The Focus to Say No

Jan 19, 2023 8:01 PM

The difference between average results and exceptional ones is what you avoid. Saying no to mediocre opportunities is easy. Saying no to good opportunities is hard.

We all have the same number of hours in a week. What separates people is how they use them.

You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

The Hidden Cost of Yes

Saying yes creates an obligation. Saying yes commits you to something. The things we say yes to have a habit of growing.

Saying yes should make the future easier, not harder.

Saying yes to a request feels good in the moment. So we say yes to things we know won’t move us forward. We say yes because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We say yes to be polite. We say yes out of obligation. We say yes because we ‘should.’

Confusing movement with and results gets us into trouble. When dealing with anyone other than friends or family, saying yes should ultimately lead to results.

Saying yes carries a cost that is often paid in the days, weeks, or even years ahead.

What starts as a single meeting becomes a weekly one. A small project becomes a large one. A one-time event with colleagues turns into a weekly session.

Be quick to say no and slow to say yes. Saying yes consumes time, saying no creates time.

Never say yes on the spot. Always give yourself some space. Make it a rule. Tell people. That’s what Daniel Kahneman does. When he’s on the phone he says ‘my rule is I never say yes on the phone. I’ll email you later after I think about it more.’ And when I asked him how often he later says yes, he responded ‘rarely.’

Never say yes because you should say yes. If you choose to say yes, make it for a reason. Your reason. If you want to see how often you say yes for the wrong reasons, try finishing this sentence every time you say yes: I am choosing to say yes because … The first few times you answer this honesty, you’ll realize just how often you say yes for the wrong reasons.

The bar for yes should be high and continuously get higher. When you’re first starting you might say yes to everything to get experience. Later, however, you’ll need to be more selective. Most people end up saying yes to mediocre opportunities.

Anyone can say no to crappy opportunities. Only a master will say no to good opportunities. If you don’t say no to good opportunities, you’ll never have the time to pursue great opportunities. But if you don’t say no to good opportunities you will never have time for great ones.

Saying no is hard. Nobody knew that better than Steve Jobs, who said:

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.

Saying no is like saving your money in the bank, whereas saying yes is spending it. Most of us are on overdraft. Before you say yes, ask yourself if it’s necessary.

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