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makes sense. To quote the investor Brent Beshore, “Saying no is so powerful because it preserves the opportunity to say yes.”

The general trend seems to be something like this: If you can learn to say no to bad distractions, then eventually you’ll earn the right to say no to good opportunities.

How to Say No

Most of us are probably too quick to say yes and too slow to say no. It’s worth asking yourself where you fall on that spectrum.

If you have trouble saying no, you may find the following strategy proposed by Tim Harford, the British economist I mentioned earlier, to be helpful. He writes, “One trick is to ask, “If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?” It’s not a bad rule of thumb, since any future commitment, no matter how far away it might be, will eventually become an imminent problem.”

If an opportunity is exciting enough to drop whatever you’re doing right now, then it’s a yes. If it’s not, then perhaps you should think twice.

This is similar to the well-known “Hell Yeah or No” method from Derek Sivers. If someone asks you to do something and your first reaction is “Hell Yeah!”, then do it. If it doesn’t excite you, then say no.

It’s impossible to remember to ask yourself these questions each time you face a decision, but it’s still a useful exercise to revisit from time to time. Saying no can be difficult, but it is often easier than the alternative. As writer Mike Dariano has pointed out, “It’s easier to avoid commitments than get out of commitments. Saying no keeps you toward the easier end of this spectrum.”

What is true about health is also true about productivity: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The Power of No

More effort is wasted doing things that don’t matter than is wasted doing things inefficiently. And if that is the case, elimination is a more useful skill than optimization.

I am reminded of the famous Peter Drucker quote, “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”


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