Your Buffer Zone (and How It Affects Your FE Exam Results)

FE EXAM Hacking MotivationOne of the first fundamental lessons we get when learning to drive is that of maintaining a buffer zone between us and the cars ahead of us.

Sound advice.

Maintaining such space keeps us safe and it keeps others safe.

It gives us time to think and react to things that are coming at us unexpectedly.

But too this day, their are times when random distractions in the car (read 3 girls under the age of 5), outside, or in my head takes me away from keeping guard on that buffer zone and my wife has to bring me back to reality with a quick jab to the arm.

Maintaing safe buffer zones on the road is just a fact of life, we have been raised to protect it no matter what the circumstances.

After all, we all want to get home safe to our loved one.

But what about our personal buffer zones?

Do you treat your time with the same respect?

My guess is that is a negatory.

It’s peculiar, that as we age, we more or less sell out on the fundamental importance of having our personal time. 

We often times, without much resistance, hand over the keys to others to drive our agendas because they feel the need to interject a request in front of our eyes.

We fail to say No, and in return, we fail to maintain any resemblance of a buffer zone.  Over time, it’s almost as if our life is being driven completely on other peoples agendas and goals.

Is this something that is at all present in your life today?

It’s hard to say No, but in order to be successful, on the FE Exam, and beyond…saying No is a fundamental lesson that we need to get reacquainted with.


There’s a famous story I once heard about a meeting between the great Warren Buffet and Bill Gates that illustrates the importance, and power, of having the ability to say No.

On this particular day when Mr. Buffet and Mr. Gates were meeting, they weren’t particularly excited to see one another.  During the course of the meeting, Buffet pulled out his personal calendar, and to everyone’s surprise, it was relatively empty.

How could one of the most successful investors in our times history have a schedule that was practically wide open?

Buffet was quoted as saying “You’ve got to keep control of your time, and you can’t do that unless you say No. You can’t let people set your agenda.”

Productivity Starts at No

It’s hard to say No…I am their with you.

It seems as we get older, the ability to say No becomes harder and harder.

I don’t know what it is, but my inclination is that it has something to do with our natural tendencies to want to please.

We have our minds set on progressing to a certain level in our engineering careers, and although we come in with clear intentions to do what we want to do in life, the buffer zones that we set up around our goals slowly degrade until they are nearly unrecognizable.

Where we were once telling people what we were going to do for the day, we are now letting people tell us what we are going to do during our day.

We succumb to the pressures of feeling that we will be fired, or not get that promotion, if we say No to our supervisors request to do a task that we had never planned on doing…

…even if it keeps us away from spending time on a task that is of far more importance.

As we age in to our standard corporate routine, the tendency to “sell out” on our buffer zone seems to become part of what’s reality.

So now not only are we accepting the “reality” of working 60+ hours at work, but we are now giving in to the inundation of people’s requests for our time outside of work.

Sooner than we know it, we are now booked from dusk to dawn with obligations to be somewhere or some place to do some thing that we may not even want to be doing just because we weren’t able to maintain our buffer zone.

And all it would have taken was a simple, genuine, and honest, No.

This is our reality.

This is the world we are living in.

A world that is constantly pulling us towards committing our time to something that at the end of the day will bring limited benefits to us when it’s all said and done.

We need to recognize this for what it is.

It’s holding us back at work.

It’s holding us back at home.

And it’s holding us back from preparing for an passing the FE exam.

Own Your Time, Do Work That Matters

Our time is finite and it comes down to the buffer zone that we build around it that will determine how far we get with this limited asset.

There’s a great Quora thread where former Reddit CEO Yishan Wong defines with clarity how time is limited is 3 distinct ways. 

He states that:

  • Time is highly limited: As humans, we’re immature in our first decades, and declining in health in our last.
  • Time is uniquely limited: You can’t bank, transfer, or recover time, unlike money.
  • Time is equitably limited: Americans can, on average, expect to live about 77 years. That expectation isn’t equal with resources like money.

Some may read these limitations and it will suddenly be struct with feelings of anxiety…some will take action, while some will let it go in one ear and out there other.

But whatever route you choose for yourself, at the end of the day, your life is your canvas.

You can do anything you want to do with it…make that your reality.

Your Life Your Canvas

Warren Buffet explains how Berkshire Hathaway is his canvas.  One that he get’s the Blessing to paint every day.

If you are to be successful in painting your personal canvas, and ultimately realize the desires for your own life, then you are going to need to build, maintain, and/or reconstruct buffer zones around the limited and declining asset of your time.

Kevin Ashton, the British technology pioneer who cofounded the Auto-ID Center at MIT, recently wrote an essay where he pointed out that being stingy with your time is part of leading a creative, productive life.

