the process

2017: The Year of “No”

Happy new year, friends! We hope you all had wonderful holidays.

I’m a huge believer in saying “yes,” and so is Mr. ONL. Saying yes is a big part of why we’ve succeeded in our careers – it’s why our colleagues and our clients love us, even as we lament the toll it takes on us. We are willing to deal with the hard stuff, and we do the tasks others don’t want to take on.

And we want to say yes more in our lives outside of work – especially saying yes to our friends and family more, and saying yes to more experiences. I wrote a whole post about it: A Life of Yes.

But this year is different.

This is our last (planned) year of real work, and we’re starting this year with a line in the sand: This year we will set boundaries. We will not let work continue to dominate our lives.

We will learn to say no.

So here we are in 2017: our Year of No.

2017: The Year of "No" // Our new year's resolution: To make room for yes, we have to learn to say "no" more.

Caring Isn’t the Problem

Something we thought a lot about in the second half of 2016 was whether we should or even could care less about work, or whether we should disengage ourselves more from it. And we realized: not caring is not in our DNA. We are simply people who give a $#!@, and giving fewer of them would require fundamentally changing who we are.

Single Axis Caring Continuum // There's a continuum from caring too much to giving zero Fs.

But we also realized that our “caring continuum” isn’t the right way of looking at things. The single axis continuum suggests that if caring a lot brings stress at work, then caring less might be the answer. The world would clearly be a better place if fewer of us were inundated with work stress, but the world would not be a better place if fewer people gave a $#!@. We need more people caring, more people working to improve things, more people investing themselves in important causes. Combining caring and stress into the same axis is a false association.

Instead, we’re now thinking of caring and stress in two dimensions:

Two-Axis Continuum of Caring and Boundaries

Caring isn’t the problem, and even caring too much isn’t inherently a problem. It’s the combination of caring too much and not setting boundaries to keep work (or anything else!) from taking over your life. Here’s what our 2017 goal looks like on the two-axis model:

Axes of Caring and Boundaries -- We're aiming to care almost as much, but to create clearer boundaries

So now we have our heads straight about caring, and we’re determined to keep being people who care, people who invest ourselves in what we do. But, we need to be realistic, too. 2016 nearly broke my spirit, and though work wasn’t quite that bad for Mr. ONL, it still gave him plenty of new gray hairs. So we need to change something if we’re going to get through this last year of work with our health, our sanity and our marriage intact.

The answer: Boundaries.

Still Caring, But With Boundaries

We both work remotely for companies located far from where we live, and while we mostly hear comments along the lines of, “You’re so lucky for getting to work from home!” (we are, and we know it), the HUGE flipside of that is that – as every remote worker knows – you are always more expendable when you work off-site. Maybe it’s the out of sight, out of mind mentality with management, maybe it’s the assumption that you must be goofing off or doing chores at home instead of working, but remote workers are often the first to be cut when times get tough. And when you combine that concern with my gold star-seeking tendency and Mr. ONL’s need to prove himself, you get a strong feeling that you can’t say no to things.

For years, we have both felt that saying no would create a ripple effect of being perceived as slackers or not team players, becoming less valued, and then becoming expendable. In a small town, you can’t get a job comparable to the ones we have, and so we couldn’t risk losing these jobs before we got to FIRE (ahem, golden handcuffs). That meant: always saying yes. And we wouldn’t change that, because we do care, and because saying yes has clearly served us very well over the course of our careers.

But now things are changing. Because they have to.

Mr and Ms ONL in deep powder

Our new profile pic, from deep in our happy place. We care deeply about snow. ;-)

Breaking Out of the Handcuffs

The best thing that happened at the end of 2016 was we crossed the point where we’re not only FI (which we hit around the end of 2015), but we now no longer need to work to retire comfortably. Working a bit longer will let us retire fully and a bit more comfortably, but we’re now at a point where we have lots of options, and can have a kick-ass retirement with just a little side work. Now we’re just working to fill in the margins. We also assume that if our companies let us go at this point, we’d get decent severance packages in recognition of our long tenure, and those should be enough or almost enough to get us to our numbers.

So the pressure to say yes to everything is officially off. We could lose our jobs tomorrow, and be just fine. Our dream is secure at this point. :::pinching selves:::

Learning to Say No

It’s one thing to talk about saying no, but quite another to do it in reality. And we are pathetically out of practice at it.

We’re each figuring out what saying no will mean, because we have some different circumstances at work that affect what “no” can look like. But just thinking about when we’ll say no doesn’t actually teach us how to do it. To do that, we’ve been talking a lot about it, to buck each other up in our quest to set boundaries. We’re reminding each other of how rough 2016 was (not that we need that reminder!), and how we simply won’t make it however long in 2017 we end up working if we don’t change things. We’re reminding ourselves that we no longer need these jobs, and if we’re now perceived as contributing less, it’s okay. We’ll be okay.

But it’s still going to be a very different way of behaving at work for both of us, and we fully expect there to be a learning curve. We’ll report back on how it goes.

My Criteria for No

Our bonuses work differently, and I had some incentives piled up last year that don’t apply this year, so I’m really not working for a bonus this year the same way Mr. ONL is. That means that I don’t need to focus on being as profitable as I’ve tried to be in past years, because my pay now is what it is. I got my last promotion years ago, my last raise at the start of this year, and I’ll collect my last incentive over the summer. None of that changes based on my performance from here on out, and if I do get laid off, I’m going to push to still get that incentive pay-out because I won’t be leaving by choice. So because the money pressure is now completely gone, I can take more of a legacy focus at work. That means saying yes to projects that let me improve systems and provide opportunities to people, and saying no to a lot of the rest.

