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  • barnardbahn

What’s on your “No” list?

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Saying “no” is a skill I’ll be refining for the rest of my life. 

I thrive on exploring new ideas, meeting new people, setting audacious goals, and helping to solve complex problems. I’m sure, like many of you, I can easily overcommit, which impacts my capacity to nail key goals if I don’t watch it.

When you say “yes” to one commitment, you’re saying no to something else that hasn’t even presented itself to you.

And you know what? There are always opportunities waiting to come to you.

That’s powerful. 

Every “yes” you make is packaged with a “no”, which you might not even realize, because you’re focusing your attention on the “yes” you’ve shifted to.

This principle is crucial to carve your path to leadership. 

It means that in order to live life fully and not have opportunities pass you by, either because you are distracted with the wrong things or because they don’t even come to you as you’re too busy, you have to maintain a discipline of saying “No.”

It’s easier to say “no” if you have criteria.

I keep a “NO” list taped to my office wall in plain view, and I review it quarterly. It helps keep me focused on and accountable for my boundaries and enables me to achieve my big goals.

Do this now.

Take out your annual goals and calendar. Compare them. Think about a few things you said yes to — meetings, favors, projects — over the last few weeks that you wish you hadn’t. Perhaps it’s a regular meeting on your calendar that is aimless. Perhaps it's a Friday afternoon request you felt pressured to take, and now you’re spending your weekend doing the work you should have been pursuing the day prior.  

Every quarter I revisit my “No” list and my business plan to see how I’m tracking. In areas where I’m not in alignment with my top goals, I make adjustments. 

“Yes” can help you define where you say “No.”

“Yes” can be a personal goal. For example, one of my goals is increased health and time with family. So when both of my teenagers started attending school from the living room, one of the things I said yes to was regular 20-minute walks with my daughter.

That’s been terrific on so many levels. It also forced me to tighten my schedule and politely defer or decline networking calls that don’t have a clear purpose. 

Making room for the “Yes”

I was recently invited to be a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s 100 Coaches. You may know Marshall, and with good reason. A generous and wise trailblazer, he’s been named #1 Leadership Thinker in the World and wrote the bestseller What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Because I had said “No” to several other opportunities, I was able to fully take advantage of this honor. And with that commitment in place, I re-shuffled my priorities and have spent time getting to know my new colleagues — a brilliant mix of thought leaders, executives and nonprofit leaders in a common mission to give back. I look forward to bringing their wisdom to you.

Another “yes” I made the space to pursue is supporting effective corporate board leadership. Corporate board-related work is a big focus for me and something I say yes to more than no.

Here are some resources and positive updates regarding my work in this area:

  • Along with several other executives, I was recently interviewed by Forbes to provide guidance on the role of the board during a crisis. Read it to see my top suggestion for board members right now.

  • If you’re interested in serving on a corporate board, I’ll be a panelist on an upcoming free board workshop, What It Takes to Land a Corporate Board Seat, sponsored by 2020 Women on Boards and hosted by the California State Treasurer. (Watch the replay here.) Think about the things that take your time away from pursuing a board role, and add that to your “no” list.  

  • A positive note of progress for board gender parity — it was an honor last year to testify for the Washington State Women’s Commission, which advocates for the removal of systemic barriers. Last month, Washington was the second state in the U.S. to pass a law requiring corporate boards to either include women or explain their diversity strategy to shareholders.

I hope this advice helps you stay focused and accomplish your goals for the rest of 2020. If you’ve enjoyed this, please forward this to a friend. For insights like these in your inbox twice each month, sign up for my list here.

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