Easy wins: give speeches? No way. My not-to-do list gives me the power to say no

Sorry? Bugger that. It’s “no” that always seems to be the hardest word.

Every time I look at my diary for the upcoming week, there is at least one entry that triggers the thought: “Why did I say yes to that?”

It’s a common problem among my many people-pleasing friends. It’s like a pokies hit. Someone asks a favour, you say “yes”, you get a smile in return. Ka-ching! Good feelings. Until the dreaded thing looms in the calendar and the good feelings disappear like coins into a slot machine.

As with all personal problems that have an easy answer (say “no”), I overthought the issue, catastrophised about the consequences of turning things down, and ultimately researched the shit out of it.

I read productivity books (well, listened to the condensed versions on Blinkist, because who has the time?). I looked at the habits of effective people, thought fast and slow about life hacks, tried to learn the subtle art of not giving a fuck.

I cogitated on all the hints, tips and tricks that people have written entire books about, and came up with two things that have been helping me ever since.

No 1: Write a not-to-do list.

The not-to-do list is potentially endless, but for the purposes of saying “no”, should be kept to things you are asked to do by those who would suck your very soul from your body. Mine includes things like “give speeches”, “drive long distances to catch up with people whose conversation is only bearable with copious amounts of wine”, and “work for free”.

It helps crystallise in my mind the things I am allowed to say no to. Sorry, I don’t do speeches. I don’t do long drives (I usually leave off the bit about the conversations). I don’t work for free.

It’s still not easy, but having the list at least gives me pause before “sure, I’d love to” trips off my traitorous tongue.

No 2: Ask “would I want to do that tonight?”

This is handy for all the other requests that have not yet made it on to the not-to-do list. It’s about being nicer to Future Tory.

See, I suffer from peoplepleasia to an extent, but my larger problem is an entirely misplaced optimism about the capacity of Future Tory. Today Tory, when asked to commit to something in the hazy future, firmly believes that Future Tory will have her life in order by that point.

Future Tory will have boundless energy and limitless time to spend on things other people want her to do. Future Tory, when she sees what Today Tory has committed her to, generally thinks Today Tory is a bitch.

So now, when someone asks if I’d like to pop along to their crochet circle in a month and give a talk about defamation law, I think of Future Tory, and I ask myself if I’d say “yes” if the crochet circle was tonight.

The answer is, almost invariably, “no”.