Leverage the power of “yes” and “no” to focus

The most productive people understand the power of a good solid “no.” And they use it ruthlessly with their friends, colleagues, clients, and even family members. Because they know that saying “yes” to others can take up all their time and energy, preventing them from focusing on what matters the most.

Time is a zero-sum game. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, and 168 hours per week. That’s all you get. You can’t add a few extra minutes in an hour or a few hours to the day or find spare time like pocket change. That’s why it’s essential to understand that each time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to someone else, which might have been more important to you.

That’s why it’s crucial to be super-careful when it comes to commitments. For example, each time you say “yes” to a 9:30 am breakfast meeting or brainstorming session; you’re saying “no” to a writing or reading session. Likewise, when you say “yes” to an evening call with a client or your team, you’re saying “no” to dinner time with family.

One strategy that I’ve found super-useful lately is the use of my calendars. I’ve got three — one for my business, one for my work/employer, and a personal calendar. They’re synced to each other and have set start (10 am) and end (9 pm) times so that I’m not attending 11:30 pm calls or end up overbooking/committing myself.

If someone reaches out to me for an appointment, I ask them to find time in my calendar. That ensures that I don’t have people blocking out time when I’m supposed to be in the gym or have another appointment. If they get back to me saying they “can’t find any slot today,” I politely ask them to find a slot for tomorrow.

Yes, exceptions can be made if there’s an emergency; otherwise, it’s wise to respect and follow the calendar to the core, which reminds me of another aspect that work — rituals. Not only can they find a place in your calendar, but they also help you guard your time and let you focus on the most important things.

Rituals (or routines) can help structure behaviour while clarifying how you want to work the particular day. I’ve found rituals to be huge timesavers, and once established, they take little willpower to execute.

A couple of rituals that I follow are the morning and workday-startup rituals. The former comprises making coffee, journaling, writing, reading, training, and planning for the day. The latter includes email catch-up, reviewing your schedule, and informing your team of the hours you will not be available today.

Having your routines in place and using your calendar as a productivity tool is a powerful way of saying “yes” to the things that help you move forward to your goals. It’s a deliberate plan to say “no” to all the distractions automatically.

As I said before, if you’re saying “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else and vice-versa. The big question is, what are you saying “no” to?

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