Here’s what I’ll be saying “no” to:

  • Any new project that will push me over an acceptable number of hours (aiming for under 50 hours per week)
  • Any new project that I don’t find fascinating or important in some way
  • Any project that doesn’t let me improve company or client processes
  • Any project with no opportunity to mentor or develop junior staff
  • Any project involving teams or clients with bad vibes

Of course the flipside is that I can say yes to things I’ve not been able to focus on in recent years, now that the money pressure is off. Things like:

  • Projects where I’m not the lead (not “my revenue”) but where I can still be helpful
  • Projects that sound fun but aren’t super profitable
  • New business proposals that are fun to work on but wouldn’t actually be my projects if we win them
  • Taking more time to invest in and manage staff
  • Creating professional development opportunities for staff, to pass on what I’ve learned and set people up to thrive after I’m gone

Mr. ONL’s Criteria for No

Mr. ONL is still very much working for a bonus, whether it’s for the full year or in hopes of the mythical pro-rated bonus (or even a retirement thank you bonus). So he’s thinking about his work in 2017 very differently. Plus his work is more independent, not team-oriented like mine, so his opportunities to work on processes and mentoring are more limited. That means his calculus is more about maximizing earnings while minimizing time and stress.

Here’s what Mr. ONL will be saying “no” to:

  • Projects with toxic clients (though he will still bring them in and find ways to hand them off, so he still gets credit)
  • Projects with a tiny profit margin, that require more time than they’re worth
  • Projects where he won’t get the revenue credit in his bonus, because the work is owned by someone else

And he’ll be saying yes to things like:

  • Projects that might be too small to be worthwhile, but could translate into low-stress side hustles in retirement
  • Projects that come with opportunities to travel to different places or gain exposure to possible future clients for limited part-time work
Snowy mountain road

En route to holiday break skiing

Saying No Means Saying Yes

This year represents a big shift for us – preceding many more shifts to come later this year or very soon in 2018 – and we still don’t know how good we’ll be at actually saying no as we aspire to. But what motivates us to try hard at it is knowing that saying no to some things means creating space to say yes to other things. We want to remember what we love about our jobs, and to get back some satisfaction that we’ve had in the past but haven’t been as in touch with lately. And we want to know that we’re leaving our jobs in better shape than when we got them.

Ultimately, we’re not saying no for its own sake. We’re saying no to create space for yes.

So 2017, the Year of No, is really just a preamble to 2018, the Year of Yes. And we can’t wait.

Psst. We have another big “No” that we’ll share more about in Wednesday’s post! 

What’s Your 2017 the Year of?

You know we always love hearing from you guys! So tell us… do you have a theme for 2017? Anyone else focusing on boundaries or saying no like we are? Or doing the opposite and saying yes more? Got any other big financial or life goals for the year you want to share? We’d love to cheer you on!

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138 replies »

  1. Great criteria for your No’s. I think many people set good intentions but not actionable boundaries. I wonder if not having insentives this year will help to relax your feelings towards working this last year! ;) Either way, knowing the end is near should definitely help. Yeah, 2017!!

    • I think the lack of incentives will help me to some extent, though gold stars are never about money — so we’ll see! But I think you’re right — I just have to keep reminding myself that we don’t NEED to jobs the same way anymore when I’m feeling pressure to say yes when I don’t want to. Happy new year!

  2. Not sure if either of you are a Tim Ferris podcast fan at all, but if you haven’t you should listen to his interview with Derek Sivers . It really highlights what you guys are doing and why personal finance advice in general is so tough, because the right solution at one point in life is totally wrong at another point. Sivers tells about starting out with no financial, social or professional capital and so he simply said yes to everything to build capital. Right decision at that point in time. However, as he became successful he had to learn that he could simply no longer say yes to everything. It was burning him out. At that point, he said yes only if in his head it was a “Hell Yes!”, something that excited him and left no doubt. Otherwise, it was a no. The tricky part is being able to step back and know where we are at any point in time.

    As for our goals, we are becoming more focused on setting the right goals. Reflecting on our old FIRE goals we realized that they had been pushing us away from happiness. We are now focusing on figuring out what goals will push us more to happiness and contentment, rather than killing ourselves worrying about money which is merely a means to these ends.

    • What a great way to put it! And it’s SO true that operating the way we do has served us well for our full careers. We definitely would not be where we are if we were the “zero Fs given” types, and I do think it’s a mistake for people to adopt that mindset, especially early in their careers. But now we’re definitely closer to that place where it has to be a “hell yes!” which is a reflection of our point-in-time place more than our innate wiring. I have your latest post open, and look forward to reading up on your revised goals and push toward happiness. Happy new year!

    • I have started implementing the “Hell yes, or No” response in my life. I want to focus on a few things that I really want to do and do them well. The couple of times I have explained by rationale have gone over well; albeit these were outside of work environment.

      Best of luck in the new year on enjoying your last year of high paying career.

      Looks like you found some nice powder to play in.

      • I love that approach in life outside of work. The biggest thing we struggle with at work is that if we only say hell yes or no at work, that will mean pushing a lot off onto our colleagues, which isn’t fair to them. But we’ll learn a lot about striking a better balance this year, I hope! And we DID find some nice pow this break — hope you did as well! :-)

  3. Good idea on setting those boundaries! It’s so important to overall happiness-and after all, the end point of all goals should be to increase satisfaction with your life.

