Be Your Best

Sometimes You Have to Say “No”

by on Feb.25, 2016, under Blog Posts

We all have deeply embedded command systems, installed very long ago, in childhood, early in our careers, etc.. — that will, if we don’t notice (and we don’t notice most of the time) drive us.  It is basically like cruise control on a car.  You can take it off of ‘cruise control’ and manage the speed by your conscious thought.  But if you leave it on, once set at a given speed, say 65 MPH, it will zip you right through a 30 MPH school zone or worse, right off a cliff!  It won’t adjust to anything coming.

One of my embedded cruise control responses is saying “Yes” and being available to people asking for help.  My natural state feels like I am spitting into the wind should I not be accessible and available for any person that needs help to be able to get help from me.  Guilty about not leaping and responding to every “need”, like a fireman and the Dalmatian dog respond to every alarm.  It feels bad deciding that a certain person’s need is not worth my time right now.  That is my “stuff” and if I am not careful, it is on and driving me down the road.  You probably have different “stuff” and we all have this kind of stuff that is “on”, cruise control set, and driving behavior that may be very unproductive.

Anyway, even today, as I write this article, I have to consciously say ‘no’ to things/needs coming at me that will make me unproductive, not help produce success, and in some cases actually be counter-productive to the rest of my day.  It is this way for all of us.  But is it something that you are consciously aware of or think about?  In other words, if I don’t have my “command system” ON that counter acts and filters my natural habit of saying yes to needs coming at me, I become massively unproductive.

What’s My Anti-Cruise Control System?

My personal system of combatting ‘cruise control’ is a very deliberate ‘designing of my day and documenting it’ and making that my focus all day.  Pretty simple and straightforward, but the real magic trick is living by it, sticking to it as much as possible, and documenting accountability and results of it.  Basically, if I am not consciously and actively in control of at least 80-85% of my day’s minutes (what I am working on is what I designed and documented that I am working on today before the day begun), then I must be on cruise control (aka ‘out of control’).  I design my day using a blank Journal page, where I very simply write down what critical relatively small group of things must I get done today, despite everything else that might come at me (and it will come at you/me).  My Calendar is full of hundreds of “tasks” and “to-do’s” and “appointments” and “meetings” — but my journal page list of what I must get done today does not “care” about all that.  It only cares about the small handful of items that I feel are most critically important for “today”.  Tomorrow it starts all over.

Within this Anti-Cruise Control system are “rules” that I have developed for myself to combat likely attacks on my time preventing from being successful.  It is very similar to designing a driving route that never goes by a Dunkin Donuts if you must not eat donuts for one of many reasons.  Driving by Dunkin Donuts, in this case, is basically allowing your cruise control to take over — and you will be eating donuts despite not wanting to!  You have to have rules in place to avoid that magnetic pull of the donuts.

Some of my rules are:

  • Just because someone is asking for my help, does not mean that they have to have my help or even need my help.
  • It takes about 15 minutes “setup time” to really fully engage in any project on my list, so if I respond to a request for help, I just wasted 30 minutes of valuable time (the first 15 minutes I spent engaging in an important task/project, and then 15 more minutes re-engaging).
  • Create defined blocks of time during non-productive times of the day to devote to “needs for help” that are coming at me (this includes looking at email).
  • Have most of my time marked and understood as “Unless there is a Fire or Visible Blood, Please Do Not Disturb Me”

These rules sound a little harsh and cold, but the cold hard truth is that if I/you don’t employ some conscious disciplined rules like these, your cruise control is taking you down the road and you will be tremendously unproductive and not reach truly great success.  When you do follow your anti-cruise control system well, those days feel and are tremendously productive.

It is extremely useful to know and understand what your cruise control habits and tendencies are.  It allows you to build anti-cruise control rules and systems.  When I am told by my command system “Todd, you have to say No”, I am reminded of Pogo’s “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”

Be Your Best,
Todd D. Gifford


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