The toughest word in the English Language

Let’s face it. We are all busy. We all complain about not enough hours in a day, or the ever increasing demands on our time. I don’t know of anyone who tells me they get through everything on their “To-do” list.

With all of the wondrous technology we have on hand, why is this? Surely we must be more efficient with our smart phones and cloud based project systems…..

I’ll pause while you chuckle along with me into that rushed cup of coffee you grabbed on your way to the meeting you’re about to be late for.

The reality is that we are not more efficient. We can’t be. Not until we learn the simple dark secret of managing time.

The secret that you can’t. Time will travel forward at 1 second every second. If you have found a way to change this I’ll happily look at investing in your new approach!

In reality we can only manage what activities we choose to allocate our efforts toward within that fixed rate of time progression.

This means choosing to be effective much more than efficient. We can look to be efficient once we stop being ineffective!

How can we do this? With one of the shortest words in the English language.


That’s right, learn to use the word no.

Many of us choose to say yes to things for many reasons. I’m not here to tell you not to attend your sister’s wedding, or to refuse to work on something the boss really needs done. What I am saying is that the key to getting things done comes down largely to selecting the things that you won’t do now and focussing on the few things that matter.

To do this you need to become better at saying no.

It is not disrespectful to say no. You are not required to accept every request to make use of your fixed 24h. You just can’t do a week’s worth of work in a single day!

In practical terms this means being able to say no, and respectfully include it in your day. That may mean saying no to your boss, your kids, your spouse or friends. This doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you effective. You might even find that sometimes as new activities come up, you might even say no to things you’ve already said yes to!

Imagine you’re scheduled to attend a meeting. You’ve said yes to that. The phone rings. It is your kid’s school. Little Johnny has fallen over and is being taken to hospital. Will you choose to make it to the meeting and then go to the hospital? Unlikely. You’ll say no to the meeting. Respectfully. Swiftly. Without negotiation. Just no.

You see, we all manage our priorities every day on the big things. On the things where we have clear pictures in our heads as to what matters most. Little Johnny is probably more important than this quarter’s sales numbers!

It’s the other stuff that gets us tied up in knots. Where the priority seems less clear. Where we imagine dire consequences of declining the generous offer to add to our workload or reduce our available time, that have us just accepting another long day of stress and missed family dinners.

If we want to be effective we need to protect that highest priority. Learn to say no. Maybe not forever; but at least say no now. By saying no you can focus on delivering what matters and do so effectively.

If everything is the highest priority, then in reality nothing is. It’s not easy to say no. It’s much harder a life though to always say yes!

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Nathan Jones