    I don’t think I have a specific theme for the year, but I do have a variety of different goals around money, career, family, health, and creativity. I want to make sure to balance the first two with the last three. Sometimes the balance can get out of whack with too much focus on money/career and the last three suffer for it. So after thinking about it, I suppose this would be the year of balance.

    Have a great 2017!

    • Thanks, CMO! :-) I love that you’re focusing on balancing your goals against one another — that can be so tough! And I don’t think people talk enough about how different goals can actually conflict with one another. Here’s to your year of balance! :-)

  4. I’ve spent the last 5 years or so saying “no” when I wanted/needed to and it has paid off in terms of my happiness levels–yay! I also get compliments at work from others who want to say “no” more. My boss is also clear on what types of things I’ll say yes or no to–so that helps him when he has projects to hand out.

    I get a lot of support for my no’s. I have talked it over with counselors and therapists and I congratulate myself when I say no when I need to–because unwarranted guilt can creep in.

    I am going to play with the idea of having a theme “I can” since I say the opposite to myself quite often. Thanks for the theme idea!

    PS. You have properly trained me with your blog schedule–last night I was “salivating” over anticipating what you’d post today.

    • I love your PS — that totally makes my day that you look forward to new posts here. :-D I’m so glad to know that you had success saying no, and that it has resulted in increased happiness! That means it’s possible to change your ways, which is heartening to me. And kudos to you for going with the “I can” theme if your natural tendencies run counter to that. I love hearing that you’re focused on building more confidence in yourself. Sending you good vibes to achieve that goal this year! :-)

  5. Great post! And happy new year.
    2017 is my year to say no as well. Not to anything work related, considering Mr. AR and I are retired, but to many other things that are creating stress and chaos in our lives.
    The first thing I’m saying no to is using reward credit cards for routine monthly expenses, then paying off the bill monthly. I know it makes perfect sense to do so, but it’s just too much paperwork, too much tracking, and too much hassle. I’m limiting our miles card to my medical insurance premiums, our scheduled monthly donations, and our grass fed meat delivery. Easy, routine expenses I can budget for and no surprises. I feel better already!
    The next thing I’m saying no to is impromptu drop in visits from relatives and friends that involve me cooking, cleaning and entertaining without ever just sitting down and actually interacting. I seem to spend most company visits chained to the kitchen, and frequently end up feeling like I barely spoke with our guests when they get up to leave. Keeping it simple this year with a few frozen meals (still homemade, I love to cook), some easy appetizers and the like. I need to back off the feeling that since I’m no longer working, everything should be perfect and I need to do everything to make that happen.
    I’m also saying no to big home repairs this year. We need to address a rotting deck and some serious drainage issues, but we’ve had contractors crawling around the place for months and we need a break, and after the huge expense is finally dealt with, we need to regroup financially. It’s great to get stuff done, but it’s also exhausting!
    And speaking of finances, I’m also saying no to two large financial outlays this year: a trailer and a cruise. We may just spend less on a small, used trailer and possibly do a short Mexico cruise, but a shiny new RV and ten day Alaska trip are not on the agenda while we lick our wounds and see how our finances shape up after the roof replacement and bond market drop.
    Most importantly, I’m saying no to waiting for friends and family to have the time to come up here and visit. As their lives get busier, it’s more and more difficult for them to schedule multiple visits, but we’re retired! Yes, we hate traffic and leaving our home and living out of suitcases and boarding the pets, but it makes a lot more sense for us to put forth the effort, at least every few months, than it does to lament not seeing people we care about more often. It’s time to face reality; we moved, they didn’t.
    There are a few things I’m saying yes to this year. Yes to everything medical that can be done. I don’t know what health care will look like going forward, but this is the year to handle several issues for both of us. This is also the year to turn up the heat on sticking to the budget, since a few little changes have added up to several hundred dollars more per month going out. Time for more belt tightening, sadly.
    But by far, the most important goal I have for this year is to put us first. We typically do for friends and family, sacrifice our comfort and our finances so everyone else feels comfortable and at ease, and we don’t allow anyone to feel like we’ve been inconvenienced in any way, even if we have been. Maybe it’s our people pleasing generation, or just the way we’re wired, but we’ve both begun to feel taken for granted and unappreciated when it comes to the give and take of relationships outside of our own with each other. Our solution this year is to prioritize what works for us, even if it doesn’t necessarily work for anyone else. I’m looking forward to 2017 being the first year in our 35 year marriage where the criteria for doing or not doing something is based upon what works best for us, rather than everyone around us. Getting the hang of being retired takes some getting accustomed to, and we’re still learning the ropes, but we need to set some better boundaries on our very valuable time and spend less of it accommodating others and more of it accommodating ourselves.
    Should be an interesting year!

    • This probably doesn’t fit with your theme of saying no this year, but if you find yourself with lots of time to spare (ha!), it sure seems like you need to start a blog! I mean, I love that you write such long, detailed comments here (thank you!) but you’re almost writing a full post each time, and it seems like you could put them in one place and have a nice record of your journey. But keep the updates coming here — we always love them, and I know folks love reading them. :-)

      But as for your big theme, kudos to you for making some pivots this year. I’m especially struck by your resolution to go visit friends and family who can’t visit you. We imagined when we moved to the mountains that we’d have visitors all the time, and that just hasn’t panned out. So we will have to make that very same resolution soon, and maybe will downsize as well since we just don’t need as much guest space as we thought we would.

