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Why The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Say No

I’ve been a career coach for nearly 25 years and run my business for 20 years now. My goal remains the same: help my clients create huge shifts in their personal and professional lives.

I’ve since learned that the most successful entrepreneurs have mastered the art of saying no.

When you’re in the executive seat, you juggle so many responsibilities there’s no way you can handle the demands—physically and emotionally—if you don’t prioritize the things that are most important.

Speaking of priorities, here’s something interesting I read in Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: the word “priority” used to be singular back when it came into the English language in the 1400s—singular meaning one priority.

Having many priorities in your business defeats the purpose and it essentially means that you prioritize nothing. You shouldn’t have priorities. You should have a priority. Everything else is noise.

“The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffett

Enter Warren Buffett. People are constantly asking the Berkshire Hathaway chairman to manage investments, write books, be an economic advisor, do interviews, give a speech, and even run for President.

Whether or not he indulges in some of these activities, he doesn’t let them affect the way he runs his business, his priority. After all, you don’t become Warren Buffett by saying yes to everything that comes across your desk.

How many priorities do you have on your plate in your business right now? Be honest. Write them down if you have to. 2? 5? 10? It may be time for a detox.

Okay, you say, but how do I know? Ask yourself: “If I say yes to this activity, will it move me closer to my goal?” If it doesn’t, don’t think twice about saying no.

Here are seven things I’ve started saying no to. It’s helping me live a better life and create the kind of business that I love.

1. Start saying “no” to unnecessary meetings. Take a hard look at your calendar. Decline meetings that aren’t necessary. Rather, spend time doing your work. Before agreeing to any meetings, be sure you understand why people want to meet in the first place. Bottom line, value your time.

2. Start saying “no” to swapping business cards with people and then never hearing from them again. Successful entrepreneurs don’t network; they build relationships.

3. Start saying “no” to micromanaging. The choirmaster doesn’t play every instrument himself because his job is to conduct the orchestra. Know your areas of expertise, do those things that only you can do as the leader, and delegate everything else. By all means, get out of the way of your workers. Give them room to make things happen.

4. Start saying “no” to overworking. Working yourself to the bone is no way to run your business or your life.

5. Start saying “no” to distraction. Did you know that on average, it takes 23 minutes to re-focus on your task when you become distracted?

6. Start saying “no” to answering emails immediately (unless they’re critical). If you’re always responsive, you’ll burn yourself out. You can still put the client first by meeting deadlines and being honest about your communication style to ensure both parties have a great experience.

7. Start saying “no, I can’t do it right now because I’m working hard to give excellent attention to my current activities, but I might be able to make room in the future.” Never say you can’t do something because you’re too busy. It is an awful response and there are other ways to convey your priorities and availability. Being “too busy” simply proves you aren’t handling your business time efficiently.

Entrepreneur or not, we all have 1,440 minutes each day. Are you choosing wisely?

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

By Fernando Ortiz-Barbachano

President & CEO of Barbachano International (BIP)

Barbachano International is the premier executive search and leadership advisory firm in the Americas (USA, Mexico, Canada, and Latin America) with a focus on diversity and multicultural target markets.  Outplacement and Executive Coaching services are provided by our sister allied company Challenger Gray & Christmas. BIP has been recognized by Forbes as Americas’ Best Executive Search Firms for 6 consecutive years and currently ranks #26 and #3 on the West Coast.  


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