The Sober List

Enjoy The Work Blog Post. The Sober List.

It is not arrogant to say No.

It is not rude to say No.

It is not inconsiderate to say No.

It is not heartless to say No.

It is not mean to say No.

Learn to embrace the No. Love it! Accept it into your heart. No is liberation. No is self-love. No is honest. No is real. No is an end to pleasing, inauthentic self-immolation.

Set your boundaries. Define your aspirations. Be specific. Be daring. Don’t accept less. Genuine joy does not just randomly tackle you leaving rainbows and pixie dust in its wake. Happiness is a slog of a thousand small decisions, of constant vigilance, and great discipline.

Say No.  Say No to the people, the invitations, the jobs, the obligations, and the requests. Say No to whatever you know does not fit.

Then scream ‘fuck yes’ to everything that does.

Try this for one week. At the start of the week, write down the most important thing you need to accomplish. Then list the next two tasks it would be great to accomplish. Lastly, list an additional three items it would be useful (but not urgent) to cross off your list.

When you’re done, your list should look something like:

1) I must accomplish ______________.

2) It would be great if I also completed ______________ and ______________.

3) If feasible, it would be useful to finish ______________, ______________, and ______________.

Now wait a week and take a personal accounting. What % of your time did you actually spend on these 6 goals? Did you accomplish the #1 priority? Did you progress on the others?

Are you surprised by the results? Embarrassed even?

I’ve run this exercise with several of my entrepreneurs. The feedback is consistent. What felt like a well-conceived list at the start of the week consistently was blown apart by the time Friday mercilessly arrived.

When I probe as to what stole the time, the descriptions are disturbingly consistent. Tales of unexpected demands, obligations, and distractions. Needy customers, scared employees, unraveling negotiations, opportunistic introductions, unscheduled meetings… With little exception, the rant concludes with a question.

“How do I better manage my time?”

There are all sorts of tricks, books, and seminars. Time management and priority setting are old topics. Perform a Google search of “startup time management” and 4,090,0000 listings will appear. But in my 20+ years of guiding teams, 10+ years of leading companies, and many years of advising start-ups, I feel strongly that there is one simple golden rule to time management.

Set your priorities while you’re sober.

I don’t mean sober as in not-intoxicated. I mean sober when not lost in the seduction of the next shiny, loud, needy, or exciting thing. When not enthralled, you can be impartial. You can work ON your business and not just IN your business. You’re capable of honestly assessing the state of your union and determining what goals (short-term or long) would progress your business forward.

So create your list.

And once you have it, follow these steps to salvation.

   1. Opportunity or distraction enters your life.

   2. Review the sober list.

   3. If the opportunity is consistent with the list, say Yes.

   4. If the opportunity is inconsistent with the list, say No.

There may be times you need to break this code. Sometimes true emergencies arise. Use your discretion. But default to No. You’ll be more productive. The business will advance. And I promise, you’ll be happier (if not a bit more sane).

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