Conventional wisdom tells entrepreneurs and aspiring changemakers to do as much as possible. Go to all the events, take on all the projects, say yes to everything. “The more you do, the more you will succeed” so you need to say yes to everything.
This is bad advice.
Success is actually determined by what you say no to, not what you say yes to.
Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, as well as one of the biggest philanthropists ever, shares the same belief. He once said,
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Oh yeah, and Warren Buffet also has made 90% of his wealth from 10 trades. He knew early on that it would be impossible to make hundreds of right investment decisions.
Saying yes to everything leaves a person stretched thin and burnt out. Instead of giving their all on one important task or project, they can only give a portion of their time and energy to each. In essence, achieving only a percentage of what’s capable for each one.
A single person has only a finite amount of energy in a day. When you spend that energy among a bunch of different tasks, you don’t get very far.
In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of less, Greg Mckeown illustrates this issue perfectly with this image:
Non-Essentialists think opportunities are all basically equal while the essentialist looks for the vital few great ones, Mckeown asserts.
You can go much further when you put all of your energy into one task/project.
Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter and founder and CEO of Square, said he thinks of the role of CEO as being the chief editor of the company:
“By editorial I mean there are a thousand things we could be doing. But there are only one or two that are important. And all of these ideas… and inputs from engineers, support people, designers are going to constantly flood what we should be doing . . . As an editor I am constantly taking these inputs and deciding the one, or intersection of a few, that make sense for what we are doing.”
Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, says,
“ Most people wake up every morning with a task list of a thousand things to do. They go through the day trying to knock down all these
things. I wake up every morning, and I meditate, I drink tea or coffee. I go for a walk, and maybe I read a book. My whole goal is to slow down and look around. Instead of looking for all the tasks that I could do, I try to identify the one BIG Domino – the One Thing that, if I could knock THAT down, all the other dominos would either fall down or become irrelevant.”
Tim Ferris and Jack Dorsey are essentialists. They look for those one or two things that will actually matter. They say no to most of the opportunities. They know they have to say no to “good”, in order to be able to say yes to “great”.
In fact, being an essentialist isn’t just a good business practice, it is vital if you want to succeed:
After thousands of hours of research and hundreds of companies analyzed, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, found that the number one reason most big, successful companies collapsed was “the undisciplined pursuit of more.” In other words, they said yes just to say yes, and that led to their demise.
In sports, this has been vitally important for champions as well.
Vince Lombardi said, “Success demands singleness of purpose.”
So how can someone actually do less and succeed more? Especially in our attention deficit, social media world we live in today?
Here are the 3 keys to doing less and succeeding more:
- Say no much more than you say yes
We as humans have a hard time saying no to others. We are afraid of disappointing them. After all, we all evolved from a tribe society where your survival largely depended on the rest of the tribe liking you and helping you. After millions of years, we still can’t shake this innate need to please people.
But, if you want to succeed and live your best life, as Buffet said above, saying no is a must.
Use a filter for what you say yes to:
To make saying no easier, you must create a system for what you say yes to. You should be saying yes to only the top 10% of all opportunities.
Ask questions like these to help you decide:
- “Is this exactly what I am looking for? “
- “Is this a hell yeah?” (This is my go to when I am deciding on options. For me it is either a hell yeah or a no).
- “Does this align with my end goals/purpose/ essential intent?”
- “If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to sacrifice in order to attain it?”(this eliminates the endowment effect)
Ways to say no politely with assertiveness
The worst thing you can do is weakly say no or, a favorite for busy people, say yes but at a later date, hoping it will go away. Then the later date comes and you feel like you’re committed. Here are some ways to politely but assertively say no:
- My friend, I have to disappoint you . . .
- I’d love to, but I am way overcommitted . . .
- (my favorite) “I am flattered you thought of me, but I don’t have the bandwidth.
The key here is to root out all ambiguity. If you can quickly guide them in another direction or give them a resource that helps, that is a bonus. Just don’t feel like you have to do that every time.
I cover how to give up and eliminate things in your life extensively in my previous article which you can read here. In it, I also give you tactics for what to remove and how to remove them. I will say here that this is key to doing less and succeeding more. Removing things from your life adds focus, happiness, and ultimately success.
3. Focus and control your time
Your time, the most important finite resource we have. It’s amazing how little we protect this resource. We give it up freely, we waste it, we don’t prioritize it. If you don’t prioritize your time, others will.
How to focus and control your time:
- Be intentional with all of your time
As old school as it sounds, creating an hour by hour for your day is the best way to start controlling your time. I have been doing this for years to great success. The key here is to not be rigid and add stress to your life but to be intentional about your time. If tasks take longer to finish or meetings get moved around, simply move them into the next spot. But planning ahead will allow you to focus up and move from event to event with clarity and intention. Here is a screenshot of a typical week of mine (I use google calendar)
- Use time blocking
- I use time blocking to make time for my most important tasks. This means to block out a few hours each week (whichever time period you choose) to do deep work. As you can see, my Friday mornings are dedicated to Writing. I have these time blocks scattered throughout the week in a way that fits my lifestyle. Gary Keller, best selling author of The One Thing, uses time blocks to focus on all his most important projects. It’s actually how he wrote his book, which if you want to get serious about being an Essentialist, is a must read. Cal Newport, author of bestseller Deep Work, also uses time blocking and gets into the science of why it works in his book.
- Use a hard stop to control your time and avoid burnout. (I explain how to implement a hard stop in this article here)
By saying “no” more often and controlling my time, I have found that I have garnered more respect from people. I may not be popular in the moment, but respect is more important than popularity anyway. People will respect you when you respect yourself and your time
In the 2012 book “The top 5 regrets of the dying” the number one most common regret was this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Doing less to succeed more means you are choosing to live life on your terms, not others.
It is being an Essentialist.
The world is full of people looking to do more, be more, have more. But when you can do less but better, you will truly be living your best life and be that much closer to walking your authentic path.
Want to walk your authentic path?
Check out my book here to become a better you!