How Saying NO Helps You Get More Done

Executing on Plans / April 23, 2019 / Admin

When you first start a business, you’re forced into saying YES to everything. You’ll do any job, take on any client, speak at any event; you’re forced to move on every opportunity that comes your way.

But, after a while, it becomes almost like a war for your attention. 

Spreading your attention over so many different clients and projects will ultimately lead to ruin. Sometimes you have to say NO in order to focus your attention and time on what matters most to your business.

The Problem with Saying YES To Everything

Saying YES to too many projects and too many clients, can be exciting at first. Feeling that initial adrenaline rush of starting new projects and taking on new clients feels great. The problem is when you find yourself thinking there’s too many things going on in the day and not enough hours. If you’re constantly busy but not getting results, chances are you’ve already spread yourself too thin. Saying NO to some of these clients, projects, or new opportunities can actually help you manage your time and focus on things that matter.

As your business grows, you need to prioritize your time. Be selective about what you say YES to in order to move your business forward. 

Think of your small business as a Bonsai tree: you could let each leaf grow out and starve itself of nutrients and potting. Or you could carefully trim it, sculpting it into the beautiful piece of art that suits your wants and needs while providing aesthetic value.

If you keep saying YES to everything – you’re fooling yourself about what can be achieved. Your attention and focus will end up spread too thin and you and/or your team will risk burning out. Saying YES to everything means you may be able to move an inch on ten, twenty or even fifty things, but you could be making miles of headway on one or two priorities.

The Value In Saying NO

Ultimately you want to focus on what matters the most to your long-term plans and small business growth. You’re not saying no to lighten your workload, but to give focus and direction to your future.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.”

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was ultimately talking about time management. You only have a certain amount of time in your day. Be selective with your attention and proactive with where you spend your time. Saying NO to some projects means you can focus on objectives that favour your skillset and make the most out of the time you have.

Apple would ironically know about this: its product line up in the late 90s was an absolute oversaturated mess. Jobs stepped in and starting saying NO, trimming back Apple’s computer lineup while saying YES to innovative products like the iMac and green-lighting things like the iPad and iPhone.

A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. For example, say you’re a real-estate agent. Where and how do you cultivate a clientele-base that will take you to the top of your sales game within your area? You’ll probably have to turn down a few of the clients looking for cheaper properties. Or perhaps you’re a consultant that has worked in various different fields. Find an area to specialize in that best reflects your skill set and where you can put your resources to the best use. It’ll also open up the door to more qualified leads for the future.

How To Get Better At Saying NO

It comes back to focus and resource management. Ask yourself, “‘Is this opportunity taking me further towards my overall goals? Or is this a shiny distraction that will prevent me from pushing forward what really matters?”

The point is to cultivate awareness and self discipline. It’s also about cultivating specialization, putting your resources where they’re best utilized and moving forward with where you want your small business to go.


NO doesn’t have to be a bad word. Think of it as freeing yourself up to take on things that suit your skillset best, allowing you more opportunities to say YES to things that really matter. Remember, you’re not cutting the bonsai apart; you’re shaping it into something beautiful and practical.

Want more tips to help you manage your time better so you can execute on what’s more important? Download our Time Management Strategies Workbook.

About the author:

Xander Cavalier is a former radio broadcaster and community organizer with grass-roots experience in Northern Ontario. He is currently based in the GTA. You may reach out to him on LinkedIn.

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