Say No often. That’s the secret to make things happen.

I get asked a lot of times how I was able to build so many things in such a short period of time. People go to my LinkedIn profile see the projects and organisations I’ve been involved with and feel surprised and sometimes suspicious about all I’ve done.

What people don’t see is the many organisations, conferences, events, ideas, partnerships and projects I’ve tried to build but wasn’t able to.

Photo by Startup Stock Photos

For a few years now, I carry with me a black Moleskine where I take notes during meetings, write my daily/weekly to-do lists and occasionally write some random thoughts and ideas. I have 7 of them full of “amazing” things I wanted to do, that never got done. The politically correct thing to say would be: “All these failed projects, got me here”, but I honestly hate to go back to my notebooks and see the time, energy, resources, money and sometimes friends I lost on things that never went anywhere.

In “The four tiers of engagement: What Silicon Valley taught me about collaboration and time management”, Reid Hoffman, the Founder of LinkedIn, says that in any project we can only play one of 4 roles. You are either a Principal, the person leading and pushing for the project; a Board Member, someone very actively involved, but not leading and then an Investor or a Friend. You can Invest or be a Friend of many projects. The engagement asked is low and your irregular input can add lots of value. However, you can only be a Board member or Principal to one or two projects. The level of engagement required will be very high and you won’t be at your best if you are leading too many things.

The four tiers of engagement: What Silicon Valley taught me about collaboration and time management by Reid Hoffman

With this framework in mind, I looked at some of my biggest failures and I realised that in all of them I wasn’t 100% in. Either I wasn’t completely bought on the idea, I didn’t trust the people I was working with, I wanted to please too many people or it wasn’t a priority. Sometimes I’ve tried to lead too many projects at the same time for the wrong reasons.

Saying yes, it’s, most of the times, easy and comfortable, but if we really want to succeed we need to say no often and manage time, our most important asset, with care.

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