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How to Be Great — Learn to Say No

Today’s world is tumultuous, complex, and distracting. Each day from the moment we wake up there are often hundreds of things that demand our attention, like reading the most recent breaking news report, watching that TV show everyone’s raving about, or talking to friends on social media.

Every single one of these distractions are tempting, who doesn’t want to be on top of the latest tech news? But they’re still distractions.

It’s almost universally recognized that most people have problems with saying no (check out this Psychology Today article from 2014), and it’s all rooted in our want to avoid conflict. Although saying “no” won’t cause a major war, it still creates some disharmony that our brains interpret as conflict. Another common reason for not saying no is people don’t want to seem rude or waste a possible opportunity.

These are all understandable reasons for wanting to say “yes”. In fact, saying “yes” a lot may even make you more popular. But it does hurt your productivity, a lot.

If you’re always helping others, you’ll never be able to spend a lot of focused time on what matters to you, and as selfish as that seems, you have to take care of your stuff too.

Instead of letting these tempting offers distract you, you have to learn to say no to them so you can spend time on your own work.

All of us have big aspirations or dreams in our lives, dreams that can’t be achieved without laser focus. Saying no to distractions is ultimately saying yes to greatness, it’s saying yes to putting in the extra mile and sacrificing all the other “yes” opportunities that most people won’t.

Be very clear and consistent about your boundaries, and make sure others are clear about your free time.

You should be fighting for your dreams as if it was a matter of life or death, because it is a matter of your life.

This isn’t easy to do. As a student and someone who has lofty career aspirations, there’s a lot of opportunities that I have every day, very tempting opportunities both professionally and personally. Unfortunately I’m only one person. It sucks, but there’s a lot of really great projects, relationships, and people that I’ve had to divest my time in to maintain laser focus on what matters most to me. And of course I still make mistakes (I’m currently overcommitted to things at time of writing), but the discipline I’ve been building on when to say “yes” has grown quite a bit.

Your dreams deserve your 100%, and you can’t achieve that unless you can say no to the distractions that take away from that 100%. Here’s to a brighter and more focused you.

Keep in Touch

There’s a lot of content out there and I appreciate you reading mine. I’m an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley in the MET program and a young entrepreneur. I write about software development, startups, and failure (something I’m quite adept at). You can signup for my newsletter here or check out what I’m working on at my website.

Feel free to reach out and connect with me on Linkedin or Twitter, I love hearing from people who read my articles :)



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Caelin Sutch

Founder, engineer, designer. Passionate about building cool shit.