Best Practices/Making Life Easier: The Art of No

By Anitra Cottledge

At the beginning of the semester, Colleen wrote a great post about best practices in technology that can help make your life easier. As we turn the corner into the thick of the semester, those tips continue to come in handy. I have another best practice that’s been on my mind a lot: the art of saying no.

I know that for a lot of us in student affairs, September and October are incredibly busy months. They feel like, as one of the student interns in my office said, they’ve been set to a soundtrack of “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

There are a lot of things that we can’t say no to: certain meetings, committees, events, etc. In fact, I would venture to say there are several parts of all of our jobs that we love saying “Yes!” to. September isn’t quite over, and I’ve had tons of moments that drive home why the work we do is important and impactful and joyful.

Recently, during a leadership retreat, I shared some snippets from an essay by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat. In the essay, “I Pass On,” Danticat talks about how having passions is as much about letting go of some things as it is embracing others:

“I have had to sacrifice many destructive passions to make room for other positive and lasting ones. Indeed, when I unscramble the word Pass-I-On, I find, among other phrases, ‘I pass on.’ Thus my passions have as much to do with the things I let go as well as those I maintain in my life…I pass on crippling perfectionism and simply try to do the best I can in every situation. I pass on procrastination and try to accomplish my tasks, plain and difficult ones alike, one step at a time. I pass on parties and social calls and nights out in order to write in solitude, because I find myself more at ease in imaginary landscapes. I pass on saying things I don’t mean, so at least I can trust my own voice.”

I love this article, because it really makes me think about how saying no can be a help, and not a hindrance. Sometimes we have to say no to taking on an extra commitment, either in service to our own capacity and energy (or lack thereof), but also to leave room for others to take on things. To do a hat tip to Colleen’s post that I mentioned earlier, technology can help you do this, e.g., using your calendar to block off time for you to prep and focus, as opposed to leaving it open for others to schedule meetings.

What are some ways that you say no in your life?

Best Practices/Making Life Easier: The Art of No