“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
In various situations, many of us find it almost impossible to say “no,” because we don’t want to be rude or we don’t want to miss out. But saying “yes” to too many things causes us to miss out on what helps us achieve our goals the most. Many things may be “good for us,” but few things help us achieve our goals efficiently and effectively. Saying “yes” too easily and too often makes us feel like we have no time and are constantly trying to catch up. It causes us to feel constantly overwhelmed and busy in a stressful and unsatisfying way.
Once we have a few SMART goals, a task list, and a decision matrix, it starts to become more clear what we should say yes to and what we should say no to. But if we say yes to nearly every activity that relates to our goals (and some that don’t even relate), eventually our task list will get so large that it becomes unmanageable and useless.
The solution to having too many tasks is to be really selective about what we say yes too. Being selective about what tasks to add to the list breaks down into two steps.
1) Making sure all of our tasks help us achieve our goals.
2) Simplifying the list to include only the things that will help us reach our goals in an HUGELY efficient and effective manner.
The truth is, a lot of tasks can help us achieve our goals, and this is why we feel compelled to add so many tasks to our list. But as counter-intuitive as this may sound, we shouldn’t just add anything to our list that helps us achieve our goals. If we want to truly efficient, then we must only add things to our list that help us take GREAT steps towards achieving our goals. If a task only helps us achieve our goals a little bit, it probably isn’t worth the time investment to include on our list. This is why productivity experts, like Tim Ferriss, vouch for the Pareto Principle, AKA the 80/20 rule. What the Pareto Principle means is that for a given event, 80 percent of the outcome comes from 20 percent of the causes. In other words, it’s much better to focus on the few activities in a ton of results, rather than a lot of activities that only help a little.
If we want to feel in control our time, we need to focus on small percentage of our tasks that help us achieve our goals the most, and say “no” to the rest of these tasks. When we start saying “no” more often, we open up so much time to focus on what’s truly interesting to us. Less of our time will be spent on boring tasks that we don’t enjoy. As a result we will be less angry and more satisfied.
Once we know why it’s important to say now, our question shifts to, “how to say no without sounding rude?”
First we should consider the request being proposed to us and evaluate it to see if it will be something that helps us achieve our goals and be of interest to us. But we shouldn’t stop there. As I’ve mentioned before, many tasks help us achieve our goals, but few tasks help us achieve our goals efficiently. We will save so much time by focusing on those few tasks that help us achieve our goals well, rather than the many tasks that only help us achieve our goals a little. So we should consider if the request will help us achieve our goal and is interesting, and then consider if it will help us achieve our goals well.
If we’ve decided the answer is “no,” then we should explain our thought process to the person at hand. If you can, offer an alternative that fits into your goals.
In practice, that can go something like this: “Hey Maxine, do you want to go out to the bars tonight?”
“I need to spend time with my family this weekend, as I haven’t given them as much time as I want to. Perhaps you can come with me to this free film festival I’m going to on Tuesday.”
In this situation, Maxine isn’t interested in going to the bar, but wants to still wants to hang out with Tracy another time. Rather than saying she doesn’t want to go directly, she explains why she wants to stay in tonight and then proposes an alternative (the free film festival) that she’s already doing later in the week that does fit in with her interests and goals. This way, Maxine wins three times: she gets to hang out with her family, avoid the bar, and still gets to hang out with Tracy later in the week doing something that she prefers to do.
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