Every Yes Is Also a No

Takeaway: Motivate yourself to say “no” to unimportant projects and commitments by bringing to mind the important things you’re saying “no” to when you agree to them. This helps you take on tasks with greater intention.

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes, 46s.

Many productivity authors talk about the importance of saying “no” to unimportant things. It’s easy to see why: saying no to something unimportant gives you more time to spend on things that are. But it’s worth getting specific. When you say no to something, what exactly are you saying yes to?

Next to my desk are a few pictures of the most important people in my life. While I originally put these photos here because they’re nice to look at, over time, they’ve turned into a reminder of what I’m saying no to when I say yes to something else.

My work involves a lot of travel—for speaking engagements, to lead workshops, and to conduct interviews for books and articles. I love this part of my job. Not only do I get to help people become more productive, I also get to visit new and novel places. With that said, travel is nowhere near the most meaningful aspect of my life—the people in it are. Every time I say yes to traveling somewhere, I say no to spending time with the people in those picture frames.

Whenever I’m on the fence about doing an event, or thinking about traveling far from home, I weigh that decision against the people in the frames. Sometimes it’s worth it, but often it isn’t.

Bring to mind a few meaningful activities: spending time with your family, traveling, or playing an instrument. These are what you say no to when you say yes to working late, watching Netflix, and using your smartphone in bed.

On a similar note, bring to mind your core work tasks: meeting new clients, writing proposals, or keeping your team on track. These are what you say no to when you say yes to unnecessary projects, checking your email superfluously, or agreeing to an unnecessary meeting.

It forever seems that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. You make more intentional decisions when you consider what you’re saying no to when you say yes to something else. Make sure the things you say yes to are both meaningful and valuable—because every yes is also a no.

Illustration by Sinisa Sumina.

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