      Sending you both good vibes for a wonderful 2017! :-)

    • P.S. Clicked through your comment link and remembered that you already have the blog, and just haven’t blogged often. So the legwork is already done… maybe some of these comments could go straight into your blog! :-)

    • I haven’t read The One Thing — thanks for the recommendation! I’m surprised to hear you say that your theme is simplify… only because you’ve already done so much to simplify! But I guess there’s always more we can do on that front. Hope you reach your goals this year! Can’t wait to join you in the zero mortgage club very soon. ;-)

  6. Excellent idea on the boundaries. I wish you luck in exercising that “No” muscle! Hey we can start now! Want to lend me $150k for a mortgage? :)

    My theme this year is caring. I want to care more about how I treat others, think about others, think about myself, and take better care of myself. It will mean a bit more spent each month, but money spent on improving my health and well being is never a waste.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how your 2017 goes. Bon chance!

  7. Love your theme. I haven’t chosen a theme for the year (at least not yet). But I do think the end of the old year brought some reflection and revelations about moving forward.

    I completely understand the desire for anonymous blog. There are definitely times I can’t share aspects of my thoughts or goings-on because I don’t want IRL people to know or take it the wrong way.

    • Thanks, Kalie! I certainly don’t think you need a theme for this year, but I’m glad you had some time to reflect on your past year. And yeah, I hear you on the desire to blog anonymously! Though it’s funny because we plan to go public, so still hold a lot of that stuff back! I think this blog would feel rather different if we were planning to stay anonymous permanently! ;-)

  8. Great theme and objective. If successful it should make your lives infinitely less stressful. My theme for 2017 is adjusting to change. We’re finally adjusting in to my wife working from home. We’re also considering a possible relocation. How those changes and decisions bear out will make our lives significantly different. It’s easy to stay in the comfort zone but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

    • Haha — I love “if successful…” So true. ;-) We know it’s going to be work, not something that happens automatically. And wow, you have a lot on your plate for this year in terms of big life decisions! Sending good vibes as you navigate it all!

  9. Good for you! Did you read that book? :) I love all of your charts by the way. And it’s so true that there are so people who are annoying because they don’t seem to care at all. There has to be SOME level of caring, but not at the expense of your health. My theme for the year is “explore”

    • I just got the book from the library yesterday! Hoping to read it on the flight home from the east coast tomorrow night! :-) And well said — not caring is not the answer. We need MORE people in the world who give a $#!%, not fewer. :-) I have your “year of explore” post open and need to go read it!

  10. I LOVE this! I am so bad at saying no and setting boundaries. Most teachers are terrible at it. It’s definitely something I’m trying to be more cognizant of, especially because I’m starting to realize no matter how much I care and want to help others, if I’m running on fumes, I can’t give anyone my best. But I imagine this is something that will take years to sort out professionally because the boundaries are so gray (by design AND because I allow them to be). This is a beautiful post. I cannot wait to see this in action!

    • Thanks, Penny! And so well put: we can’t do anything for others when we’re running on fumes. And I *know* our employers (and yours!) don’t want us to get that burnt out, but the culture of the workplaces still encourages it in a million ways. So I don’t expect it to be easy to change our ways, both because of the work culture, and because of our own internal motivation. But we’ll keep writing about it! xoxox

  11. Not so long ago I moved from being the “always say yes – always work late” employee to the setting clear boundaries, not saying yes, not volunteering for new things employee. You might be surprised how long it will take management to figure out that you’re not contributing as much any more. If you’ve built up years of good will and good “brand” they will continue to remember all of that and let you skate for a while. Eventually it catches up though. However, being in a position of FI means it shouldn’t create to much stress for you if and when management takes notice. Good luck on setting those boundaries and saying no. It’s surprisingly more difficult when you still give at least a few Fs.

    • Wow, that’s so impressive that you made the switch! Have you written about that process and how you learned to do it? Based on comments here, we are not the only ones who’d be interested in reading that!

      Sadly I’m tracked to the quarter hour, and my profitability is constantly tracked, so I can’t fly under the radar like a lot of employees can… but I think your point is a good one. And I do have a lot of good will and ‘good brand’ to begin with, which helps. Thanks for the well wishes — we’ll post updates here on how it goes. :-)

  12. I’m making 2017 the year of comfort. This means that I’m going to try to be spend more to live more comfortable. Many personal finance bloggers focus on fighting lifestyle inflation. I’ve been winning that war for 10 years and it’s time to judicially spend to improve my quality of life.

    A couple of years ago, I put together a few words on my sister site, Be Better Now, on how to say no: There might be something useful in there, but I think the key is practicing saying no (like you say.)

    • I love your year theme! Good for you for being willing to inflate your lifestyle a little to make your life better. If you’ve already won the war against lifestyle inflation, then there’s no shame in doing the things that will make you more comfortable and happy — especially because you clearly won’t go overboard in that. :-)

  13. Love this post and your focus on boundaries! Being a people pleaser myself – it is definitely an area I need to work on too. Our theme for this year is “Changes” – so many coming! We need to work together and not let all of them create too much stress. I have a few projects that are interesting me too – so that keeps it exciting. Looking forward to following your “no’s” ;)

    • Thanks, Vicki! I think a lot of us struggle with this tendency to say yes to everything, so I hope we can all make progress on it this year! I’ll keep you posted on what we learn. :-) And sending you good vibes for your year of big changes! I’m personally rooting for you to be able to work less this year… or at least do work that doesn’t make you get up so early and have no blog access! ;-)

  14. Here is what I learned in my last year of working: the less F’s you give, the healthier your work becomes overall. In a sense, the lines on your matrix aren’t straight. As you move in one direction or the other, the lines starts to move as well. Enjoy your last year. It was a lot of fun for me – and even though I gave less Fs, I ended up being super productive and being offered bigger and bigger roles.

