The title of this post, “if it’s not a ‘Hell, yes!’, it’s a ‘No.'” comes from a Tim Ferriss book I’m currently reading called Tools of Titans, and is one of Ferriss’ favourite rules of thumb. Here’s a little more context (Ferriss is quoting Derek Sivers here):
Because most of us say yes to too much stuff, and then, we let these little, mediocre things fill our lives… The problem is, when that occasional ‘Oh my God, hell yeah!’ thing comes along, you don’t have enough time to give it the attention that you should, because you’ve said yes to too much other little, half-ass stuff[.]
It reminded me of how uneasy I was when being tasked with a slew of little projects that I knew were nice to have and that closed a few “open loops” (if only for the sake of closing them). I wasn’t too keen because I knew these were not the game-changing things I wanted to work on, things which I anticipated were on the horizon for myself and the team.
I concurred that, in principle, these were things needed to be done eventually, but that they would have be pushed to the back of the queue the moment something more momentous opened up.
We agreed to putting these tasks on the back-burner, with one or two trickling through during periods of slack and/or while we gained more clarity on any “Hell, yes!” projects that might be coming up (the act of scoping and gathering requirements may turn what seems like a “Hell, yes!” project into a solid “No.”).
I’d never actually though too much about it, but this has been one of key plays of my career thus far. Admittedly, it’s difficult to say “no” to customers (internal and external) early on, when you’re still finding a career niche, building up work experience and interpersonal clout (in fact, saying “yes” to just about everything is likely the better strategy when starting your career).
But once past that, saying “yes” to each and every opportunity and task is a recipe for mediocrity. If I’d continued doing that since starting work a decade ago, I’d probably still be copying and pasting data from spreadsheets, generating business reports by hand because somebody else told me so (albeit in an excellent manner, no doubt).
Instead, I’m working on developing my data science career, leading a great sales operations team, and thinking in my spare time about how I could bring my company’s analytical capabilities to the next level. Things I’d very much rather be doing, because I’ve said “no.”
How I Said No
- Sure, I understand the report is essential, but does it have to be done that way? (Can we change the process or data sources a little so we can automate this?)
- Can a self-service option be considered?
- Can it be done by somebody else in the team?
- What if we could generate a report that had 80% of the information but that could be churned out at 20% of the usual time?
The questions above are actual examples of those I’ve asked over the years. They were my way of saying “no” to projects that would have sucked up my or my team’s time, without which the many “Hell, yes!” projects (highly impactful, hundreds-of-people-thanking-us projects) would never have come into existence.