Janine Garner is the author of Be Brilliant – how to lead a life of influence (Wiley) and is a global thought leader on powerful networking, collaboration and transformational leadership. In this guest post, Garner argues that saying “no” is often hard but could be transformative for your business and your life…
In 2011 I’d left my well-paying corporate job to set up my own business. I jumped in with everything I had – time, an insane amount of energy and passion and a little bit of saved up cash. It was full on head down, bottom up as I hustled, networked, burnt the midnight oil and said ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that came my way. After all I was the CEO, COO, CIO and chief of absolutely bloody everything including a mother of three kids, wife, sister, daughter and friend – and in my mind, I had to do everything to make this work. I thought I had to work ridiculous hours, to get noticed, to be doing the ‘right thing’, to be successful.
I’d work into the night, at weekends, checking my phone at all times of the day—even when I was supposed to be relaxing on holiday. I mean, only wimps need time off, right?
How wrong I was! The opportunity cost of all my ‘yes’s’ was physical and mental exhaustion and whilst I may have looked like the swan swimming smoothly above the lake underneath I was actually paddling like the craziest duck on the lake but not moving anywhere fast.
Things had to change. I had to take back control, get clear on my priorities and establish discipline and boundaries to ensure I was doing the right things, at the right time to maximise momentum. I had to stop saying ‘yes’ and be brave enough to start saying ‘no’. And surprise surprise, as soon as I got back in control of me, my time and my decisions, the momentum of my business and career kicked in.
This got me thinking about how many times we say ‘yes’ to something, when deep down we know we should say ‘no’? Why do we do this? Imagine how much further we could go if we could be more intentional about our ‘yes’s’ and our ‘no’s’.
Think about it – whether it be saying ‘no’ to an appointment that isn’t going to add value to either party, to taking on a piece of work that you haven’t got time to deliver or to a simple to-do when your day is already jam packed, these two simple letters when put together seem to cripple the best of us.
Every ‘yes’ we commit to invariably means we’re saying ‘no’ to something else and like in economics, there’s a trade-off every time. Every ‘yes’ has a cost in time, money or energy (often all three) and this investment means you don’t have said time, money or energy to invest in something else. Like yin and yang, black and white, night and day, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are inextricably linked. Knowing the value of what you’re giving up makes you wiser in your choices.
And yet, over and over again we seem to say ‘yes’ and focus solely on the possible gain of every opportunity that comes our way — for example, I need to take that free piece of work because it could add people to my database, or it may lead to some media coverage, or another sale somewhere down the track. But what about the loss?
The cost of that ‘yes’ is always time, energy, focus and sometimes money away from the very thing that actually needs your attention most. Why do we find it so hard to say ‘no’? Is it our innate desire to please? A need to feel wanted? Or simply because we don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings?
Whatever the reason, saying ‘yes’ too many times can create stress, tension and ultimately compromise quality. Those ‘yes’s’ challenge the ability to think clearly and rationally. They can impact the delivery of major goals and milestones. It may actually mean we move towards our vision in first gear instead of fifth because we’ve taken a detour off track, around the back of all the trees. (Know that saying, ‘Can’t see the wood for the trees’? …)
American author Darren Hardy said, ‘When it comes to comparing super achievers and everyone else, it has less to do with what they do and more to do with what they don’t do’.
Hardy is right. Successful people know how to put a big fat strike through the non-essentials: they deflect low priority work and decisions; run streamlined meetings; remove meetings from their calendars; and allocate time for reflection, high-quality thinking and their own health and wellbeing. They are intentional about how they manage their time and consequently their energy.
Don’t be the crazy duck that’s going nowhere slowly. Start saying ‘no’ when things don’t align to your values, priorities and goals and start saying ‘yes’ to the projects that matter to you, your career and your life.
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