May 18, 2009
Ego and Productivity: Don’t Let Your Default Answer Be “Yes”
So a lot of people are on board when it comes to running like hell from the Cult of Productivity – the mindset that says if you’re not hacking your life 24/7 and taking everything “to the next level,” then you just must not be a very committed person after all.
Of course, we know better (now), and we’re calling bullshit on this. Running at maximum capacity does NOT equal a better life any more than redlining your car’s engine makes it last longer. “Zoom zoom,” indeed.
So let’s talk about one of the many tools the Cult of Productivity – The Default “Yes.”
Just Say No (Where Have We Heard This Before)?
Somewhere along the line we’ve made the false connection between being busy and being cool. It became a little high-schoolesque game to see who had the most gadgets, the most projects, the most emails on a daily basis. Productivity became, in a sense, a pissing contest.
The more stressed for time you were, the more you had “arrived.” The more you could impress people with being everywhere at once. The more things you could jam on your personal and professional resume.
The problem with this is, when you spread yourself out like that, you’re spreading yourself thin. Your circle of influence may have stretched to miles wide, but eventually it’s only a quarter-inch deep. Not a good place to be.
But – gasp – you can’t slow down … that would be admitting weakness. That would betray a lack of “real” priorities. And so when a new project, a new idea, a new commitment of time and energy comes by … how can you say no?
After all, it’s a really cool project. And it’ll be a great networking opportunity. And I’m sure I could squeeze it in.
And then you end up like those trains in Japan, where they literally have to have a “spotter” to help push people into the train because they are packed so tightly.
Because saying “no” to a new commitment becomes equivalent to failure.
And we all know how unacceptable failure is in our society. It’s like a non-airbrushed photo of a supermodel – it’s something to be shunned and attacked (eek! It’s reality – run!!!).
And so time and again, we get tricked into saying “yes,” because we’re afraid of the fallout of “no.”
But if you don’t say no – relentlessly – the Cult captures you.
You know, having certain people view you as a failure isn’t so bad. After all, if someone is going to be so shallow as to shun you because you aren’t willing to settle for burning your soul out prematurely, then that’s a really cool situation – you can weed out the posers and false friends from your life.
Who knows, you might actually end up left all alone … except for the handful of real people who accept you for who you are and are also willing to be transparent and honest about their own limits.
But the Cult is relentless – so you’ve got to be relentless back at them. You can’t just say “no” every once in a while – you’ve got to make it a default answer in your mind, because the pressures of society will try and force you into taking more an more on until you every last drop of you is squeezed out.
That’s a scary thing for a lot of people – the idea of not taking on and endless array of goals – but it’s a damned important one for your life. Here’s why.
Saying “No” Means Saying “Yes” To Only The Right, Best Things
When you say “yes” to everything, you’re not making any judgement calls or assessing the value of things. You’re just taking things on because they’re there, or because you don’t want to disappoint someone.
But this is madness. It’s like deciding you’ll date anyone who is interested in you rather than looking for someone you like, respect and trust.
And just like sex sells in advertising, the Cult of Productivity wants you to be really easy when it comes to accepting goals. It’s already loosened you up with the “contact high” of other people’s super-productivity, and it’s hoping you’ll be a sure thing.
But you want to respect yourself in the morning …
… so you’re going to want to be more discerning. When you decide your default answer is going to be “no,” you’re forcing yourself to really evaluate whether this new commitment of time and energy really lines up with what you want for your life.
You’re going to have to ask yourself if it’s worth trading part of your life for it. As @CharlieGilkey says: “If it’s not worth doing, doing it will be at the cost of something worth doing.”
So repeat after me: Saying “no” is not a sign of weakness. It is proof you are not insane.
But it’s easier said than done.
How to push past resistance to “no”
There’s no doubt you’ll encounter a lot of resistance when you first start saying “no” – not only from the Cult of Productivity (who, let it be said, aren’t evil – they just believe you can always do something more) – but also from yourself.
It’s going to be difficult and uncomfortable to turn commitments down, but it will make you a happier person. It will also have the side effect of making you (dare I say it?) more productive, because you’ll be freeing up more focus to handle the things that are currently on your plate.
And as your plate gets clearer, your mind will get clearer, too. You’ll start rejecting commitments that add “shallow value” to your life and take on different commitments that feed your sense of self and value and contribution. You’ll become someone who builds a fullfilling life rather than just a life filled with “one more thing.”
It won’t be easy. But saying “yes” all the time is even harder, and you know it. Start the practice of resisting new commitments and only saying “yes” when they truly align with what you want.
But how do you start saying “no” when you’re not good at it?
Next post will talk about how to do this – but in the meantime, if you’ve got a strategy for keeping the number of commitments you juggle sane, feeel free to add it in the comments.
Good luck – and start saying “no” more often -