The Small Business Benefits of a Disciplined “No”


Most entrepreneurs readily admit to being disciplined. In fact, for many it’s a badge of honor. After all, what else propelled you to your destination more than determination and discipline?

Yet, thumb through our calendars or peek through our browser history and one might think differently. Are we truly disciplined or, as my business coach put it, are we…

A Yes Waiting to Happen

small business performance Early in my coaching practice, I hadn’t given much thought to my decision-making process.

I happily went about my day looking for ways to be helpful to small business owners and contribute to the community. I volunteered at the chamber of commerce. I spoke at no cost to organizations. I even helped start a women’s networking group. The list goes on and on and on and on…

At this point, many of you are wondering what could possibly be wrong with that. Although it sounds like most of my time was spent on business-related activities, as we say in business improv, “Yes, and…”

Yes, and…most of the activities calendared were not part of my strategic plan. (That’s a topic for another blog, When Business Owners Stray from Their Strategic Plan.)

Yes, and…I felt overwhelmed, burned out, and frustrated because I had little time for much else.

Yes, and…my business goals were not being achieved.

A calendar bulging with appointments unrelated to my business goals – and a skimpy bank account – prompted a discussion with my coach.

She listened patiently to my story of woe. Finally, when I took a breath, she said, very matter-of-factly, “You’re a yes waiting to happen.”

It was the funniest thing I had heard…until the magnitude of her direct and immensely accurate message sunk in.

Years passed. Improvements made. Yet I still struggled with saying “no.”

Discipline is a Verb

Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, is the missing piece to tame an idling yes. It’s powerful and transformative.

His simple, yet potent, concept of essentialism conveys what most entrepreneurs ultimately want – better-quality performance, meaningful work, enhanced productivity, quality time for family, friends, and oneself, underwhelm, energy, restful sleep, relaxation, and more. How could anyone resist?

And the key that unlocks the little bag of benefits is discipline!

The Myth of Having It All

I cut my professional teeth during a “have it all – do it all” culture. There were no trade-offs, no compromises, no concessions, and no reason to be disciplined. It was a formidable influencer of saying yes to everything.

Sadly, that turned out to be quite the myth for many in the height of their professional careers.

We can’t do it all, nor can we have it all. Consigning vital resources, such as time and attention, to what’s most important is a delicate balancing act requiring trade-offs, many of which we must grapple.

You Can’t Say No to What You Don’t Know

Much like the Pareto Principle, McKeown believes that only a few things really matter. It’s not an easy task given the glare of the bright lights and enticement of shiny objects life offers. However, before we can say “no” with greater conviction and frequency, it’s good to know what deserves a “yes.”

Getting to that place is equally exasperating. It takes time and wrestling with the countless exciting options available.

Read more: How Small Business Owners Get Things To Go As Planned

Once the mystery of what is essential is unraveled, it’s much easier to know what requests, events, and even goals may require an affirmative “yes” and what no longer requires time and attention.

Exercise Your Choice to Say No

Many of us think of discipline as being something children require. And, now that we’re adults…well, lets just say, we’re too adult for discipline.

Discipline, in the context of our discussion, is not meant to be that of scolding or reprimand. Rather, it’s the exercise of choosing based on what is deemed to be essential.

While it does require discipline to choose “no,” it’s important to remember that in doing so, it’s okay to:

  • wrestle with the decision to choose no
  • feel a bit of remorse when choosing no
  • give yourself permission to choose no
  • it’s not easy to choose no

None-the-less, once you decide what is essential in your life, exercising the discipline to say no is vital. You’re doing much more than merely saying “no.” You’re making a choice to give your full attention to what is essential. In order to do so requires choosing no.

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Brooke Billingsley

Vice President
Perception Strategies

Synnovatia is a strategic coaching firm that is detailed and knowledgeable about business. i have a small business that grew from $150K to $750K because of the goal setting and resources that Synnovatia provided. It saves me years of learning on my own.

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