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Your Biggest Productivity Thief: Saying Yes

Area of Refuge image by Billy Freeman

Life is unpredictable. Whether it’s something in your personal or professional world, the unexpected is always around the corner.

Say your best friend from college is in town unexpectedly and wants to go for dinner. Or, your coworker calls in sick, which means you need to work overtime in preparation for the big event next week. Maybe a family member has a medical emergency right before you leave for vacation. What it is doesn’t matter, because there could always be something, often when you least want or expect it. And you will never have the time to work all of these unpredictable events into your schedule. And even if you can do it all, should you?

How Saying Yes Can Bring You Down

Your time is important, so you should do your utmost to protect it. Unfortunately for you, there will most likely always be a myriad of tasks and people all vying for your time. Saying yes to everyone and everything won’t allow you to spend enough time on the things that matter the most, especially your one thing that you should be focusing on doing to make everything else easier and more achievable. To quote Gary Keller and Jay Papasan in , “Saying yes to everyone is the same as saying yes to nothing. Each additional obligation chips away at your effectiveness at everything you try.”

The inability to say no is the first of the four productivity thieves described in the book. If you can’t , not only will you compromise your priorities and your promises, you will stretch yourself too thin to make any sort of impact. And in doing so, you will fail both yourself and your commitments.

This first thief appears in many forms. Saying yes can be as simple as letting yourself get caught up talking by the coffee machine when you have a tight deadline to meet. It can be as big as agreeing to help someone start a budget for their business when you have your own taxes to file. It can be big or small, internal or external, conscious or subconscious. Whether you’re saying yes to something fun to do or something you feel obligated to help with, the end result is the same: you are distracted from completing important tasks that will affect your path to success. You simply won’t get to your one thing. If you say yes to everything, your day will probably resemble the figure below, which gets you a lot of wasted time and potential.

Figure from The One Thing 

Of course, you shouldn’t ignore everything in your life in pursuit of a single goal. But you need to know what you are giving up whenever you do decide to say yes. “When you say yes to something, it’s imperative that you understand what you’re saying no to,” Gary and Jay say. Saying yes isn’t a bad thing as long as you are aware of the consequences.

Now that you understand the threat to your time. You’ll need to defend it. And to create a comprehensive defense, you are going to need a plan. Outlined below are strategies described by Gary and Jay in The One Thing that are designed to help you safeguard your time.

Build Your Bunker

Awareness of how you are spending your time is your foremost weapon in But there are smaller tools to assist you. One of these is the bunker method. Your bunker is a place you can go to that is removed from distractions so you can function at your best. Now, this doesn’t mean you should lock yourself in a windowless room with nothing but a laptop 24/7. It’s not meant to be a punishment. However, building a bunker is an excellent idea to help you focus on your important tasks and not allow people to distract you or your time. Whether it’s a cube at the local library or a quiet room in your house, a bunker is a place where you can go and know you won’t be disturbed by people or outside distractions. In other words, it’s a productivity-specific environment intended to support your ability to focus only on your one thing.

Figure from The One Thing

When you set your mind to using a bunker for the purpose of focusing on your most important thing, the strength of that intention on your mindset cannot be underestimated.  

Time-Block Your Bunker Time

Getting into your bunker is a great first step. But once you’re in there, you need a plan of action. This is where comes in. Create a firm schedule to block time around your core priorities. This will make saying no to yourself and others easy, because your choice is already made—what you’re doing with your time is written in your schedule. You’re booked. Your time is precious, and it’s up to you how to spend it, whether that’s on work, family, friends, or anything else that matters. The important thing is to always spend it with intention and focus.

Of course, life rarely conforms to a schedule all the time. Sometimes there will be things that arise that you simply can’t ignore. If that happens, you will have to be ready to rearrange your time. Life is unpredictable, but, if you have a clear understanding of what you want and need to do, you'll be able to adjust far faster.

Like Gary and Jay say in The One Thing, “Learning to say no [is] a way to gain the greatest freedom and flexibility possible.” When you allow yourself to say no, build a bunker around your priorities, and block your time, you can be confident and purposeful in what you say yes to. This puts the best you forward for every interaction and task.

Article written by Gus Papasan 

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