A quick errand for someone becomes a scavenger hunt. Sometimes you agree to help someone and then…silence. So you move on with your plans, but at the last minute, “I STILL NEED HELP!!!”

The people I notice doing this — the people who suddenly drop a to-do list into your lap, as if you don’t have your own list — are often the people who seem the most hurried.

I Need You To Do This For Me

I preface this by saying I’m generally a helpful person. I do things for friends and family; I’ve given up my time to help even acquaintances. I’ve noticed a trend, though: people who decide to do something they don’t have time for and then bringing others into it.

It might be somebody deciding they want to have a party. They ask if you’ll attend, and you say, “Sure.” And then it happens:

“Cool! Can you contact so-and-so and so-and-so and so-and-so to see if they want to come to the party, too? I’m so busy — it would be a big help.”

Maybe I’m different, but when I invite others to my home, I don’t expect them to do anything but show up. I would never think to give them a to-do list to make my job easier the moment they agree to the invite. I prefer seeing to-do lists shrink during the day — not grow, and I assume the people I know feel the same way.

I Have No Time

I understand that time is a commodity. The strange thing to me is the people who often delegate to-do lists to others because they claim to have no time are often the same people you  always see on Facebook trying to get others to play Candy Crush.

If you can pin these people down for a lunch, they are the people who can’t make it through without texting people or checking Facebook or Twitter a handful of times. It’s not that they don’t have time — it’s that they let distractions rule the time they have.

Take a Break

I like social media and other things online. Obviously. But when I’ve taken breaks from social media, I found an old focus return.

Even after the break, I found myself taking a strange sense of pride in being able to stand in a long line and think about writing or something else that really matters to me. And…I noticed how often people who are overloaded with information are rarely in the moment. I also noticed more people trying to get others to do things they should be doing because they feel so busy.

If you feel you never get a moment to breathe, put your phone in another room for a few hours. Close your Web browser and anything else that is a distraction on your system if you have to work on your computer. Turn off the TV or put down the video game controller.

If you like all those things — great; by all means, enjoy! But don’t tell others you’re at a loss for time (and definitely don’t push your to-do list onto them)…

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion (About Everything)

You Don’t Have to Have an Opinion (About Everything)

I once worked with someone who was asked what they thought about a particular news story at the time. Their answer was simple and direct:

“I don’t care about that.”

It was a topic deemed important by most of the people in the room — myself included. It would be fair to say we were taken aback by the reply. Some of us commented on how clueless the person was, and others said it was sad that the person had nothing to say about the topic. Yes, we judged this person for not having an opinion about this news story — and some others. Sure, make the argument that an adult should know certain things…make whatever argument you want, but the fact still stands: we were assholes.

As adults, like it or not, we get to call our own shots. Want to play video games all day? Your call. Want to juggle, take photos, watch movies, whatever — instead of tracking what’s happening in Syria…who am I to tell you that you shouldn’t?

I can now see that there’s something to be said for the honesty in saying, “I don’t care about that…”

A Matter of Priority

That moment at work was the first time I remember thinking, “What if this news story the rest of us deem important — maybe even vital — really means nothing?”

When I really think about it, I can think of only a handful of things deemed “important” that actually affected my life. Not to sound like it’s all about me…I believe it’s important to be informed of what’s going on in the world, if for no other reason than to keep a sense of compassion for others. So even though I make a conscious effort to not watch the news, I’m  informed.

Still…

Why I Refuse to Let You Steal My Time!

I don’t post anything political on my social media sites. Not because I’m not interested, but because it’s such a time suck. (That, and I respect friends with other viewpoints and don’t want to upset them, even though it’s “my right!” It’s also their right to drop me from their feed if I’m an asshole.) For me, it’s really a matter of priority: hours spent “debating” online becomes hours I could have spent writing. Hours spent watching 24-hour “news” stations is time I could have spent with my wife. Hours spent arguing in person is time I could have spent in the company of someone I really like, talking about the things that matter most to us.

When I look at it that way, I have an odd respect for the person who proclaimed, “I don’t care about that…”

This Weekend

It’s almost the weekend, and I have some ideas for things I plan to do. I will enjoy my time — even any time spent online because these days, I don’t feel the need to chime in with my opinion on things (or even drop a carpet bombing of facts when necessary to show how I came to my conclusion). I’m so much happier not feeling the need to be able to talk about everything just because it’s expected of us. Why be a jack of all chats and talk about everything when you can talk about the things that really matter to you and those around you?

I look at it like this: Sunday night, how do I want to remember my weekend…going out and doing things I enjoyed and relaxing, or spending time online arguing? Unless I truly loved throwing my opinion online for hours, choosing the latter option is a waste of time.

At the end of my weekend…at the end of my life…I want to remember the productive and happy moments — not the moments arguing with someone I respect, someone I once respected, or even worse: some asshole for whom I have no respect at all…

I don’t care about that!

