by Niall Doherty

Here’s a good rule for making sure you don’t take on too many commitments. It’s especially handy for the people-pleasers among us (note to self!).

From Paul Graham:

A friend of mine rarely does anything the first time someone asks him. He knows that people sometimes ask for things that they turn out not to want. To avoid wasting his time, he waits till the third or fourth time he’s asked to do something; by then, whoever’s asking him may be fairly annoyed, but at least they probably really do want whatever they’re asking for.

I’ve taken to using this tip quite often. Whenever someone asks me for a favor I don’t immediately feel like doing but don’t want to say no to, I’ll tell them I don’t have time right now but request that they get back to me in a week or two.

Here’s the script I use. Feel free to steal.

Hey John,

Sorry, I’d love to help out but I’m a bit pushed for time right now. Can you get back to me after the 17th? My schedule should be a bit lighter then.


You’ll find that many people won’t get back to you at all, and you’ll be thankful that you didn’t indulge their first request.

Just be careful not to use this as a way to avoid saying no to offers that don’t interest you in the first place!