Becoming good at what you do requires you to say yes a lot. Becoming great requires you to say no a lot.
Say no to the trivial many so you can focus on the vital few. I’ve come across this idea many, many times in the last few years. Here are just a few quotes I’ve saved over that time from some of my favorite books and thought leaders on this concept.
Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?”
― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
The best way to build a brand that matters, a story that spreads, an impact that we remember, is to understand a simple but painful trade-off:
If you want to stand for something, You can’t stand for everything.
“Anyone can be our customer and we will get you what you want…” is almost impossible to pull off. So is, “we are the cheapest and the most convenient and the best.”
It didn’t work for Sears, or for Chevrolet or for Radio Shack. It definitely doesn’t work for the local freelancer, eager to do whatever is asked.
Relentlessly trimming what’s on offer, combined with a resolute willingness to say, “no,” are two characteristics of great brands. And linchpins, too.
Use this rule if you’re often over-committed or too scattered.
If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about something, say “no”.
When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” — then say “no.”
When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say “HELL YEAH!”
Every event you get invited to. Every request to start a new project. If you’re not saying “HELL YEAH!” about it, say “no.”
We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out.
Here’s the problem: I suck at the execution of this beautiful idea. I over-committ myself and end up giving everything an equal, mediocre level of attention. In the Tim Ferriss version of the idea above, I’m stuck between good and great.
Here’s some hope: Recently we decided to trim our list of potential clients – we will no longer pursue any prospects whose potential revenue is below a certain threshold. This will free us up to focus on our more fruitful, long term clients. Then, a few days later, one of these clients that we “cut” called and wanted us to do a very small project. After some discussion, we said no!
Now… where else can this be applied?