The Cost of Saying Yes

Having too many priorities leads to a lack of focus and makes execution difficult. A.T. Gimbel shares how to prioritize where to say yes.

A.T. Gimbel
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November 11, 2019

Every “Yes” you give means a “No” to something else. Choose wisely.

I have recently come across several articles talking about prioritization and the impact of saying yes. Having too many priorities leads to a lack of focus and often makes execution difficult. With only 24 hours in a day, every yes you make means saying no to something else. This could be yes to one meeting over another, yes to an evening work event over time with your family, or yes to prioritizing one product feature over another. With so many requests for your time, how do you prioritize where to say yes?

Awareness

A first step involves being aware that every yes means a no to something else. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to say yes to everything for fear of looking like you don’t care enough, hurting someone’s feelings, fear of missing out, etc. Reminding yourself to check your yes aligns with your current priorities (business or personal) helps reinforce you are saying yes to those areas and not yes to something else … which in turn would mean no to those current priorities. If you have ever tried to manage a product roadmap, you understand the challenge of wanting to say yes to everything!

Rubber balls vs. Glass balls

A great analogy I once heard was to evaluate your yes/no in regards to rubber balls and glass balls. Glass balls break when dropped and need to be handled immediately or the mess from it breaking is even worse to clean up. Rubber balls will keep bouncing over and over again and do not need to be immediately picked up. Eventually they stop bouncing and often roll away; worst case you have to stop and pick it back up. Say yes to the glass balls over rubber balls.

Explicit tradeoffs

Another strategy is to be explicit about tradeoffs. What am I saying no to if I say yes to this? If I am choosing between A or B, how do I make it clear to my customer/team/partner that I am making this prioritization? I’ve found that people handle no’s much better when it is clear to them the prioritization tradeoff you are making and why. Oftentimes, they can even help you defer certain choices that are not critical (and you believed they were).

Remember that every yes means a no to something else. Make sure you are aware of these tradeoffs and know that it is okay to say no to certain things that do not align with your priorities. You can’t do everything!

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