Secret to Productivity: Learning to Say "No"

In the past month my days have been looking like this:

  • 5am | Wake up
  • 6am - 7am | Crossfit
  • 8am - 5pm | Work
  • 6pm - 7pm | Creative Projects/Conference Calls
  • 7pm - 9pm | User Experience Design Class

Other days they're like this:

  • 8am | Wake up
  • 10am - 3:pm | Work on three different creative projects (while I currently have 5 on my plate)
  • 3pm - Until | Be lazy and avoid phone calls from people who want something

I recently came across a case study done by King's College in London on how "Overthinking Worriers are Probably Creative Geniuses". As comical and true this might be, over thinking opportunities make it hard for us to just say "no". We think any opportunity that allows us to create should have us screaming yes! But in many cases, this isn't true. What we don't realize is that taking on too much will lack the quality of products we produce for the world.

When I get overwhelmed with projects for other people, I begin to shut down. Then I realize it's my fault. I end up pouring so much time into creating other people's aspirations, that I forget my goals and the products I want to build.


Simply put. Just say "no". It's okay to say this even if you have the time to do it. Remember - your business and portfolio are for you. If the project or opportunity at hand doesn't match your style, then it probably won't look great on your portfolio. If you want to be a web developer, don't keep picking up logo design work. After some time, your portfolio is going to make you look like a graphic designer instead of a web designer.


Let's say you are busy this month but an AMAZING project opens up for you. What do you do? Um obviously don't say no! Start planning. Let your client know that you are wrapping up other projects this month and that you can set up a call early next month to begin the planning phase. Follow up with emails to let them know you are still interested. Start questionnaires or surveys your client can fill out while you wrap up your other work.


Don't get involved with opportunities that won't benefit you in your creative path. For example, I am a financial consultant/accountant by trade but by love I work with web design. I personally like to travel and blog about that field ( but I'm not going to go out and start a travel business with a friend because it has potential to boom in the next year. Stay focused. Keep your goals close and your creative network closer.


Whether you are new in your trade or experienced, many of us fail in valuing our expertise. Don't give out free work because your sister / friend has an idea (learned the hard way a few times). Your true friends and family will pay you for your service even if it's at a discount. They should be supporting your work. There can be exceptions of course in this area (i.e. if you are starting a new business with someone) but make sure you understand your work is a business. Not a freebie.

What are some techniques you use to balance personal/professional time?

Aylin is a visual creator (Aylin Marie Designs) and traveler who has a thing for making clean user friendly designs. She is also an advocate for for social good over at OneYoungTraveler.