Where is your Stop Doing list?
So many of us have trouble saying no. We’re the agreeable types, always willing to offer a yes here and a yes there. We overcommit. This leads to overwhelm with all the yeses we’ve been giving out like candy. And then we become overburdened by the requests of others. We’re frazzled and we don’t feel like we’re getting anything done.
Steve Jobs used to say that what you say no to is as important — if not more important — than what you say yes to. Steve was a legend at saying no. He not only set the design standard; he set the standard on saying no. Thousands of tiny design considerations go into each Apple product we use every day. Thousands of little no’s are invisible in the iPhone in your hand. The stylus was always the biggest no to Steve for iPhone and iPad. Steve hated the stylus. He insisted the finger should be the stylus.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is really successful people say ’No’ more often.”
— Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett also says don’t swing at every pitch. While this is a baseball metaphor, it applies to business and investment pitches within his context. Imagine if every investor or venture capitalist even tried to swing at every pitch. It would be overbearing and would likely cause complete professional failure.
Steve Jobs did not swing at every pitch. In fact, he greatly reduced the number of pitches Apple put out there (or hit out of the park) when he returned to Apple in the late 90’s. When Steve returned, Apple was disjointed and unfocused, playing in weird product categories like printers. One of Jobs’ first acts upon return was to slash Apple’s product categories they played in down by 90%. A big part of Steve’s leadership legend was focus: choosing where you are and where you are not playing. Steve had a keen eye for not only products, but where technology was headed. He wanted Apple to be at the pinnacle of technology. Setting the standard once again.
Back to Buffett. Warren talks about how you should think of your investments like a punch card with 20 punches on it. You get 20 shots / pitches / at bats, and that is all you get. So, you have to make each one count. This limiting mechanism enables focus and discipline. The fewer chances one gets, the more dedication, practice and care one will put into them. Unlimited chances means unlimited trail and error — not exactly a good way to make money in investing. Only 20 investment decisions means a lot of no’s.
The higher you go in the business world, the more everyone wants a piece of you. Sure, you attract some detractors, but you also attract a lot of pitches. People set up communication blocks and gatekeepers to try to keep the pitchers at bay, having others say no on their behalf. (Perhaps this is another form of making it: others saying no on your behalf.) No one can get anything done with their day if they’re just hearing pitch after pitch after pitch. Even the Shark Tank Sharks don’t hear that many pitches. They’re filtered by producers. They say no for a living so others can say it a little less frequently.
You don’t have to be a Buffett or a Jobs or a Shark to start saying no now. Though you can be more careful with your yeses (and investments) as Buffett and Jobs advise. Your personal and professional time is limited, and you should invest it as best as you see fit. As mentioned earlier, many of us are people pleasers. We want to look good in the eyes of others, our friends, our family, our co-workers, which makes it difficult for us to say no to their requests. You don’t have to turn the dial 180 degrees to full-blown NO each time. Like beginning any new habit, start small. Start by saying yes a little slower. Ask more questions before the yes or no. Be more curious before giving the yes or no. Get to the heart of the matter. This works really well at work and over email. It’s a little more difficult in-person, but you’ll get better. A simple beginning is stopping Yes as the default.
Your ability to say no is also your gateway to reducing overwhelm. People pleasers often find themselves overcommitted, especially to things they don’t really want to do. The antidote to this is more no’s and protecting time. The more no’s you’re able to state, the more focused you become on what really matters to you. And the more focused and disciplined you become in your decision-making, the more successful outcomes you can anticipate.