A thought-provoking article by venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz recently caught our eye. In the article, Tunguz bemoans his ongoing battle with productivity. It’s a topic close to the heart of anyone who charges by the hour, works remotely or travels to clients' offices. And while there are courses, processes, hacks and time tracking software to make things easier, Tunguz believes that at the end of the (productive) day, the most important tool you can have is willpower.
Tunguz is a long-time advocate of Inbox Zero. Developed by Merlin Mann, Inbox Zero has become one of the most popular time management techniques of recent years. While the name may suggest a nihilistic approach to the inbox that involves hitting ‘delete all’ at the end of each day, there’s more to it than that.
Mann himself sums it up well. “It’s about how to reclaim your email, your attention, and your life. That “zero?” It’s not how many messages are in your inbox–it’s how much of your own brain is in that inbox. Especially when you don’t want it to be. That’s it.”
Mann's rationale highlights the crazy situation we often find ourselves in – spending time trying to save time. Followers of Inbox Zero will no doubt benefit from its clever practices like batching emails and forwarding emails to a task list; it is no magic bullet.
Tunguz himself agrees. Inbox Zero is his yo-yo diet, and after falling off the wagon a few times, he went in search of a more robust time management approach. The outcome was Task List Zero. For Tunguz, this meant completing his three or four most important goals or tasks by the end of each day.
Sounds simple, right? Sort of. The tricky part is, of course, prioritising those three or four most important tasks. Any busy professional or freelancer knows how difficult this can be.
So what’s the solution? Say no.
The art of NO
Steve Jobs is famously quoted as saying “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done.”
A time tracking app will support you in your quest for zero tasks and zero email or whatever holy grail of productivity that you may seek. But in the end, it comes down to one thing – your self-discipline.
No is not a bad word. In fact, saying no is an art form. It’s something that anyone who freelances, works for themselves, or tracks time by the hour needs to have down pat. Saying no allows you to capture back your time.
You may be presented with an incredible offer, opportunity, or deal. It may come from an outstanding company or an industry leader. From the outside, it may seem like the deal of a lifetime. But before you dive in, consider if this move makes sense. Does it fit with your goals? Is it going to fit with the big picture of your business? Is it worth it?
Saying no will most likely mean you irritate a few people. They may feel rejected or question your decision-making. But you can rest assured that if you said yes to everything, you wouldn't have time to do anything.
Clear a path for bigger things
Understanding when to say no will protect you. We need to say no sometimes so that we have more time to say yes. Entrepreneur Kenny Nguyen says that harnessing the power of no “allows for other things to grow.”
Because sometimes the really good opportunities need a clear path in order to make their way to you.