The Blog

You Mean 'No' Is An Option?

Admittedly there's a balance to achieve and we're running a business to make money, but where we'll spend our time has had the immediate effect of giving us both renewed energy.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

We all did our best for a while but it all ended in flames when we had to have a meeting about meetings.

A few years ago I read an article about "hyper scheduling;" accepting more meetings than there is time in the day, including meetings that overlapped or occurred simultaneously. This super scheduling was based on the trend that at least 20 percent of these meetings were canceled or postponed anyway. Accepting meetings seemed like the only option as declining a meeting might be seen as insubordinate or limit your career advancement.

My own life was very close to that experience at the time. In our office, meetings were scheduled back to back in different parts of the building and most of the participants were the same from meeting to meeting. We all knew, but didn't say out loud, that it was impossible to end one meeting at 10 AM and be on time for another that started at 10 AM on the other side of the building.

I called attention to this inconsistency and requested that no meetings be scheduled within 15 minutes of each other. Not one to let "good enough" alone, I then asked that every meeting have a clear, pre-published agenda and that anyone who didn't feel that their attendance was absolutely necessary didn't have to attend. We even created rules about how much advance notice a meeting required as in 'any meeting that will take longer than 20 minutes needs at least a day's notice, etc. We all did our best for a while but it all ended in flames when we had to have a meeting about meetings.

Years later now and I'm in my own consultant and coaching practice (not the result of complaining about meetings by the way) and I find myself over-scheduled, my business partner killing himself with tasks and, in general, find myself a victim of time. The monster, it seems, is stalking me wherever I go.

Then, as you might have read last week my computer crashed with all of my links, bookmarks, data and contacts. Though I was able to save important numbers and appointments from my phone the crash helped me realize how much time I had been spending doing a lot of nothing.

By doing "nothing" I mean that I was once again saying "yes" to meetings without clear cut agendas, with no promise of forwarding action involved, with no profit attached, either financially or in terms of satisfaction. A lot of my "have to" items looked more like "do do" items and this time I had no one to blame it on but me.

The following week my business partner announced that he was on the verge of collapse with all of the details around some of the projects we were negotiating. He was, and is, more of a technical architect than a laborer, and we had fallen into the trap of saying "yes" to all comers just to build our business.

Ironically, in our effort to quickly grow our business solutions and coaching business we ourselves were neither taking advantage of technical solutions nor the coaching solutions we'd see if we were looking from the outside in. We were sinking in a sea of business and managing to fool ourselves that we were up to something new and innovative -- I mean we ARE -- but we were losing track of the culture we'd pledged to build.

We're not alone, by the way. How many of you out there know someone who got the opportunity to create the life or business of their dreams and instead fell into old habits and recreated the bureaucratic nightmares they thought they were leaving behind?

We decided that we can say "no" to projects where the client wants us to under-price our services; we can say "no thank you" to clients who cancel, miss or are repeatedly late. We can say "no" to the 80 percent and focus on the 20 percent as in Pareto's principle where 20 percent of your effort produces 80 percent of your profit. We are now spending time on the high rate of return projects and our own favorite projects; making them better than they were when we were stretched too thin.

Admittedly there's a balance to achieve and we're running a business to make money, but stopping to take inventory, to shift our pattern, to cast a critical eye towards how and where we'll spend our time has had the immediate effect of giving us both renewed energy. A new resource even showed up that will help us farm out the things we don't want to do ourselves; we can be practical without being distracted.

Saying "no," as it turns out in our case, actually means we've been able to negotiate new ideas and begin several really interesting projects that have been on hold until we had the time for them. It turns out that saying "no" is not only an option, it can be the key to saying "yes" more often.

So, since we're here having this time together, let me lay out a challenge and invite you to play along. Let me challenge you to say 'no' and take on your relationship to time.

It works like this: take out your schedule for the next week. Go through every appointment you have that is not urgent and cancel it. Don't reschedule or postpone, just cancel.

Which meetings are not urgent? The meetings that don't move your most important project or mission forward in a big way, that will probably consist of things you've heard or said before or that don't make you money or offer some other sort of tangible reward. Resist the urge to fill these meeting times with some new meeting and leave the time open. See what happens.

If you are willing to do this and give in to it 100 percent I think you'll be surprised at the breakthrough you'll have about the nature of work and your context of time. I invite you all to come back next week and let's talk more about it.