Seminary Time Waster #6: Saying “Yes” to Every Request

Seminary students who can’t say no give permission to others to waste their time.

We’re nice people. We like to say yes. Jesus knew this. He advised us, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” (This verse is not primarily about prayer; it is about human interaction.) He knew that people’s default response to any request is yes.

If you say yes to everything, you’re in for it. Refusing to say no means that you cede to others the right to manage your time. Unchecked, people will suck your time and your life away. It is imperative that you learn to say no.

Here’s an exercise, recommended by Tim Ferris: for two days, make your default request to everything asked of you “no.” (Ok, exceptions granted for God, your spouse, your boss…although even the boss needs to be told no occasionally.)

It’s a good habit to develop, because it requires guts. If you’re gutless, start telling people no. Remember: this is responsible time management. You’re not saying no to be a jerk, you’re saying no so you can say yes to the most important things.

In the category of “things to say no to”, let’s start with this list from Richard Koch’s The 80/20 Principle (p. 161). These are his top ten low-value uses of time.

  1. Things other people want you to do
  2. Things that have always been done this way
  3. Things you’re not unusually good at doing.
  4. Things you don’t enjoy doing
  5. Things that are always interrupted
  6. Things few others people are interested in
  7. Things that have already taken twice as long as you originally expected
  8. Things where you collaborators are unreliable or poor quality
  9. Things that have a predictable cycle
  10. Answering the telephone

Great ideas. I would add a few:

  • Recreational opportunities that will not give you rest or energy. For instance, an all-night video game marathon is lots of fun, but it’ll also disturb your sleep cycle and make you worthless the next day.
  • Social invites from people who drain you more than strengthen you. Decline politely.
  • Random ministry opportunities that need a body to fill. Seminary students are ripe for churches to exploit. Choose your ministries wisely, and stick to them. I’m not saying that you can’t meet a need in a pinch or be a servant. You can. But if you do so all the time, you cannot be the leader you need to be. Real leaders know how to say no.

A few questions to provoke discussion:

  • What do you find it easy to say no to?
  • What do you find it hard to say no to?
  • What do you want to say no to, but can’t?

3 Replies to “Seminary Time Waster #6: Saying “Yes” to Every Request”

  1. I find it easy to say no to people that are perfectly capable of doing the task they ask me to do. Especially when it is obvious that they are just to lazy or think they are too busy to do the task their self. Often people think they are the only one that has a heavy load. I think that is a little on the arrogant side.

    I find it hard to say no to the little old lady that is so sweet and just wants some attention or someone to show they care.

    Unfortunately, I find it really easy to say no to people and I often to this too quickly.

  2. “No” has a negative connotation to many people. Especially in the U.S., it is counter-cultural to say “no” or to hear “no”. Saying “no” is like any other discipline. You can feel a great sense of empowerment and control by recognizing the value in saying “no” similar to a good workout or a confessional prayer.

    I stuggle with thinking I’m too busy and say “no” to things that I really should be saying “yes” to like a tea party with my daughter or a vent session from my wife. We all need wisdom to utilize our power to say “no” in a way that ultimately offers the most glory to God.

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