“No, thank you.” is a full sentence.

The real problem of leisure time is how to keep others from using yours.
Arthur Lacey

If you are creative, if you are competent, other people usually want to use your ability for themselves.

Looking back at my life, mostly my college days, I have encountered countless people, strangely, more women than men, who wanted my help.

And yeah, it’s nice to be needed. It provides meaning. But looking back, I also did waste countless hours helping others … nice, but on the cost of achieving my goals. And frankly, a lot of those goals were much, much more important than helping others.

Which is why I am a huge fan of tables like those in Chase et al. (2012) “Time Management Strategies for Research Productivity” of how to say no. And why I think that the two most important sentences you have to know in interacting with others are “What’s in it for me?” which you ask to yourself and “No, thank you.” which you reply to a request (if you don’t like the answer to the first sentence).

After all, you should be thankful if people ask you for help, they consider you as useful. But exactly for that reason you are able to thank them for their request and reject it … to use that time for something even more useful.

Because if you are that useful, you are worth it to use that time for your projects.