Finding Your “No”

By Scott Westerman

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” – Hans Hofmann

One of the things you will discover as you become successful is this: The more you do, the more people will ask you to do.

Exceed your targets at work and there will be new, higher targets. Do a great job on one board, and people will want you on a dozen boards.

Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement, is something toward which we should all strive. But be sure you understand your own personal definition of improvement. It doesn’t necessarily mean doing more.

If you’ve had a business course, you likely know the name Peter Drucker. As the Father of Modern Management, Drucker gave us a number of good maxims including the concept of the “knowledge worker”. What is not as well known, is that his advice for personal growth includes practicing “systematic abandonment”.

He wrote that “People are effective because they say no…because they say, ‘This isn’t for me’.” And he advocated regular reflection on what you can cut out of your daily routine to make room for something more rewarding.

I used to start every budget season by telling my team, “The time we invest in the new year will be just as important as the money we invest. Our success may well be determined by what we decide we’re not gonna do.”

When was the last time you took out a pad of paper (or your iPad) and listed everything that takes up your time? Try keeping an activity log for 30 days and you’ll be surprised how much unproductive, unfulfilling things pop up on that list.

Then go back to that bucket list you’ve been keeping. You know… those things you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time to do.

Start crossing things off of your activity list that are sucking energy or aren’t generating enough joy and enthusiasm for you. Replace them with things that are on your bucket list.

This won’t be an easy exercise. Most self actualized people overbook themselves with many things that are worthwhile and rewarding. You may decide that you will want to stop doing something you enjoy… to do something you enjoy more.

Sometimes stopping an activity will cause discomfort for people you care about. As you prepare for that tough conversation, remember Herb Swope’s advice: “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.”

High performance people see the world as a huge orchard with hundreds of ripe apples falling off of every tree. They stand at the edge with a small basket made up of time and energy and want to try to grab every last every last apple, to make the most of every opportunity.

Some people are even paralyzed by the fear that they might pick the wrong apple and regret it. They are afraid that if they  invest time in a new career path, a self development course, or a new relationship, and end up not liking it,  and regret their decision.

Rather than taking any chance, they do nothing.

Your assignment: Live a life of ongoing self discovery.

As Drucker says, “What matters is that the knowledge worker, by the time he or she reaches middle age, has developed and nourished a human being rather than a tax accountant or a hydraulic engineer.”

Realize that you don’t have to do it all, that you can start down a road and decide to take a different road later on. Life really is that abundant apple orchard, but you don’t have to eat every last one.

Nourish the exceptional human being that you are, and remember that, in the end, the only one you really have to make happy… is you.

3 Replies to “Finding Your “No””

  1. This is probably some of the best, and most difficult to abide by, advice anyone could give. I have a lot of trouble taking it myself, and find myself bogged down with a lot of things I wish I could accomplish but just can’t realistically get done, considering the current context. Not only does this advice mean saying no to someone else, but also saying no to yourself…I often think of a lot of ideas, but have to systematically ask myself, “where in the world will you find time to do this?” So, I write it down, store it for later, in case the time does free up (or, someone comes along willing and ready to take on that challenge).

    thanks for the post, Scott!

  2. Saying no at work has been one of the hardest things for me to learn. I like to have control over what is being done–especially if my name is on it! I find that I am a more balanced, calm individual because of my ability to say no. Great points Scott!

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