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Why Saying 'No' is the New 'Yes' for Entrepreneurs To be in a position to agree to the right things, you absolutely must disagree to everything that is not aligned with your goals

By Mohammad Ali Vakil

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A still from 'Yes Man'

Really successful people say no to almost everything — Warren Buffett

Let's talk about something uncomfortable today. Something you wish you didn't have to do.

That something is saying "no".

If they could, most people would constantly say "yes" to everything (and everyone) in life. As an entrepreneur, saying no is doubly difficult. And equally important.

You are starting to grow your business. You're doing everything from scratch.

And here's the rub - you probably hear "no" all the time. "No" from potential investors. "No" from clients. The list is long.

So when something comes along that actually gives you and your business a shot, defaulting to "no" seems insane.

Valuing Prioritization

It comes from saying no to 1000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much — Steve Jobs

Have you seen the movie Yes Man?

Jim Carrey decides to say yes to everything that he can for a month. And changes his life dramatically.

Entrepreneurs are wired to operate in perpetual yes mode because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). There is just so much information, so many possibilities buzzing around their inbox and their social media channels.

Even a small "hello" in an elevator can lead to a strategic business meeting and the next round of funding. And for that being open, receptive and in a state of saying "yes" is essential.

But I would like to interject.

To be in a position to say "yes" to the right things, you absolutely must say "no" to everything that is not aligned with your goals.

Contrary to what you believe, no is not about being closed off.

It is about guarding your most precious resource - your attention - so that you can devote it to ideas that are truly worth your engagement. In short, it is about prioritization.

You hustle hard already. Don't make it harder on yourself.

Getting the competitive advantage of knowing what is in the best interest of your business is not only wise, as the leader of your company, it is also your duty.

Three Keys to Effective Prioritization

Almost 90 per cent of startups in India fail within the first five years. Some bite the dust because of lack of innovation. Some crumble because they can't respond to changing market trends fast enough.

The supposed causes vary, but at the end of the day, failure is the result of saying yes to too many duds and not saying no often enough. Prioritization definitely saves the day.

Effective prioritization is the result of three things:

  1. Knowing what you have on your plate. Most people have no idea of the agreements they have made with themselves and with others. And they are always keen to pile on more. This is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. That's why, first and foremost, it is essential to be aware of everything that you've already committed to. A commitment isn't limited to actual contracts or even verbal agreements. If you have ever looked at a product and decided to check it out later, you've committed to it in your head. Till you get it out of your mind, your subconscious will keep nagging you to close the open loop.

The most successful people in the world empty their RAMs daily. They take everything that has their attention, put it on paper and file it in a trusted system that will remind them to take action at the appropriate time.

2. Knowing what you want. Once you've stopped using your head as an office, you can use your considerable cognitive power to do some deep thinking.

Why should you devote your attention and focus to an opportunity? Is it simply because it is there and you are afraid something better won't come along? Or is it because you've evaluated the pay-off you'll receive and you are sure to make progress on the goals that truly matter to your business.

Take a page out of Simon Sinek's lecture on finding your "Why". That "Why" is literally the reason you're an entrepreneur and doing what you do. No matter how lucrative or available something seems to be, when you know how your actions tie back to your ultimate "why", prioritization and saying "no" to distractions become second nature.

3. Knowing how to handle surprises. True prioritization is dynamic. It doesn't end with knowing how much bandwidth you have and knowing what supports your business the best. This is where the "Yes Man" principle comes in. You can't really plan your days to the last minute. Life always throws curve balls in the form of both upsets and opportunities that agitate your clear list of priorities.

You may find yourself renegotiating existing agreements to make room for the inclusion of the new and unexpected. If you don't stop hugging the trees (executing the mundane to-dos) to look at the forest (reflecting on what you've done and what's on the horizon), that once-in-a-lifetime kind of good fortune will pass you by.

Saying "no" is actually a tough-love form of saying "yes".

As an entrepreneur, you should practice the art of no, without guilt and with confidence in what you're choosing to say "yes" to.

Mohammad Ali Vakil

Master Trainer & Co-Founder of Calm Achiever

Mohammed Ali Vakil is a co-founder of Calm Achiever. He's a Master Trainer & Coach in the Getting Things Done® methodology. He coaches CEOs and top executives in the art of stress-free productivity & enables organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world


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