How to Create a Body of Work

How to Create a Body of Work

Yesterday I posted the 25th episode of the weekly podcast I work on, Men in Gorilla Suits. It’s not a huge milestone, but it’s still 25 weekly episodes…on top of the writing and other things I do. The person with whom I do the show is also busy. Yesterday’s show represents the beginning of a body of work…

Making Things

Making things is often its own reward. Most novelists have written a novel or five that went nowhere before finally breaking in. My wife is an artist, and I can’t tell you how many pages and canvases she’s filled over the years, but I know this: one day she threw away a huge garbage bag full of art (sketches and finished work) because she was tired of the clutter.

For me, all the pages I stack up eventually becomes a novel or a technical manual. It’s not much different than when I worked in factories and warehouses — when the day began with empty bins and eventually overflowed with what we made. Once we had enough full bins, we loaded them on trucks that filled other warehouses…before going off to fill shelves in stores.

The Importance of Piles

I’ve known people who provided heat to their home with wood burning stoves. A tree would come down and be cut into smaller pieces — then it came time to go out back and split those pieces into smaller pieces and pile it up for winter.

It’s not much different than making podcasts, painting, or recording songs. The work is more physical, but the act of making piles is the same. Cut enough wood, and you have enough for winter. Record enough songs (work) and you can fill an album. Record enough albums and people will eventually argue over which one is best. It doesn’t happen with just 2 – 3 albums though, it comes with a body of work.

It comes with making piles…

For the Love of Drudgery

Writing isn’t always fun. What I mean is it’s not always an inspired act. (I find even the drudgery fun.) More times than not, it’s like chopping wood. It’s repetitive.

It’s repetitive.

It’s repetitive…

Sometimes the logs are stubborn and take extra work to reduce into smaller pieces for your stove or hearth. Some mornings you just want to sleep in and ignore the wood pile. Other days you think, “Not again…”

Some mornings the words don’t flow. Some mornings I just want to sleep in and not write. Some days I really do think, “Not again…”

But in that drudgery comes something remarkable: something bigger taking shape. Knowing that in the end I will have a finished book, I keep at it. The times I’ve helped friends chop wood, fill a barn with hay, or do other hard work, there was always a certain satisfaction as the light of the day faded and I knew I was a part of something bigger than me.

Sustaining Work

There’s something nice about a big pile of wood ready to provide heat. There’s a satisfaction in knowing you worked hard to make sure you’ll be warm all winter. There’s a warmth that comes with finishing something that may not have been all fun in its creation. In the end, though, the slog is rewarded by something finished.

Cutting joints for drawers isn’t the most exciting task, but when you have enough drawers to fill the dresser you made by hand, it’s worth it. All those hours of practicing a song on an instrument eventually results in a perfect run through something truly beautiful. Getting up early for a run creates a body more open to running and the reward of health. The effort of it all sustains us. And when something sustains us, like the changing of seasons and the need to chop more wood, it’s a never-ending cycle that — over time — results in something wonderful.

It’s called a body of work for a reason: it takes effort. But it’s more than worth it once you look back over the years at a huge body of work you may have never believed you’d create had you not actually done it.

Forging Ahead

Forging Ahead

Today marks one year at my current job. In this time, I’ve learned a lot — and I’ve met a lot of great people. I got to finally set foot in Vermont, where I ate some really good food and got to see green landscapes in summer. (To be fair, we’ve been having as green a summer as we get in Texas.) I finally feel like I have a mentor or two, instead of being tossed into rushing waters and told “SWIM!!!”

It’s been a great year, despite some very busy times.

The Heat of the Forge

I moved to Texas from the Chicago area after my freshman year in high school. Up north, I was put on a vocational track in school. (That’s a nice way of saying, “You get crap grades and we’ve given up on you. Here, let us show you how to fix things in the hope you’ll be employable!”) One of my classes was metal shop. One of the things we did that year was making a chisel from a chunk of steel.

The forge we worked with was small, but it put out a lot of heat. I’m not a fan of heat, but the opportunity to hammer hot steel into something I could use won out. I liked the heat! Years later, I worked with art glass for a short bit and had a similar experience with the crucible. Molten glass is [obviously] hot, but my desire to take a glob of gooey glass and make it something else was like taking a chunk of steel and turning it into a tool.

It’s Worth the Heat

Creating art and tools from material on the cusp of melting is quite a thing. The effort involved is worth the heat. This past year, there were times when learning new things at work, keeping up with writing, and even starting a podcast felt like standing at the opening of a forge or crucible. The heat has to be experienced to appreciate it. Caution is vital, but fear is the last thing that you should hold in your mind.

Standing Before the Forge

Now that I’m a year into the best job I’ve had, it’s time to make better things. It’s time to slow down and make the documentation I write even better than it already is. It’s time to keep forging ahead on the novel in progress. It’s time to move into the next half of the first year of podcasting. It’s time to maybe even juggle more — get back to playing tennis and running (in the heat).

It’s time to stand before the opening of where all the good things begin and not fear the heat. It’s time to pick up the hammer or tongs and turn raw material into something more…