Two students studying on campus
February 13, 2020
3 mins read

How to Adult: Prioritizing and saying no

How to Adult

“I feel so overwhelmed by everything on my plate, but I can’t take a break—I gotta run to my next appointment!” Sound familiar?

Why is this so common nowadays?

Perhaps it’s due to our competitive culture. Subconsciously or not, we yearn to be at the top of the class, travel to the most countries, have the most friends, volunteer for the most causes, score the best job…

And to do this, we say “yes, yes, and yes” to anything that comes our way.

As a result, we experience burnout. We forget to take a moment to breathe. Or we end up disappointing others—because we’ve spread ourselves so thin that instead of giving 100% to the things we do, we can only spare 30%.

So take a moment to reflect. Are you feeling burnt out from doing too many things? Do you feel like you're constantly scrambling to catch up on your tasks? Are your performance results mediocre? Do you catch yourself saying, "Oh man, if I had more time, I would do so much better in this"?

Our tendency to stretch ourselves thin might be a product of the ‘hustle culture’.

Hustling at the expense of your health is not #goals

This culture is often attributed to 4-hour sleep nights, no breaks, and an ‘endless grind’ to reach the top.

You might hear: “I ace my courses because I lose sleep to study!” or “I was working so hard that I skipped a couple of meals!” and assume that you should be doing the same. However, this isn’t brag-worthy, nor sustainable.

If you ‘hustle’ by cutting into your sleep, meals, or mental wellness, it’s not worth it. Snagging a job sooner than your friends is temporary. Getting that promotion a bit earlier is temporary. Social acceptance is temporary. And temporary highs from achievements are…well, temporary. Our bodies, however, are forever. Don’t sacrifice something permanent for something momentary.

But you might say: “Building a good future is not temporary!” True. You can still work towards good grades, an incredible career, social fulfillment, and success...without the burnout. The secret is prioritization.

Absentminded yeses are the enemy

Before you say yes to something, recognize that there is an opportunity cost to everything you do.

Each of us has a limited amount of time and energy, so every time we agree to do something, we are taking that time and energy from something else. We’re, in effect, saying no to something else.

Warren Buffet once advised a staff member to "write down your 25 career goals, circle the 5 most important, and do everything you can to fight the other 20—they're the enemy of the 5 you intend to achieve."

After defining your ‘top 5’, the hardest part is fighting the other 20.

A guide to choosing wisely

I struggled a lot with saying no. I said yes to every volunteer opportunity, every cool course, every social hangout—and before I knew it, I was a walking zombie.

Starting last year, I made a change. I only said yes to the things I truly cared about, and I'm able to give these my 100%; it's taken me a lot farther.

As much as we love to explore, we must recognize our boundaries and save precious space in our lives for what really matters.

Take jobs for example. Ask: which job will equip me with the most valuable skills? In what areas am I looking to gain more experience? Where do my passions lie? What purpose do I want to fulfill? Seek those jobs—your productivity and happiness will thank you.

Or friends. Ask: which people in my life lift me up and bring me joy? Which friends are here for me when I need a shoulder to cry on? Who do I share the most happiness with? Dedicate your time to those people—it's okay to say no to the rest.

This kind of assessment can be applied to almost all areas of life: relationships, volunteer opportunities, projects, courses, hobbies, and more. When you choose your top 5 things, ask yourself: “What brings me the most value in the long run? What goals am I aiming to achieve?”

A guide to saying no…nicely

Saying no may not feel natural or comfortable to you. In fact, it may feel like you're letting people down…but consider the other perspective.

By saying no to something you can’t give 100% to, you are doing everyone a favour by opening the opportunity to somebody who can. This is the most responsible move!

At the end of the day, what matters the most is your own health and wellness. Those who urge you to sacrifice your health are not worth stretching yourself thin for.

Communicate your reasons for saying no, in a reasonable and respectful manner. Simply stating "I would love to help, but I simply have too much on my plate at the moment; someone with more time and experience might be more suitable!" is perfectly valid.

You are important

You and your time are limited edition. Our lives are filled with opportunities and possibilities—and by learning to say no, you'll make your yeses a whole lot more meaningful.