How to Use NO as an Organizational Tool

One of the first words a child learns is the word “no.” Ask any two-year-old if they want an ice cream cone, and they’ll say “no” even as they reach for it. They know the word; they know it’s a way to express their burgeoning independence. But sometimes they’re not quite clear on its meaning.

You and I know the word “no,” too—but sometimes we’re not clear about it either. Now’s our opportunity to get clear about “no.” Here’s our chance to use that one little word to help organize our lives.

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Children are persistent in asking for what they want. I remember seeing my friend in the grocery store with her eight-year-old daughter. We could hardly say hello for this child interrupting us, asking her mother to buy her the cookie cutters she’d just seen. My friend said no. The child asked again. Again her mother said no.

However, when I saw her at the checkout counter, I saw those cookie cutters on top of all the groceries in the cart. Apparently, my friend hadn’t been all that clear about her no.

We’ve all succumbed to the persistence of our children. There certainly may be times when giving in takes better care of us than fighting the cookie cutter battle. But in truth saying no and not meaning it can be the very thing that gets us in over our heads.   Saying no is different than saying no and committing to it.

When I was really clear about my “no” with my kids, I would get down at their level, ask them to look straight into my eyes, and tell me if they saw anything there they thought was going to make me change my mind about this. And if I was really clear, they’d get it. I wouldn’t get any more of those nagging requests.

Saying no creates a swath of space in our lives: No, I’m not going to the barbeque tonight. No, I won’t serve on that committee. No, your friends can’t come over to play on a school night

“No” allows us to prioritize what’s most valuable. Getting clear about your “no” reveals what’s most important—to you—on your calendar, on cluttered desk, your overwhelming to-do list.

Organizing life by saying “no” reveals an important truth: It’s all a choice—a choice predicated on what takes the best care of your “me”. Taking care of you really does take care of those around you.

If you feel you’re never able to complete what you set out to do in a day, reconsider the power of “no” as an organizational tool. Getting clear on yes and no makes it easier for you to evaluate and prioritize so that pile of papers on your desk aligns more closely with your own heart’s needs and desires. Being organized with your no—and being clear about it—separates what’s clutter from what’s important.

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