    • Though I don’t think we’ll ever be “zero Fs given” types, I DO think we’re committed to giving fewer of them in certain areas. Like obviously we don’t care about getting promoted or even getting gold stars anymore, other than Mr. ONL’s bonus, so we will be working on caring less in those areas. But we’ll still stay invested in our work quality, our clients and our junior colleagues, which feels like the right balance… so long as we can figure out those boundaries! Your point is a good one about the lines in the matrix moving! And I hope we can follow your great example and have more fun this year!

  15. A very Happy New Year to you!

    My mother, raised with a healthy dose of good old fashioned Catholic guilt spent her whole life unable to say no to anybody. Given a choice between her wants or needs and that of another living, breathing creature and you get no prizes for guessing which she is compelled to choose. I have watched her be unhappy and sometimes grow resentful under this constant burden of ‘yes’.
    Noes are necessary, and in the right circumstances, even very good. I’m glad you are giving them more space in your life this year.

    • Thank you! A happy new year back at ya! :-) Oh my goodness, your story of your mom makes me so glad that our urge to say yes to everything is not guilt-driven, because that’s a whole other thing. But your point applies to all of us who have trouble saying no, regardless of our motivation — we know we need to get better at being willing to say no and actually doing it, and we’re determined to build those muscles this year!

  16. Good luck in 2017! That’s a very interesting way to look at it. I found that once I care less, it was much easier to set boundary. It’s much harder to say no when you care a lot about the project. When you care more, you want to see it succeed and it’s hard to say no. Enjoy your last year of work. :)

    • Thanks, Joe! Always appreciate your cheerleading. :-) I think you’re right that caring less is helpful for boundary setting, and I DO think there are some ways we’re going to try to care less. Like we’ll keep caring about doing a good job and looking out for our colleagues, but we can care less about validation and gold stars… that’s the goal anyway. :-)

  17. Awesome! In 2016, I was very much right in line with your thinking too about saying no. I’ve used my FU money more times than I can count, up to and including threatening to quit if it meant full time travel. It is an amazing feeling to be able to do that and not worry too much about negative consequences. Since your bonuses aren’t really of any concern this year for you guys, I can totally see where 2017 will be a giant shift. There isn’t that carrot at the end of the year any longer. You guys will be gone, enjoying life free of the stress that your current jobs, unfortunately, provide.

    It’s very cool to be able to make that change. Through hard (and smart) work, it’s happening for you guys just like I did for me. Congrats on making it here! You’re definitely rounding third base. :)

    • I am definitely thankful that my bonus is no longer an issue… though that’s not true for Mr. ONL. But he can think about it differently now, which is still freeing in its own way. ;-)

      How is your early retirement going so far??? Are you going to post about your temporary situation of being early retired while your wife is still working, now that you’re living that? I bet people would love to know what that feels like, and how you navigate as a couple the feeling that you get to sleep in and hang out while Courtney has to get up and go to work every day.

      • So far, early retirement rocks – mostly mentally. It’s just nice not having to THINK about work, just less doing it. I’m actually a bit surprised that it’s more the mental game than anything. I hated thinking about assignments waiting for me at the office.

        I am coming up with a post about a day in my life, yeah – so far it’s not been an issue with my wife and I because we’ve seen it coming for SO long, I think it also helps that I got to work from home the last couple of years, too. I’m gonna try to keep up my end of the bargain by completing a growing Honey Do list, too! ;)

      • Can’t wait to read your day in the life post — I still think you should do those periodically so we can see how things change for you over time. I have to imagine that once you really settle into ER, things will be different than they are while you’re an ER newbie. :-) Good luck with that honey do list!

  18. I can attest to the fact that remote workers are more expendable. I was there once and was one of the first batch of remote workers to get the axe when cuts came.

    It sucks, and no amount of hard work is going to change it. So, yes. Say ‘no’ more and set those boundaries. When you quit (or get laid off) you will be happy you did.

    • It’s stories like yours that used to terrify us, and make us feel like we had to say yes to everything! We’re so thankful now to be on the other side of it, where we’d be fine even if we got laid off. So glad it worked out great in your case, and didn’t plunge you into hardship! Can’t wait to join the happy club soon. :-)

  19. We are saying some big “yes’s” in 2017, which means having to say about 1000 no’s. It was the theme of my blog post today: all the things we have to cut, pause or streamline for 2017. I hate cutting things. Or even pausing them. Hobbies, friendships, my routine, commitments. I would love to just keep on with everything forever and just add, add, add. But I am slowly learning to say no more. To take some things away. To say “if this is the most important, other things have to give.” I hate it. I suck at it. But it has to happen.

    • I’m sure all of that is tough, but good for you for taking the brave stuff of streamlining your life! I’m sure that will lead to more fulfillment and less stress in 2017. :-)

  20. Love your criteria for your No’s. Yes remote workers are more expendable but in a way that’s good because that gives your more flexibility. So excited for you guys that this is the last year and that profile picture is awesome!

    For us this year will be the year of openness. We are open to new opportunities. It doesn’t mean we will always say yes. We are simply open and when the right opportunities come, we will say yes.

    • I love seeing your face next to your comments now! I need to check out your update post to find out what’s behind you going more public — I’m so excited! I’m sure it’s all part of the year of openness. :-) And I LOVE that you’re putting yourselves into the position to say yes… that’s absolutely what our saying no is all about. :-) Hope you can get out on the slopes soon!

