How Many Things Have You Said No To Today?

Several years ago, I saw an interview with Apple’s former chief designer, Jony Ive, in which he talked about the lessons he had learned from Steve Jobs.

One of those lessons was about focus and in asking “How many things have I said no to today?”

Most of our productivity and time management problems are caused by our over willingness to say “yes”. We fill our calendars with meetings that bring us no value, but we feel we must attend just to stay in the know. We accept dinner invites when we know we should be getting an early night for an important presentation the next day. And the list goes on.

If you say yes to every ‘opportunity’ that comes your way, how can you ever focus on what it truly important to you? If you want to create something exceptional. If you want to perform at your very best, then you must say no to everything that does not support whatever you want to focus on.

When you think about it, most of our stress and feelings of overwhelm come from what we say yes to when we really should have said no. We often say “yes” to something when we just want the ‘problem’ to go away. Only to find we waste precious time trying to work out how to get out of it later.

When we accept an invitation to a meeting that we know will have no value or when a colleague asks us to help them out with a problem. We say yes, because we do not want to be unpopular, and we do not want to appear rude.

Of course, there are our bosses asking (telling us?) to do something we do not want to do. In these situations we often have no choice. But even then, perhaps you do have a choice, but your fear of upsetting your boss or being seen as a ‘rebel’ forces you to comply.

Many of the things we say yes to, we do not have to say yes to. In fact, we should say no.

But being focused is more than just saying “no’ to invites. It’s also saying no to new ideas we want to try. New things we want to do. And that can be very hard.

It is one reason so many people are great at starting things but never finish anything. New things are always exciting in the beginning but often become boring and routinal in the middle and that’s when something else, more exciting becomes attractive.

One area I see this manifested is with people who are constantly changing apps to try the latest, shiniest toy. The most unproductive people I know are those who are switching apps every few months in a vain search for an app that will do their work for them. The most productive people I know, use very basic tools, and never switch.

By sticking with apps you learn how to use them properly, you never have to duplicate your work and you eventually become bored with them so you become more focused on your work instead of constantly playing around with them to make them look prettier or to show you another view of all the work you are not doing.

Now, it is easy to write “say no to things you are not passionate about” but it is incredibly difficult to do. Yet, it is something we can practice and it is something we can learn to be better at.

When I look at people who have created amazing work, people like Ian Fleming, John Grisham and Piccaso, when they were in the process of creating, they shut themselves off from the outside world to focus on their work. Ian Fleming, for example, closed himself off for three hours every day for six weeks to write a James Bond novel. Everyone in his house, knew not to disturb him during that time. Fleming working on nothing else for the entire six weeks it took to write a James Bond novel.

It is that intense focus on one thing that creates amazing things. It is when we spread ourselves too thin that we perform badly, and we feel unfulfilled and ultimately unhappy.

What is your core work? If you work in customer service, your whole purpose, while at work, is delivering outstanding customer service. It is not to worry about staff parking issues or the latest office gossip. If you are in sales, your purpose is to sell the best solution to your customers, developing outstanding product knowledge, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your competitor products and understanding the minds of your customers should be your primary focus.

Throughout the day, you are going to have many opportunities to say “yes” or “no”. For most of us, our default is to say yes. We need to change that default to “no”. By having the default answer of “no” it will not be long before your biggest distractions will disappear. People who frequently try to pull you away from your core work will soon learn that it will be unlikely you will say yes to their request, so they will stop asking you.

Sure that will be uncomfortable at first. But imagine how incredibly productive you will become if people are not interrupting you and asking you to do things for them, or to attend meetings that will bring you no value.

So, perhaps the question we should all be asking is; do we want to be popular or do we want to create outstanding work? The irony is if you want lasting popularity and respect from your peers, then the way to go is to produce outstanding work and the way to produce outstanding work is to be completely focused on your work and your masterpiece.

I will leave you with this excerpt from the video:

“The thing with focus is it’s not sort of like this thing you aspire to or decide on Monday: ‘you know what? I’m going to be focused’. It is an every minute a “why are we talking about this? This is what we are working on” You can achieve so much when you truly focus.

What focus means is saying no to something that, with every bone in your body, you think is a phenomenal idea and you wake up thinking about it but you say no to it because you are focusing on something else.”

Thank you for reading my stories! 😊 If you enjoyed this article, hit those clapping hands below many times👏 It would mean a lot to me and it helps other people see the story.

My purpose is to help 1 million people by 2020 to live the lives they desire. To help people find happiness and become better organised and more productive so they can do more of the important things in life.

If you would like to learn more about the work I do, and how I can help you to become better organised and more productive, you can visit my website or you can say hello on Twitter, YouTube or Facebook and subscribe to my weekly newsletter right here.




Writing to help people become more productive.

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Carl Pullein

Carl Pullein

I help people learn to manage their lives and time better so they can experience joy and build a life they are truly proud of.

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