The Art of Essential Work: How to Say No to Say Yes

Updated: Sep 8


We may not know each other on a deeply personal level, but I’d venture to guess you’ve got a lot going on in your life right now. Work, home, family, I don’t need to list it all. You know it, and it’s only going to depress you if I sit here and rehash your ever-growing to-dos.


Oh, did you want time for creative output? Let’s add it to the list. Better yet, let’s make it a priority.



What’s that you say? No?


Well, if you’re already “no-ing” me, then you’re on the right track to freeing up your time, leaning out your schedule, and focusing on what’s important to you.


I’m talking about the art of going lean. It’s the concept of learning to say no. Greg McKeown calls this concept “essentialism."


It’s time to take inventory of what’s only getting your half-attention so you can say yes to the thing that wants your full attention: your creative pursuit.

Essentialism is the concept of “achieving more by doing less.” Although you can practice it in your daily life, it is often specifically applied to work life. In this post, we’re going to talk about essentialism. McKeown says it’s not about getting less done; it’s about focusing on getting the right things done. What do you want to focus on now? Is your creative life beckoning, but falling to the wayside? It’s time to take inventory of what’s only getting your half-attention so you can say yes to the thing that wants your full attention: your creative pursuit.


If you’re an agreeable person (hello, relatable), saying no is not only hard, it’s a concept that needs to be taught and practiced. And then we’ll need to see the results - so “saying no” needs to be outcome-driven. And, it would help if we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or step on toes along the way.


Consider this: when you are stretched thin by freely handing out the yes, how do you feel about your work quality? If it goes up, I’d guess you might be an outlier. More than likely you’re doing a lot, your output is high, but your quality is probably not what you hoped. As the yesses add up, do others’ confidence in you decrease?


Let’s reverse the situation. If your yesses are selective, more time allows for more quality. But, it also allows you to focus on work that you find essential.


When we’re considering creative development, we’ve got a reputation on the line.

What’s more important on the output side of things? Quantity or quality? When we’re considering creative development, we’ve got a reputation on the line. Our output represents our best selves - it’s our brand and connecting to an audience. Audiences demand their money’s worth.


The question now becomes what your creative output is personally worth. If it ranks high on your needs scale, then it might be time for an inventory of your life’s other areas to see where you can turn some “yesses” into “nos.” And if you find that hard to do, think about those on the receiving end of your half-hearted thinly-stretched yesses. Are they getting what they deserve? Is it fair to them to be getting a piece of you that’s not all in?


Well...no.




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