Thursday, May 21, 2009

no is the new yes

Here is a little essay I wrote for a website today. I may actually start following some of my own advice!!

Has this ever happened to you? It’s late on a Sunday evening, your fourth-grader has a diorama titled “Inuit at Home” due the next morning and he’s just thrown a major tantrum and stormed into his room because the igloo he hastily glued together from sugar cubes has collapsed. There is a now pile of sticky confection on the floor. Your washing machine buzzes to alert you to move the wet clothes to the dryer. Oh, but wait! You promised to coordinate the soccer practice carpool this week. And, you need to prepare for a meeting at ten the next morning. Your child continues to wail from his room.

And yes, there’s more! On the work front a colleague has asked you to respond to her blog post. You’re behind on Twitter, Facebook and Email. Your iPhone beeps to remind you that you’ve double-booked a conference call with a client and a conference with your son’s teacher. Oops!

If you’re a working parent, this is an all too familiar scenario. Even if you’re not a parent, you can probably relate to much of the logjam described above.

When overwhelmed, my business partner used to say, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay in the same place.” Then, when things got worse, she changed it to, “I’m running as fast as I can to stay hopelessly behind!”

Let’s face it, we live in a time and in a world where multi-tasking is the default, and the expectation is that we’ll get it all done regardless of how much more gets put on the plate. We are over-committed. We’ve become a nation of work-bingers! Seriously, think of the tasks in your day as food items. Forget the three squares, we’ve got our hands in the bag of Cheetos, the box of Twinkies and wrapped around the Big Gulp. We’re constantly “eating” and getting limited nutrition.

Okay, enough with the metaphors. What I’m getting at is this. We’re organizing our days around quantity in favor of quality. We continue to say “yes” to everything because we think we’ll let someone down if we say “no.” I can handle it, says that little voice in our heads that doesn’t want to succumb to our limited capacity for quality production.

As co-owners of a communications company, BridgePoint Creative, my business partner and I were also guilty of this behavior. We’d say “yes” to every project, and many volunteer opportunities as well. One day, though, I accidentally said “no.” A graphic designer who often partners with me for Web work asked if I’d be interested in heading a PR campaign for a caterer on the East Coast (I live on the West Coast). For some reason, I hypotheticized the invitation, putting a client in my place, and realized, et voila! that the combination of skillset, location and other work made the likelihood of success a long shot.

“I don’t think I’m the right person for this,” I said, instantly feeling both guilt and relief as the words left my lips.

My business partner looked over at me in horror. As soon as I hung up the phone, I asked her, “What did I just do?”

“I think you said ‘no’,” she said, in awe.

Five minutes later, one of our favorite clients called offering us a huge e-mail marketing campaign. Just like that—no proposal, no bid, just “do it!”

It was one of the weirdest experiences because of the huge neon sign that flickered: When one door closes, another opens! Aha, but that door did not close on its own. When I began to chronicle the myriad ways in which opportunity knocks, I realized that often I’d prepared myself in some way to invite it. By shifting my consciousness to a place, or a space, away from chaos and obligation, I’d allowed more room for intention.

The thing about the hamster wheel, and why we often feel helplessly ambushed by the onslaught of external demands, is that we re-act instead of pro-act. Once we start “driving the bus” instead of being a passenger, we find that we’re less exhausted and often become the recipient of path-altering benefits.

Here are just a few gains we make when we become more discerning:

• The beginning of the end of “analysis paralysis” where a new energy can be harnessed and activated in a particular direction
• Clarity, resolve and peace of mind
• Concrete goals and steps toward those goals
• A strong idea of what needs to be excluded in order for goals to be obtained

So give it a try! Make like a two-year-old and start practicing the word “no”!


  1. When someone asks a favor, pause before responding.
  2. Keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times.
  3. Start your day writing down the three main things you wish to accomplish by day’s end.
  4. Every time a new task is added to your day, write it on the same page as your top three, but underneath.
  5. Practice these words: “I’d love to talk more about this, but I’m going to have to cut it short today. Let’s schedule another time to talk.”
  6. Every month you should fill out a personal “intake” form. At the top of the form answer this question: “What do I never want to do again in my life.”
  7. Remember this: the right thing and the familiar thing are often different.
  8. Stretch out of your comfort zone at least once a week.
  9. Think of your day in a big picture way, rather than in ten minute increments.
  10. Stick to your guns! Don’t cave! Some people will make you repeat “no” several times before they get the message.

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great blog post. I love it and am forwarding the link on to my business accountability partner! Thank you.


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