  21. i’m realizing that i may be in the upper right quadrant of your graph, i.e. healthy boundaries and zero Fs given….probably time for a change in attitude or find a new position at work. On the plus side, the healthy boundaries is so important to me. It allows me to do things that i really do care about outside of work. I’ve thought about adding more time and attention to my list of things I care about outside of work which to me is way more important in this whole crazy ‘life’ thing. To me, family goals, finance goals, and fitness goals are so much more important than any sort of professional goal. They simply just don’t compare. I’ve reached a level of management i’m comfortable with and don’t desire to be the top dog which would mean a little bit more money but a lot more work.

    • I think that probably DOES mean it might be time to look for a new position! Mainly just because what are you getting out of it if you don’t care and aren’t invested? If it’s just about the paycheck for you, then great, but research suggest that most of us want to derive at least SOME meaning from work, and you deserve to have that too! But I hear you on boundaries, and hope to emulate more of that this year! Sending you good vibes for your family, financial and fitness goals this year!

  22. I think you set some great boundaries for yourselves and am glad to see you are dropping the working hours to do more of the stuff you want to!

    Have you considered negotiating a severance? Financial Samurai has a book on the topic, it might be worth a read.

    • Here’s hoping this plan works out! Of course right after I wrote this, I agreed to hop on a plane cross-country right after the holiday to help win a piece of work. Hahaha — at least if we win it, I’m resolved to staff it in a way that puts minimal work on my plate and creates opportunities for others. :-) And I’m talking to Sam/Financial Samurai about reviewing his book!

  23. Huge congrats to you and Mr. ONL. You’re in a wonderful place.
    I was hiking with a friend this morning and we discussed Henry Cloud’s wonderful book Boundaries, which everyone reads and immediately recognizes him/herself in the stories.
    Your “gold star-seeking tendency” is shared by many, including me, and I’m so eager to hear what this year has in store for you.
    We’re trying to figure out what our future looks like too. We’re close to FI, but want to give more, specifically an international trip with each of the family kids as they graduate from high school, as well as maybe help with cars and college. So… the new plan is to work a bit more and longer than in the last plan, but it’s so exciting to have our secret gifts in mind.

    • Thank you, my friend! I need to check out that book! Thanks for the recommendation. I will share what I learn in my attempts to learn how to say no, despite the gold star desire… fingers crossed I have actual lessons to share.

      I LOVE your plan to be so generous to the kids in your family. Our approach has been to give to our niece and nephew’s college funds, but you are going so far above and beyond that — so awesome! You’ll have that joy of the secret gifts for years. :-)

  24. Congratulations on making it to your final “buffer” year! The idea of saying no is difficult. I think or culture has built in such a disposable mentality that nearly every employee feels it. Although, I agree that a remote employee likely feels the pressure more than on-site employees – as you mentioned. Just think how good this final year will be without the pressure and stress of unnecessary, obligatory projects! Ahhh…the thought of “no” even makes ME feels less stressed 😂

    Mrs. Mad Money Monster

    • Thanks! It’s *soooo* exciting! :-) I think you’re right that nearly all employees feel expendable, so I don’t think we’re so different as remote employees. Of course, having said all that, our employers have also consistently invested in us in ways that show THEY don’t see us that way… still hard to shake that pesky feeling, though! You’re so right, though — actually learning to say no will feel great! Happy new year!

  25. Boundaries are sooo important so I totally get the need to say no more often than you had previously :) My word for 2017 is “well”. To be well emotionally, financially, and physically. If something in my life is not in line with my values and my path to wellness, out it goes!

    Happy New Year!!!!

  26. I really enjoyed reading your blog, especially as you want to say no rather than not give a f*** which is actually my aim for 2017 – to give less f***s!!! But I think we have both approached it for the same angle although we phrase it differently, it is about tackling things from a position where we benefit most and get the most personal satisfaction! I can totally go for that and you’re so close to your planned early retirement it is crazy! And amazing! Yay!!!

    • Thanks, Natalya! That’s great you’re finding your own way to set some boundaries this year — I think our definition is similar, though we’d probably add still making a positive impact on others. So minimizing stress, maximizing personal gain, maximizing positive impact. :-) Thanks for the well wishes — happy new year!

  27. This is definitely our year of change. We could very possibly be FI by the end of the year! We are soooo…. close. We are going to venture out in what we are very passionate about! So excited!! Unlike many of you who work in a corporate world as employees, we are operators of a large grocery chain with employees. Big headache!
    It’s very scary to leave a company we’ve been with for over 30 years, always saying “yes we will do that” so we’ve had enough. I just want to get up in the morning and look forward to my day ahead. I think that might have been why I was reading your blog because your FI date was close to the same as ours. What a wonderful 2017 will be!!!! I guess I need to start a blog

    • Wow, how exciting! You ARE so close! I love meeting others whose timelines are so similar to ours. :-D And it DOES sound like your situation is a bit different than just leaving a corporate job — especially having employees you are responsible for! Good luck navigating all of that this year — keep us posted on your progress! :-)

  28. Great topic! I can’t wait to read the quarterly update on the no goal. I found it really hard to continue to say no to projects I didn’t want after seeing my no usually meant my coworkers that I cared about became overwhelmed taking on more than they wanted and either our clients became neglected or I felt guilty and worked more than I wanted. I am still figuring out how to get the owner to hire more help…

    This year we are also simplifying, starting with regularly going to sleep on time instead of staying up to do one more thing that is never just 5 minutes. I am finally realizing that being tired just isn’t working for me.

