Prioritization is key to driving your business forward – you know that. But, just thinking about saying no might be enough to tie you up in knots. Still, you’ve got to master it – saying no to eliminate what’s nonessential, so you can focus on what really matters.
Famed business strategist and author, Michael Porter, said: “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Greg Mckeown, the author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, wrote: “if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”
It’s not a lack of knowledge.
We all know that saying no can be liberating. But, we don’t do it. Why?
In a previous article on my blog, I explored 5 Barriers to Great Strategy. One of those barriers? Saying “yes” to everything and failing to prioritize. Today, I want to give you the tools and self-awareness to start saying “no.”
When confronted with the choice to say yes or no, we often feel like a deer in the headlights – and we blurt out “yes” before we’ve even had time to think about the demands on our time and energy.
Why does saying no make us feel so uncomfortable? Perhaps, it’s because we’re hard-wired for human connection. As a new entrepreneur, when you put yourself out there for the first time, the last thing you want is to disappoint anyone or turn people away.
But, actually, that’s exactly what you need to do.
DON’T COMPROMISE YOUR STRATEGIC DIRECTION
You need to start seeing opportunity costs.
Here’s the critical reframe: by saying yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.
For example, by saying yes to sleeping in, I’m saying no to writing my blog – because I’m choosing comfort over discomfort.
Or, by saying yes to helping a friend complete their project, I’m saying no to advancing my project or my clients’ project – because I’m choosing to give that time to someone else.
Certainly, this frame would be helpful in retrospect, as you reflect on what to do differently next time. But, if you can bring it to mind before a decision is made, you might save yourself from going down the wrong path in the first place.
How do you do that? The process is simple. The discipline of doing it, however, is not.
First, give yourself permission to pause, reflect, weigh your options, and see the trade-offs.
Second, use short-cuts to maximize the space you create in that pause moment, effectively making some choices – like saying no – more automatic.
FOLLOW THE PROCESS
Let’s look at a common example for new entrepreneurs: pricing decisions. If you haven’t already, you will get questions about your prices. That’s normal.
It’s not you. It’s actually other people – who may or may not be your target customer. They may ask you to change your prices or even do things for free. This is, of course, an important moment to weigh the trade-offs of saying yes and no.
First, pause. Create awareness by asking yourself questions:
- What am I giving up? (because everything has a cost)
- How is this consistent or inconsistent with my strategy?
- What would have to be true for me to say YES to this request?
Second, use a shortcut to automate your action.
One of my go-to shortcuts is to establish “Yes Criteria.”
“Yes Criteria” serve as “tests” that will help you decide if a choice will be worthwhile. Start by identifying 1-3 specific tests that have to be met for you to say yes.
For example, one of my previous clients makes custom apparel, accessories, and home decor and she has orders coming in constantly, including some requests for free product or for trades. She needed a way to easily bat away distractions and prioritize only those requests that would grow her business.
Here’s what she identified.
“In order for me to say yes to a request it has to:
- Challenge me, creatively.
- Be profitable.
- Grow my brand.”
Now, when a new customer order comes in, she does a quick check of her “Yes Criteria” to quickly prioritize and make saying no more obvious in the moment.
Side note: to help you reframe your choices quickly, keep your criteria simple. Don’t overthink them. Keep them sticky. Make sure they sync up with your strategy (Don’t have a strategy? Let’s talk).
START SAYING NO
As I mention every week, on your journey you will encounter traps and distractions. So, saying no is essential to making progress on your business or side hustle.
It feels a little weird to say, but I encourage you to be a little more selfish with your time and energy. Your ideas are worth sharing. Your work is important. Stay focused on what matters.
Make it a goal to say no to one thing this week.
ONE MORE THING
Starting and growing a business is not a straight line.
It can feel messy. It zigs and zags. It starts and stops. It can feel frustrating even for the most seasoned business owners. And, that’s ok.
It’s also an exciting challenge. It’s going to stretch you. You’re going to learn a lot – not just about business, but about yourself.
And, that’s why it’s worth it.