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A few weeks ago, after sifting through dozens of emails in one morning, it suddenly dawned on me that there were a lot of people in my life who wanted something from me:

Some people wanted my professional opinion.
Other people wanted me to meet with them for breakfast.
Some people wanted to leverage my network.
Other people wanted me to get a something done.
Some people just wanted to hang out and have fun for an evening.
Other people wanted me to help them solve a problem they were dealing with.

The bottom line was that all of these people wanted to own a piece of my time.

It reminded me of a book I read a few years ago called Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. There were several things in this book that hit me like a ton of bricks — but probably the biggest lesson came from one simple concept:

When you say “Yes” to one thing, you are simultaneously saying “No” to everything else.

You are only one person. There is a limited number of commitments you can make in a day and it is literally impossible to say “Yes” to every person who wants something from you (this isn’t just my opinion, it’s a fact).

There is a finite number of hours in every day and a finite number of days you have to live your life. In a very real way, each moment of your life is like currency and once you spend it, it’s gone.

When I choose to spend an afternoon working on my business, I cannot spend this time with my wife and daughter. When I choose to spend an afternoon with my family, I cannot spend this time building my business. One way or another, I have to make a very real decision of saying “Yes” to one thing and “No” to another.

Obviously, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s not my place to tell you what you ought to spend your time on, but I can tell you that this is a very simple concept that you need to keep in the forefront of your mind with every opportunity you say “Yes” to. In most cases, there is a long list of things that are taking the back seat with every one of your “Yes” decisions. Sometimes those things belong in the back seat, and sometimes they don’t.

Everyday you and I are confronted with decisions about what we’re going to commit our time to doing. It’s a choice we’re all going to make, whether we realize it or not (even if you choose to lay in bed all day, that’s still a “Yes” decision, and it requires you to say “No” to everything else).

Where “Burnout” Comes From

In my life, people ask me to do things almost everyday that I desperately want to say yes to. I’d love to make everyone happy, but unfortunately, I don’t have the time and resources to meet all of these requests. It’s not an excuse; it’s just reality.

Parker Palmer said it best when he stated that burnout results from trying to give what we do not possess.

Have you ever thought about it this way? Some people may be asking you for things that you are literally incapable of delivering (because of time constraints, prior commitments — or even a lack of the required skill set). The only question is: are you going to be honest with yourself about what you’re capable of doing with the finite resources you have on hand? There’s really no point in denying it.

When we allow these kinds of conflicting situations into our lives (rather than just saying “No” from the outset), it leaves everyone worse off in the end. It’s not just a disservice to yourself — it’s a disservice to everyone involved.

For many of us, it’s an ongoing struggle, and it really doesn’t need to be. It all starts with YOU having the presence of mind to:

Know your limits.
Know where your time is best spent.
Be confident in your entitlement to own your own time.

I love how Ramit Sethi illustrates his example in the video below:

If you’re in a position where you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions every day – you don’t have to be a victim to this constant manipulation of your time. Just do yourself a favor and stop saying “Yes” to everything.

Sure – some people might not like it, but what’s worse? Over-committing to everyone and disappointing them in the end — or helping people to have proper expectations of you in the first place?

What’s your take? Do you say “Yes” too often, or do you understand your limitations?

Weigh in below and leave a comment!

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