    • So…should be getting ready for sleep but instead wondering why you haven’t commented on any comments? Is that the other big no for the year?

    • Thanks! You raise such a good point that saying no often means shifting the burden to someone else, and that’s something we’ve never wanted to do — and don’t want to do now. So we’re really focused on making sure that we say no in ways that don’t overburden others, or preferably, that can turn into opportunities for others. Like instead of directly saying no, can I find a way to shift it to someone more junior and supervise them, so I have less total work and they get a chance to prove him or herself? That’s the model I’m after. To your point, it’s impossible to do that when there’s just not enough help, and that can definitely be a real challenge. Good luck reaching your goals this year — you know I totally support the sleep goal! :-)

  29. You may find that saying no does not hurt you at all at work, because your improved focus on the projects you care about may even out or even improve your overall performance.

    Also, unless you work in something where per-employee profitability is measured way more precisely than in most industries ( e.g., sales or a financial product trading desk – I don’t think most consulting jobs are measurable with that degree of accuracy but I could be wrong) then i think freedom40guy’s point is very true. I’ve noticed that an employee can often coast for a very long time without it being noticeable to management.

    Either way, after your description of how 2016 went, this was the only outcome I could foresee – you weren’t describing a sustainable work situation even if you hadn’t reached your numbers.

    • Entirely possible! Our companies definitely have cultures that reward yes-sayers, and it *will* be jarring for folks to feel us shifting, so we’re also thinking about not just the act of saying no, but how we do it and the words we use. But to your Q, we ARE in industries where per-employee metrics are heavily scrutinized, so I think maybe we’re a more rare case. Coasting isn’t our style in any case, so it will be interesting to figure out how we say no more without coasting. But you’re SO right that repeating last year just couldn’t happen. Here’s to finding better boundaries this year! :-) Happy new year!

  30. I recently have enacted more of the say no when it’s a net negative for me, which is a big step. It’s been nice though having those boundaries but still feeling appreciated and validated thru the work I do.

    Our theme is essentially, “Relax and be present.” With so much uncertainty around where we’ll be in a few years on so many levels, we’re just working on implementing what we can to start being the SSC family we envision, as opposed to waiting a few years to do that. That mainly involves finding and doing more fun stuff as a family. Now that our scheudles are a little better, we need to capitalize on that and have fun family time more often.

    Good luck saying no this year!

    • It shouldn’t be a surprise that someone who started the blog “Slowly Sipping Coffee” would be a zen master with a perfect theme of “Relax and be present.” I feel better just reading that. :-) And I completely LOVE the idea of focusing on being the family you envision now instead of waiting, especially given all that’s still TBD for you guys. Here’s to doing more fun stuff in 2017! Let me know if it might include visiting our neck of the woods so we can sell you on the mountain west. ;-) (Kidding, not kidding.)

  31. I’m sure this will help you guys a lot! We’d be feeling the same if we were in our last year, but we’re not quite there yet, so we still have to say yes a little more than we’d like (especially in the work area). :-P

    Boundaries are definitely key to keeping sane. We get invited to a lot of things, but over the past year if it didn’t bring us more happiness or reinforce special friendships, then most likely it’s a NO.

    • Sounds like you guys have been doing a great job setting boundaries outside of work, which is great! We have done a lot to winnow out one-sided friendships and toxic people who weren’t adding joy or support to our lives. Thanks for that reminder that we don’t totally suck at saying no! Hahaha. And we’ve totally been there, where you are, of feeling like you have to say yes a bit longer. Remind yourself that it’s a short-term problem, and try to appreciate it for that. :-)

  32. You know, I find it interesting that you posted this. We didn’t really consider this over the last year, but that is very similar to what we actually executed in 2016. And now, we are back into a year of “Yes” in our first year post-employment.

    I appreciate your insights, as it makes me think about our processes. Thanks for that!

    • So interesting that you had a similar approach without planning to! So glad to know that you pivoted from No to Yes after you hit retirement… we hope to follow that model! Thanks for reading. :-)

  33. Since I was able to retire, I do not have to say a lot of no. Now I find that I am looking for the projects to say yes to. I know I can not say yes to a lot, but the ones I did say yes to at the end of 2016, have been fun!!!

    • That sounds like an interesting shift you’ve had to make! And so glad that you’ve been having fun with your yeses! Here’s to many more fun yes moments for you in 2017!

  34. This is a great post. I started saying No about three years ago and it was probably the best decision I have ever made. When you are successful so many opportunities start knocking and they can really be overwhelming. The key is figuring out how to quickly see the good ones and the highest ROI (either from a monetary or lifestyle perspective). I love that you are setting lifestyle goals here (no more than 50 hrs week instead of money goals). Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! That’s so awesome that you were able to make the switch in your mindset and behavior to start saying no. For us, it will be all about lifestyle goals as well as “legacy goals” like helping others succeed and get promoted on our way out. Fingers crossed we can achieve that!

  35. Setting boundaries is great, now how about caring in a Trump world about citizen involvement and becoming active in democracy? You see, climate change is real and if you know how to build an igloo you’re gonna be okay… or a lean too… but only for so long. The Donald is not giving a hoot about the nature you play in. He’s gonna gut and drill. So Have fun while it lasts and or fight for your land rights. For the public trust. Laws have to be enforced. Trump is a law breaker… so he won’t protect your freedom of play, saying no, or anything else. If you have kids… learn about your government and tach your kids how to participate, so they can have snow. Really… Happy new year, but wake up.

