Just Say No.

Life, careers and work are full of decisions.

Sometimes, though, the hardest yet best thing to say is one simple word: “No.”

We know from research (channel Ronald Reagan: “Facts are stubborn things.”) that all those little decisions we make every day take a toll and turns out it’s a big one.

Carmel macchiato with non-fat milk or 2% non-fat?   Take it to-go, or sitting down. Care for whipped cream as well?

There are the sorts of decisions (Catch the elevator or take the stairs; start responding to emails first or answer voicemails, etc.) , sapping your choice-making abilities like memory-buffer sucking applications on last year’s PC, that you get faced with anytime you bump into the world of boundless choice.

The antidote? Routines; settling on a choice or two (e.g. – one or two – “1” or “2,” not four or five) and sticking with it. If it’s not in the routine, discard it.

Can that approach be boring? Sure.

Does it make you more effective my freeing up your decision-abilities for the stuff that’s really important? Certainly.

Whatever your politics, President Barack Obama is an example of a leader putting that approach into practice.  What suit to wear? Blue or grey. What to do on a work-out? One day is aerobic, and next is weights. What to have for breakfast? Likely the same thing every day.

Call it a “just say no” approach. If it’s not on the plan, tell yourself no, or tell the other person no. Bat down all those loose choices swirling around that clog up your day, clog up your email (Why say maybe to an invite to an event you know you don’t want to attend?) and reduce your effectiveness.

Ronald Reagan’s spouse Nancy pioneered a “Just Say No” in the 1980’s, well before the current research on design fatigue and performance was available. Who would have guessed she was really psychic?


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.


no (Photo credit: the|G|™)

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