Given my role in the world, I say no a lot.
I get hundreds of unsolicited emails a day, often asking me to get together, invest, or look at something. Lots of VCs and execs who I know simply ignore and don’t respond to these emails. I’ve always tried to at least respond to them unless they are clearly a mass email.
A long time ago I learned how to quickly identify what I don’t want to spend time on, which I wrote about in 2009 in my post titled Saying No In Less Than 60 Seconds. As time has passed, I’ve tuned this filter more, as the volume of requests has gone up.
It’s not a burden to receive the requests. It used to be a burden to say no, but it isn’t anymore. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why, how it used to affect me, and how it affects me now.
I’m fundamentally an information synthesizer. I want more, not less, data. I want it from a diverse range of inputs. My brain does a good job of storing away bits and pieces of the stuff I see, read, and hear (although I’m worst at hearing – I much prefer seeing or reading) and brings them back to the forefront connected to other things at the appropriate moment. That’s one of the reasons I read such a diverse set of books.
But I don’t need a lot of data to make a decision as to whether I want to spend time on something. I’m already extremely booked up, so if I don’t say no as often, and as quickly as I do, I can’t begin to imagine what things would look like in my world. While I’m open to lots of new things, I only want to spend time on things that interest me or that I feel like I can add something to.
The one downside of this is that a lot of my schedule is a reactive one, where I’m spending time on things because I said yes to a request. I believe this is part of my job and it can be a satisfying part of my existence. But, when it gets out of balance with all the actual proactive work I need – or want – to do, it often causes me to have lost stretches of time like I did this summer.
I’m sitting in Amy’s office with my laptop catching up on stuff today. I’ve already told about 20 people no so far as I went through my emails from yesterday and overnight that I hadn’t yet responded to. I’m sure I’ve got another 20 after I finish this post, at which point I’ll start attacking my weekly non-urgent to-do list. The music Amy chose is nice and mellow, the sun is shining, and I’m calm and contemplative after a full week.
If I say no to you, realize that it rarely has something to do with the quality of your idea or you as an individual. Instead, it’s about me and how I want to spend my time. I know there’s often dissonance in that, especially if you are a founder who is trying to get my attention because they’d like me to be an investor in their company. But realize that by saying no quickly, I’m respecting you and your time by not wasting it.