Remember how Steve Jobs said focus was about saying no?

At the 1997 WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference), Steve said that “you’d think focus means saying yes, but it actually means to say no.” When he returned to Apple he cut the product lineup from 350 to 10.
He said no 340 times. That’s a lot of no’s.

Look at what the few Apple products we know today have become.
Asking the focusing question is the easy part. Saying no to all your other seemingly important and urgent to-do’s is what’s hard.

The best way to make saying no easy is to make yourself unnecessary in the first place. For example if clients or employees bother you with the same questions, create a FAQ and direct people to that.
Try to reduce incoming requests and low-level distractions, so you won’t have to say no as often, and if you do, make sure you give people a time when they’ll have their answer.

In his book “Essentialism”, Greg McKeown writes:

“The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead, it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.
The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the non-essentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage.
The way of the Essentialist is the path to being in control of our own choices. It is the path on which we enjoy the journey, not just the destination.”

The reality is saying yes to an opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others. We can try to avoid the reality of trade-offs but we can’t escape them.

What we can do is can focus on the flow. The essentialist designs a routine that makes achieving what you have identified as essential to the default position. Maybe it’s a good idea to only say yes to the top 10% of opportunities.

If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no.

George Kroustallis // Minorstep