In the writings he states, ”Saying ‘no’ has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know.”

Being successful isn’t about doing everything. 

It’s about doing the right things at the right time…being productive and maintaining the ability to say No when it needs to be said.

Focus and consistency on an agenda that is in line with your life goals is the bread-and-butter of being truly productive.

So I have to ask this again…

Do you have a hard time saying No?

Well join the club, we all do.

You are part of the human race, and it’s not in our nature to disappoint…and when we are put in to a position where saying Yes would be far more easier than saying No, we tend to let down our guard and fail to come through in maintaining the integrity of our buffer zone.

There are many reasons why it’s hard to say No, and the first step in reconstructing, or maintaining, our buffer zones, it’s important that we understand these reasons deep down.

So what are those reasons, here are five to consider:

6 Reasons Why It’s So Hard to Say No

  • We want to be helpful: We all want to help others when they are in need. 

You are kind, sensitive, and empathetic and want to see someone else who may be struggling in one way or another have it easier, so when you are put in to a position where you could potentially make an impact on someones life, you lean towards setting aside your barriers and give in.

I am not saying that helping isn’t good…I do it every single day here at and and it’s extremely rewarding.

What I am saying is that being helpful can become muddied to a point where every request that comes your way seems important and you no longer have the ability to help yourself.

  • We are afraid of being Rude: I was raised to respect my elders, to respect those in authority, and overall respect humankind. 

Today I teach my daughters these same life lessons, they are important.  But there is one thing I failed to learn in the process of learning how to be respectful, and that’s how to respectfully say No.

  • We want to be agreeable:  You don’t want to be an outlier.  You don’t want to stand out from the group because you have a different opinion on how things should be done. 

So with that, you resort to Group think, where the default response to requests is a simple (although tough) Yes.

  • We fear potential conflict: Saying No is hard. 

I am going to go out on a limb and assume that you want people to like you, to look to you as a good person (ie you want to be agreeable as defined above)

I am right there with you.

You may feel that saying No to an incoming request might cause that person to get mad or feel like we have disrespected them.

This may create an uncomfortable moment or confrontation.

Even if a confrontation doesn’t arise, you might feel there will be collateral damage filled with dissent created leading to negative consequences in the future.

  • We fear losing future opportunities:  I remember when I was working for the first time as Project Manager and the Project Director called me and asked me to do some very inconvenient company training.

I was in the middle of a project, racing time and money to get the facility we were constructing open for the client.

Yet, here I was being asked to do some training.

This was the wrong time, but I said Yes because I felt as if I said No, I would be closing the door to some future opportunities.

We naturally want to be helpful, agreeable and to avoid coming across as rude and living through uncomfortable situations or leading us down the road to losing future possibilities. 

These thoughts put a lot of stress on our ability to maintain our buffer zones as we watch our limited resource of time tick away.

You fit in to one of these buckets, one of these reasons resonates with you, and I am here to tell you that you are not alone.

Breaking False Beliefs

This is my story, and I continue to work on maintaining my own personal buffer zone day in day out.

What I have found, is that ever since I began implementing an intentional No program in to my day to day life, all of these reasons I stated above are revealed for what they truly are, false beliefs.

People don’t get mad, people don’t get broken, you don’t lose opportunities, you aren’t looked at as rude.

On the contrary.

It’s strange, saying No actually brings more respect and understanding from your peers and coworkers.

They begin to see what your priorities are and that they are true and genuine in building something that matters.

Your Customized No Program

When it all comes down to it, maintaining (or rebuilding) your buffer zone all comes down to you nurturing an ability to say No…and to deliver that No it in a way that is graceful and meaningful.

It’s about communicating it in a way that says “I value my time and space”.

But how do you say No with grace and force without coming off like you don’t care about the person your talking to?

We need to (re)learn to say No.

If we want to excel to where we want to be in life, it’s time that we begin implementing a solid No program in to our own lives.

Learning, knowing, and feeling comfortable saying No is an art form that comes with time, but there is good news…

I’ve done a lot of the dirty work, here’s what I have learned along the way.

7 Simple Ways to Say No

When I began intentionally saying No to others, I realized something right off the bat…

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

Those who I was saying No to were understanding and the resistance I thought I would be getting was not there.

I’ve come to the conclusion that saying No can be placed in the basket with all my other irrational fears that have flowed freely through my head during my life; ie, I don’t think I am smart enough to take the FE Exam, I’ve been out of school for too long to pass the FE Exam, I will not get a good raise if I don’t say Yes to that request…

The list is longer than a CVS receipt.

If you are unsure how to begin your No campaign in route to reestablishing your personal buffer zone, then here are 7 simple scenarios that you can get started on.

