Last week we discussed the vital importance of knowing what your most important goals are in your personal and professional life—the direction you want to go. That is the foundation for this week’s lesson.
“It is the super-achievers, and only the super-achievers, who have learned to say No.”
The word “NO” might be the most important word when it comes to productivity. Once you identify what’s important, you need to start saying NO to a lot of stuff—a lot.
Let me explain.
A few years ago, I got a promotional opportunity I had been seeking for years. In an effort to cope with the pace of my new job, I became obsessed with maximizing my time.
I took classes, read articles, watched webinars, and even read mind-numbing books on how to organize my email.
Like an overstuffed refrigerator where you can’t close the door, I wedged things into every tight corner of my weekly schedule. At 5am I checked email. Some days I had 8 hours of meetings. Then talked with coworkers on my drive home.
I thought I was becoming “successful.”
If you’ve read my articles long enough, most of you know I am also passionate about work-life balance. Therefore, I also tried to make sure I scheduled exercise, outdoors activities on the weekend, time with my wife, and church. Some weeks I actually managed to do this.
So what happened? I became completely exhausted and ineffective in all areas.
I wasn’t a focused leader at work and the listening skills I honed so carefully in graduate school began to go down the toilet. I had a really hard time being present with my wife, or any other area of life for that matter.
Here is today’s BIG IDEA—By trying to do everything, I was also diluting my time and energy in every area, at work and home.
Organizational expert Patrick Lencioni says it this way, “When everything is a priority, nothing is.”
In one of my favorite books ever, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author and Stanford lecturer Greg Mckeown tells a funny story about the word priority. The word priority was first used in the 1400s. For nearly 500 years, the word was singular and meant—the very first thing. Only in the 1900s did we begin to use it to mean—multiple first things.
Every person has limited time and energy. And we have never been more distracted or had so many choices than we have in the modern world.
For most of us, we face an endless onslaught of texts, emails, social media, advertisements, buzzes, dings, and whooshes. Any number of devices can fight for our attention.
Screen addiction isn’t even interesting news anymore. So many studies have confirmed the dangers that they are even putting apps on phones that will help you monitor your screen time.
If you want to pursue real productivity and have real impact with your life, you must learn to say No to lots of things so that you can ensure the vitally important things in your life get the best of you.
Clear priorities for our lives, and our days can help us surgically slice through the endless potential distractors.
One key principle from our marriage class last year—No one arrives at a great marriage by accident. Cultivating a deep relationship takes large and consistent investments of time. There is no hack.
Whether you want to develop a great marriage or become a great leader, it will mean that you need to cut out a lot of low-value time-wasting activities in your life. That part is often easy.
But it also means saying No to a lot of good opportunities, so that you have room for the very best.
If you want to be an elite leader or leave a great legacy at home, you need to develop powerful No muscles. You need to have focus and intensity for only a few truly important things.
The media loves to sensationalize overnight successes, but there is no such thing. Nearly all great things come from a consistent time investment over long periods of time in just a few things.
“Only once you give yourself permission to truly stop trying to do it all, can you make your highest contribution to the world.”
Your homework—turn information into action:
- Start by identifying the obvious time wasters in your life.
- Experiment with saying No to something this week in any of the following areas and write down what you learned:
- Social Media
- Your boss
- Read the rest of this series!
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less—Greg Mckeown
- The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham—Myra and Shelley