We tend to think of “yes” and “no” only as opposites in meaning. As mere antonyms. But the truth is, they bear entirely different magnitudes of commitment.
When you say “no”, you are only saying “no” to one option. When you say “yes”, you are saying “no” to every other option.
Simple example. Let’s say you and I agreed to dine out tonight. To you asking: “Do you want to try Italian?”, I can reply with “yes” or “no”. If I say “no”, that excludes Italian as a choice, but leaves Chinese, Japanese and Indian on the table, as alternatives. If I say “yes”, then I’m locked in the agreement and no other choice is possible.
Let’s take this a step further. Let’s imagine the initial question: “Do you want to dine out tonight?” and suppose I haven’t yet answered. If I say “yes”, I’m committing to allocating time for that. I’m voluntarily deciding how will I spend a two hours block this evening. This means there’s no way those two hours will be spent on other activities: reading, exercising, programming, etc. If I say “no”, I’m opting out of one choice only. I still have the luxury of doing something else within that time block.
Saying “no” saves you time in the future. Saying “yes” costs you time in the future. “No” is a form of time credit. You retain the ability to spend your future time however you want. “Yes” is a form of time debt. You have to pay back your commitment at some point.
“No” is a decision. “Yes” is a responsibility.
Successful people have master the art of saying “no”. They are extremely efficient at saying “no” to whatever distracts them from their goals. They get to say “yes” in a very focused way.
Learning when to say “no” is the only productivity hack you will ever need.
Be ruthless with your time.