The Power Of Saying No

It’s too easy to say yes to everything at the office. Whether you have your own boss to impress or your own employees to help, there’s a very real temptation to be the guy who’s available any time for anything. But this is hardly some sustainable model for how to govern a business. Knowing what is effective and appropriate to do is just as important as knowing what isn’t effective and is inappropriate when it comes to propelling your business forward.

You can change it all with one simple word: no.

American hedge fund manager and blogger James Altucher is a big proponent of this powerful word of only two letters. Used intelligently, “no” will protect your personal time and energy so that they may be more strongly redirected towards areas that will actually affect positive change in your work and life.

Altucher suggests several things we should say no to, and there are many more listed in a presentation he gave. Here are some of our favorites.

Say no to social pressure. It’s useless. Very rarely is the crowd thinking as intelligently as the individual or small group. Don’t be afraid to go your own way unapologetically and adjust your course on the way. Ignore the pop wisdom that so many adhere to like a religion. If you want to do something truly unique, you’re nearly required to be alone to do so — you’re going where no one’s been.

The cultural critic Terence McKenna put it bluntly: “The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered[…]”

Say no to anxiety. Anxiety saps you of your energy as though you’re actively working on a problem, but anxiety’s trick is that you never actually get any closer to a solution. This is the great calculation between thinking and doing. Do your best to strike a happy balance. Form a plan and invest some thought, certainly, but don’t let your mind run away from itself. You’ll have to hand the task over to your hands at some point. This is the doing. Carelessness is when you do without thinking. Anxiety is the opposite problem, thinking all the time without doing. Balance your thinking with your doing and you can effectively say no to anxiety.

Say no to harsh or abusive people. As the classic three-word thought goes: life’s too short. Don’t spend it working around negative zombies who aren’t on the same page as you when it comes to your company’s goals and mission. You want to working with people who are as invested in a project as you are yourself. Positivity breeds positivity. Minimize your exposure to chronically negative people (carriers of the “virus”). Maximize your exposure to lighter, happier people so that you might absorb their energy.

We unfortunately live in a time where the conventional wisdom suggests we should say yes to everything for the sake of rising to every challenge and maximizing every opportunity. But we forget that we can pick our battles and redirect our efforts to see greater gains in areas we choose rather minor increases everywhere at once. It’s strategy, employed at every level, and it might make quite a difference for you.