“If something is not a “hell, YEAH!”, then it’s a “no!” – James Altucher
I was leafing through the big enough company: Creating a business that works for you by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Abrams and stopped at the bit where they talked about the importance of learning to say no.
It’s interesting, really, that we can only make progress when we realise what we should not do.
After all, there are unlimited options open to us, any number of routes we can take, a plethora of choices.
But we have to winnow them down to the ones we want to take.
And that takes some thought.
So, I wondered, what kind of model could you use to do that.
Let’s take a traffic light and see if that helps us think about how to spend our time.
What if we spent some time saying no, some time working for money and some time building assets.
What would that make our life look like?
Saying no, I think, is about being very choosy about what you say yes to.
That includes saying no to having a mess on your desk – but saying yes to the two painted stones and misspelled Christmas card from your son.
It means saying no to unpaid work, demands on your time for free consulting or help but saying yes to charitable work or pro-bono support you do because you want to.
It means saying no to having a drawer full of free pens from conferences and rubbish pencils but saying yes to two Tombow Mono100 2B pencils that feel like you’re writing with butter.
The thing with being productive or efficient or having good relationships is saying yes to having the things that matter – that add value or, to use Marie Kondo’s phrase, spark joy.
The rest has to go and be replaced with nothing – or with something that can be used to respond politely but firmly.
So, for example, if you keep getting requests to explain what you do then create something that you can point them to – we’ll come back to this in a minute.
Or draft a polite response that says why you can’t do what they want and use that draft again and again.
Because you need your time to do other things.
Working for money
Other things like working for money, although you need to proceed cautiously.
Working for money is a dangerous thing to do – in some cases it has benefits – like the money but you are also exchanging time that you’ll never get back.
Think of it this way – let’s say a very wealthy person came to you and asked how much you wanted to sell 10 minutes of your life – ten minutes that would pass to him and ten minutes less that you would live.
You might ask for quite a lot.
But, that’s the same thing you give away every day for whatever you make, and if you don’t make very much or are forced by an auction process to reduce your price to what the market clears at – what sort of bargain are you making?
The only time to work for money, given a choice, is when you are learning – when you’re growing.
If you turn up and that isn’t happening then you need to be concerned – because maybe you aren’t proceeding with as much caution as you should.
It’s the difference between working in a fast food place because you need how many every dollars they pay an hour and working there because you want to see how a business like that works and want to buy a franchise of your own eventually.
Where you should be spending your time is building assets.
Assets are things that live on after you put your time into creating them.
A clear explanation of what you do on a website, in a video, in something you can show is an asset.
It’s the kind of asset that you can use when someone asks you to explain – rather than getting on the phone and losing an hour you can point them to it.
Assets can be those physical things you have – stuff that helps you serve customers but it’s also the content you have, the intellectual property, the skillset and the experience.
Your assets also include your relationships – the ones with colleagues, other professionals and, perhaps most importantly, your family.
There’s no point building a business that makes loads of money and losing your family along the way – finding that your grown up children have nothing in common with you and want nothing to do with you.
Think before you move
I suppose the point is that we’re all going through life pretty quickly – speeding up as we age.
Each time we come to do something that makes a demand on our time we should probably stop and look at a mental traffic light, always set to red.
Then move forward carefully, setting off on orange if everything seems safe and committing to the move when it’s all green.
Hopefully, when you look back over time, you’ll have gotten the decisions mostly right.