Matt-Rody-Mastodon-Media-SeattleThe hardest thing you have to learn as a new business owner is finding balance in your life. And the most valuable tool in your arsenal – that will keep you sane, focused and functional — is the ability to say `no’.

There will be constant pulls and pressures on your day’s schedule, as people will try to steal your time. Whether it is clients, colleagues or employees, everybody feels they have a right to keep you longer at a meeting, hold you hostage over the telephone, and bombard you with emails and text messages that need immediate responses. No matter how efficiently you draw up your timetable, you will never have enough hours in a day to complete the most necessary tasks because you’re mismanaging your time by not saying `no’.

Saying no is healthy. Saying no is freedom. It gives your power back to you. And allows you to pursue your own goals, dreams and aspirations, instead of wasting time being bystander at someone else’s journey.

I know this, because I’ve been there. As a new business owner, fear is a great motivating factor that pushes you to do things you would never dream of doing once the business is viable and you’ve gained confidence in your ability to lead it.

Until then, however, your knee-jerk response to all professional requests is to say `yes’, because you’re afraid of missing out.

The human psyche has been built in such a way that scarcity has become our strongest call-to-action. It motivates us to take immediate action because we’re afraid of something – a business opportunity, a business relationship, more money, more client accounts, whatever – being snatched away from us because there is only a finite amount of them.

This is not true. Possibilities and opportunities are always infinite. There is no shortage in the place where they come from. Therefore, chasing them all by saying `yes’ is a fool’s mission in the long run.

You will achieve very little because you have allowed others to dictate a to-do list for you that is a mile long. You will be stressed and frustrated because you’re not completing projects and making all the milestones you expected to within a given timeframe. You will be making bad decisions from a place of weakness. And you’ll be questioning the big inspiration that led you start a business in the first place.

As an entrepreneur, I learnt the merits of saying `no’ at a very young age. By the time I was 24, I had worked out that the world will not come to an end if I returned a client’s phone call after a couple of hours because I was busy doing something more important. Time is my most precious commodity and I have to use it in a way that is most advantageous for me, my clients, my employees and my business. And if a refusal to engage will buy that time back for me, then so be it.

For example, I treat my early morning hours as special, `me’ time, when I read the Bible, do prayers of thankfulness and meditate. Just like feeding a nutritious breakfast to the body before facing the challenges of the coming day, the mind also needs spiritual back-up to stay resilient for the next 16-18 hours.

I am well aware of the fact that even as I am doing it, my in-box is quickly filling up with incoming messages that need `immediate’ attention. But I just say `no’ to the impulse to get out of bed and head straight for my home-office computer. I will be lost if I let work concerns creep into my consciousness at 6 am in the morning.

Initially, saying `no’ was hard for me too. But I soon realized the value of it, and did it often enough until it became a habit.

Today, it is my privilege. I am a better professional for my ability to say `no’ whenever a situation calls for it. I refuse to be bullied off my true path by people who have little respect for my time, and I will not do it.

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