Mix it up or choose the method that works best for you in your particular situation and run with it:

1. “I can’t make the commitment to complete [FILL IN THE BLANK] because I have other priorities that I am currently working on”

This was the first road I went down when I launched my No campaign.

I was busy. 

You are busy. 

So this simple and honest approach will let the requester know that your plate is too full to complete his or her task at that moment.

They will either hold off until a later date and come back to you, or they will go off and find other resources to backfill the request.

I use this all the time when my calendar begins to look a little too thick for my liking.

2.  “Today’s not the best time as I am wrapping up [FILL IN THE BLANK]. How about we rally back at [FILL IN A SPECIFIC TIME]?

It’s not uncommon to get sudden “urgent” requests when you are in the middle of wrapping something up.

Often times, I would get a phone call from someone frantically requesting my assistance on the other line.

It’s tough to resist the emotion that’s coming through the receiver, so the best approach in this situation is to just temporarily set aside the request with grace and inform them that you will get back to them at some specific time.

This will ease the requesters mind know that they will have some help coming, and it also allows you your space to continue closing out the current work you are doing.

This approach is great for two reasons.

For one, you maintain your buffer zone by telling the requester that now is not a good time and that you are doing something. And second, it makes your desire to help known to the requester, at a time that is convenient to you.

The requester won’t feel blown off…they will feel relieved knowing you will “eventually” help them.

3.  “I would love to, but [FILL IN THE BLANK]”

This is my gentle approach towards saying No to individuals that respectably come to me with a legit request that I just shouldn’t be spending my time on.

Often times I will get requests from individuals looking to partner with me or have me lead a certain engineering review course, or speak at some conference.

The ideas are almost always great.

But I know there are other, more impactful, areas I should be spending my time, so this is my gentle way of letting them know that I respectfully decline.

4.  “Let me take a look at my schedule and I’ll get back to you”

This is more like a soft No, borderline Maybe, response.

This is presented when you are actually interested in doing the request but you aren’t able to fully commit at this time.

Sometime I am approached by other business owners and pitched on some great idea that is completely in line with my ultimate vision in life and would make a huge impact on people around the world…yet I know I need to hold off and gauge where my current commitments lie before I make another one.

If the person who is proposing something to you is sincere about their request, they will not be put off or disappointed that you are asking for some time to consider it.

This is the right move…but remember to specify a date and time that they should expect you to get back to them in the future.

If on the other hand, you are not interested at all in the request, use that next 3 methods and be more definitive about it.

5.  This doesn’t meet my needs or goals right now but I’ll be sure to keep you in mind”

This is my recruiter line.

I often, as I am sure many of you as well, am contacted by recruiters looking to bring me in to some firm or on to some project.

I am wholeheartedly and genuinely grateful that they are reaching out to me, but most all the time, I am just not interested in pursuing their opportunity.

So with that, I respectfully decline and note that I will be contacting them in the future when I am ready to talk.

Definitive and buffer zone resistant.

6.  “I don’t think I am the ideal person to help you with this, Why don’t you talk with [FILL IN THE BLANK]?”

If you are being asked to do something that you either:

a) Don’t have much to contribute to or

b) Don’t have the right expertise and/or resources to help, then let that be known and point them in a direction that will get them closer to what they are looking for.

If possible, lead them in a direction that they can immediately following up on, whether that be with another person or even another resource online.

When I say No, I always try and add value to that response by identifying potential resources or leads that they can follow up on.

In that case, I might not have been able to help with there task, but I still helped in moving them forward towards getting it complete.

And I am good with that.

7.  “No”

Here she is…the straight up No.

This is simple.

This is direct. 

This is hard to say.

We put up way to many barriers in our mind in route to simply saying No.  But as we discussed earlier, these barriers are nothing more than false beliefs that lead us towards total destruction of our personal buffer zones.

Try turning off your mind for a second, and just say No.

I am certain that you will be surprised by the response you get and that it isn’t one that you imagined it would be.

Once you get past the first No, the second, third, fourth…one hundredth No comes a lot easier.

And in return, feel liberated in your new freedom and health of your buffer zone.

You will have more time for yourself, to focus on the things that actually matter to you.  Like spending time with your family, friends…and preparing for and passing the FE Exam.

I know I do and I am happy that I finally started down this road of saying No.

Going back at this point will be impossible.  A healthy buffer zone as lead me down a road of productivity that I haven’t experienced since I was in my younger years.

Intentionally implementing your own No campaign will bring in to this same world.

So with that…

I got one simple question for you:

How do you guard your time?  How do you protect your buffer zone? Let us know in the comments.

Productive People Say No.

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