Are you saying “no” enough?
If your answer is “No!” then… well, at least you’ve made a start.
But it’s a good idea to keep that practice going if you want to make epic progress in life. Warren Buffett once said that “the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything”.
I’m not a huge fan of the word “success” (progress is better) but that sentiment is one worth following. It works when we have a clear structure – a workable game frame. It fails when we don’t.*
And as has been said before – being vague is just as bad as,… that other thing.
When we are vague about our priorities and the projects that matter, we start to say “yes” to things we really ought not to. We do this to please, to be validated or for some other form of currency like recognition or appreciation.
In essence, we over-commit.
Overcommitment is one of the most noble forms of self-sabotage
I do it all the time. You probably do too.
To all outward appearances, you are the hero! The knight in shining armour, riding a white horse or something. With a cape.
But underneath your shining armour and luscious cape – you’re martyring yourself for the cause. But in this case, your cause = other people’s priorities. Your currency = their attention/acceptance/validation/whatnot.
Overcommitment provides the best alibi for poor performance
Part of the beauty of overcommitment – as a form of self sabotage – is that the alibi is so pure. While procrastination lets us say “there just wasn’t enough time”, and perfectionism lets us say “it’s just not ready yet”, the over-committed can point to everything they’re doing and say “well, what do you expect? Look at what I’ve been doing. I’m on three boards. I’ve volunteered for these innovation projects, I’m mentoring three interns and I’m already looking after half of the HR role.”
Overcommitment is just so hard to fault.
So, watch out for it. Because not only does it get in the way of your own progress – it erodes the quality and impact of what you do.
Like hot coffee
I came across a cafe recently, where the coffee is seriously good. And they’re committed to it being good and staying true to their art – they have a plaque that helps them say no to making crappy, inferior coffee. “10 reasons why you should not drink hot coffee.”
Oh you want extra hot coffee? There’s a cafe down the road. We don’t do that. Here’s why:
I’ve tried to do the same thing.
Saying “no” to lukewarm doodles
As some of you know, I sometimes serve as a “conference doodler” to help conferences and events conclude with relevance and impact.
This involves me visually tracking the key ideas and messages of an event in visual (doodle) format, and then using these freshly captured slides as part of a “making clever happen” closing keynote, splicing in a bit of motivation design, instilling a bias to action and taking people through the creation of a rough gameplan within the event.
In the past, in my desire to please the client, I used to overcommit and say “yes” to everything. Requests like:
“We’ve got multiple concurrent sessions running at the same time in different rooms – can you pop in and capture some ideas from each of them?”
“We’re hosting a special dinner for the international delegates – are you able to illustrate the ‘atmosphere’ of the evening?”
“There’s going to be yoga at 630am after the conference dinner – can you pop down and capture this?”
These are all real examples – things I’ve said yes to. And the result? I over-committed. What suffered? The doodles got crappy, I lost sleep, and my closing keynotes weren’t as ace as they normally are. The clients were still super happy, of course. But they weren’t super duper happy, which is better.
But then I started saying “no” to the superfluous. And then the doodles – nay, the whole thing – improved.** Double rainbows, all the way.
Make “no” your new default (tweet this?)
Plenty of people better qualified than me have written on this topic. Just google it.
But here’s the gist – saying no doesn’t mean becoming an heartless asshole or an insensitive friend. But if you start with “no”, you’ll at least buy yourself some time to consider requests appropriately, and avoid the biases inherent within the moment.
My mate Matt Church (legend, you should read his stuff) argues that our three most precious treasures are: time, money & attention. Saying ‘no’ gives you a greater ability to protect these valuable resources.
Whenever faced with a new potential commitment, just ask yourself – where are you going to take time and energy from, to do this new thing?
Your exercise or sleep? Your own projects that matter? Time with people that matter?
It’s a tough one, no doubt. And don’t kid yourself that you can keep everything in balance – you can’t. I certainly don’t. Life generally doesn’t work like that. Instead, we need to…
Be agile with your commitments
Stuff changes. Priorities shift. We move through seasons of work, and play different games at different times.
My museletters have slowed down a notch as I finish off my “Game Changer” of a book (published by Wiley in Q1 next year). I’m in hardcore writing mode right now, and for the next couple of months. Looking mighty disheveled too I might add – but I’m boasting epic new levels of caffeine tolerance. I’m also saying no to client work that detracts significantly from my current quest. And I’m saying no to meetings with people who simply want to “pick my brain” – I’m doing enough of that to myself as it is. And I’m saying no to stuff that doesn’t contribute to meaningful progress or epic goodness.
Perhaps you can work your “no” muscle a bit more too,*** and do a commitment cleanse (or recalibration).
That’s what Steve Jobs did when he famously trimmed Apple’s product line from hundreds to four. "I'm as proud of what we don't do as I am of what we do," he once said. For Steve, innovation meant eliminating the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak.
Is this all just an elaborate plot to avoid commitment?
Hahayesmaybe but no! It’s so that we can be better committed to the stuff that matters.
Bam. More from me again… soon-ish.
I’ll commit you that.
* The same applies to app developers – saying “yes” to too many features may just junk things up and detract from the core purpose and experience.
** Here’s an example of a recent conference I captured and wrapped up in Chicago, if you’re interested — Shopper Polished Doodles
*** I’m still light-weight in this – like that guy lifting the pink 1kg rubber-foam weights in the corner, sporting a sweat band – but you’re welcome to join me.