Saying “No”


I have a hard time saying no.

Someone has a good idea that they are clearly passionate about. They need me to help out and it seems interesting so I’ll often say yes.

By saying yes to this I am effectively saying no to many other things.

I know, that’s not a news flash. And I’m not suggesting we say no just so that we’re available if something better comes along. I’m saying that the people I know who get the most done—the people who make important contributions—seem to be better than most at knowing what to focus on.

On the other hand, there are plenty of crackpots who waste their life obsessing about something. We look at their lives as full of wasted opportunities.

One difference between these crackpots and the geniuses is in what they focused their efforts on. Another difference is in the compromises each is willing to make.

Most of us aren’t crackpots and we aren’t geniuses. We could, however, use a little more focus in our lives.

We’ve fooled ourselves into believing we can work in front of the television or safely drive while we’re on the phone. We can’t.

But, you point out, we can. We do it all the time.

We do. And we don’t get as much out of any individual activity when we do more than one at a time. Our work isn’t our best work, we aren’t deriving enjoyment out of the television program, we’re not fully engrossed in our phone call, and we are not driving with the attention it requires.

We have to multitask though. There’s no way we can do all that we need to do if we only do one thing at a time.

This brings us back to saying “no”.

If I can only do one thing at a time then I have to decide if this additional obligation is worth my not being able to do something else I’d like to do – watch my daughter play soccer, go out for a meal with a friend, polish my slides for an upcoming talk.

You need to think more like an executive programming a single cable television station. They can only run one program at a time. Too often we think like the television watcher with their clicker in their hand flipping from channel to channel and not fully watching any one program.

What does this “yes” mean that I’m saying “no” to?