  36. For those who couldn’t afford the political capital to say “no” at work, or didn’t want to shift the burden to coworkers, I’ve frequently suggested that they use “if this, then that” instead. As in, “if I do this new thing, then I’ll need to remove X, Y, or Z from my agenda. Does that work?”

    I found it was a very useful tool in getting from “struggling to set boundaries” to the point where I could say No with confidence and no (or few) doubts or regrets.

    • I love that way of thinking about it. Because just saying no and not considering the cost is not the recipe for being a good human, either. I’m working on finding ways to say no that also create opportunities for more junior colleagues. We’ll see how that goes!

  37. Boundaries are my favorite thing!!! I am not even kidding. I love them in family and personal life and in work life. It took me years to be good at them in some areas of my life and I’m still growing in this regard, but holy cow am I a better person for them. Have you ever read Captain Awkward? It’s a great blog and a lot of it is about relationships and boundaries and keeping yourself whole.

    • I need to check out Captain Awkward… as though I need to add to my blog reading list! Haha. I’m already way behind on just friends’ blogs, like yours! :-) I do love boundaries, and now that you mention it, I realize that I’m better at them in some personal life relationships… so maybe I am not as bad at them as I think! Thanks for helping change my perspective on this. :-)

      • They just take practice. I love them so much. My clients less so, but that gives me even more reason to love them.

        I’ve not kept up with Captain Awkward, or most of the blogs I love for the past few months either. Never enough time.

      • I am committed to that practice! And yeah, I’m sure even when we’re retired, I won’t feel like I have enough time to stay caught up on blogs unless I do literally nothing else!

  38. Great visuals, as per usual!

    I feel like I’d never be able adjust from nonprofit to for-profit work at this point. Sure, there’s not a concept of “bonus” or incentives, but there’s a lot more freedom to research and work on pet projects, with more focus on impact / less on profit.

    Oh man, I’m not even sure what 2017 will be for us…

    One thing we have been prioritizing lately is family, and specifically travel/creating new memories with family. We live anywhere between an eight hour drive and halfway across the world from family, so not the easiest! I’ve got three living grandparents, and my dad recently had a health scare (all better now), and it really makes you think about how much time you’ve got left to enjoy with them.

    • Thank you! x-) (<– Did I do that right??! Haha.) And if you're happy in nonprofit land, then by all means stay there! If I was starting over, I would DEFINITELY reconsider my career path, and so would Mr. ONL. I completely love your focus on spending more time with family — how true that we only have so much time left, and it's up to us to make the most of it! Happy new year!

  39. Thank you so much for writing this – I think the biggest point of this is people going after FI are also driven to be high achievers. Its so difficult to dial that back back due ti drive and discipline. Keep up the writing

    • Gosh, isn’t that the truth?! We are pretty much all high achievers, and that makes it especially hard to create boundaries. But we’re determined to make it happen this year!

  40. Really enjoyed reading your post. I think my mantra for 2017 is “Do More with Less.” Less stuff, less laundry, less shopping, lower bills – you know the drill. I guess accumulation is hard-wired into me (my sister does it with her pantry) my problem is the closets, and cabinets and general stuff. I need to learn to say “No” to myself.
    Happy New Year!

    • Thanks! I love that mantra — it totally fits with our Wednesday follow-up post, too! Our challenge is similarly to bring far less into the house, but also to be mindful about what we’re tossing out, and to make sure we’re getting the full use out of everything before we doom it to the landfill.

  41. It’s super tough to prove your worth when you work remotely. It has a lot of upsides, but the downside is that you have to work twice as hard to be seen and appreciated.

    But congrats on achieving FI! That’s no small feat. :)

    I’ve tried to start saying No at work more. I was always a Yes-Lady, but that’s gotten me into some tight situations. During the holidays my manager asked if I wanted to be in charge of everyone’s holiday schedules–I was tempted to say yes to seem reliable, but I got a pit in my stomach thinking about all the stress. I told him no, and it was the first time a drew a line in the sand. It felt great and I didn’t have more on my plate than I could handle.

    • Thanks for the congrats! :-D And huge congrats back to you for saying your first “no”! What a great step. Here’s to drawing many more lines like that in 2017! :-)

  42. ONL,
    I think caring is definitely part of our DNA as you indicated. I also suffer from this “affliction”. I just can’t help it. I would love to be able to turn it off. The only way I will find piece from this disease is to finally be able to walk away from the job for good. I just don’t see it any other way. I wish you luck on choosing to not care for certain things. Please tell me your secret if you figure that out :-)

    • I will certainly share what we learn! Though I really do think it was an important aha moment for me to realize that caring isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of boundaries. So that’s what I’m working on this year — a few “no’s” down already!

  43. Learning to say “NO!” is important for all of us. Hearing the “NO!” is also important. It’s communication that most of us don’t like to do or receive.

    However, saying NO is important for mental health, honesty, commitment, walking away from things, and so on. And it is a very hard lesson for most of us.

    My learning to say NO took years. My line in the sand was beyond the horizon all the time. Now, NO is a lot easier – but it took hard experiences. My / our current NO is NO to spending money, NO to debt (the best we can – at times life is difficult and requires adjustments), NO to not saying NO!

    Congratulations on your upcoming freedom!

      • I found that understanding a NO because of someone using you, and a NO for your own sanity makes the big difference. Not asking yourself “why” or “how come” but asking “what” helps in clarifying. WHY and HOW COME are emotionally charged words, and WHAT means you are thinking, not just emotionally reacting. You then know the reasons behind the know. It’s like a trail of breadcrumbs when you ask WHAT – it can lead to some surprising revelations. Cheers!