Embrace the Power of No

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

The word “no” can come with a lot of baggage.

Being on the receiving end of a no can be a blow to one’s ego, but saying yes to everything isn’t a good strategy either. It’s only going to make you feel overwhelmed. And at the end of the day, no one is productive when they feel pulled in ten different directions. It also makes other people take advantage of your time. Once you say yes to someone or something a few times, it can become expected.

This is when putting your foot down often can save your sanity. You might find that you’re doing more of the things you love. Entrepreneurs need focus. Entrepreneurs are pulled in many different directions and have to try to maintain their centeredness. Here are four questions to ask yourself before you make a decision:

  1. Do I truly want and need to do this task/request?
  2. What do I personally gain out of doing this task or attending this event?
  3. How does doing this task/request advance a key strategic business priority?
  4. What are my most important and urgent tasks to be done? Does this request “fit into” these priorities?

Pretty simple, right? Well, life can be messy and feelings can cloud our judgment. One of the most difficult things about saying no is a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). But I challenge you to look at the other side of the coin. Here are five things you sometimes get by saying no:

  1. Time to do whatever you’ve been putting off, personally or professionally.
  2. Power to be more in control of your life.
  3. Confidence to say no more often. The first time is the hardest.
  4. Safety from spreading yourself too thin.
  5. Opportunities you didn’t even know were out there. Since you are more available, you’ll find them!

The bottom line: don’t be afraid to say no more often. You might discover it’s the best thing for your well-being and your business. It is easy to say yes, but as one smart person opined “you really show maturity when you begin to set boundaries by saying no. What’s on your stop doing list?” Jim Collins asks, what percentage of your time falls outside these three overlapping circles described below (Collins calls this your Personal Guidance Mechanism and Gallup would call this leveraging your strengths)?

  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What are you are genetically encoded for — what activities do you feel just “made to do”?
  • What makes economic sense — what can you make a living at?

For the percentage outside of these areas above, start intentionally putting items on your stop doing list. Think about how to protect your time (time really is energy) to focus on doing the important things first. This means focusing on Covey Time Mgmt quadrant I activities and expanding your quadrant II activities while you stop doing the other tasks.

If you’ve embraced the power of no recently, how did it enrich your life? We can all learn from your insights.


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