Ineffective People Try To Do Everything. Hyper-Effective People Do Almost Nothing
If you have lots of priorities, you have no priorities.
My upcoming book What Extraordinary People Know focuses on this main point: that busyness ultimately leads to a mediocre life. I love my colleague Jeff Goins’ thought on this: “The most successful people I know aren’t busy — they’re focused.” In general, most people would prefer the dopamine hit of checking off another “to-do” list box than actually spend time doing something important.
The truth is, being “busy” is a sign of bad boundaries. When you’re overly busy, it’s a sign that you’ve said “yes” to things you should’ve declined. When you focused on busywork, you don’t have time to do what matters most, and you can waste weeks, months, and even years this way.
The reason effective people are so effective isn’t because they’re born that way, or that they happen to have superhuman discipline; they just say no to almost everything — except what matters most.
Here’s how to become hyper-effective at what you do — and stop doing the things you hate.
Here’s What Will Happen If You Keep Saying “Yes” to Things You Don’t Want to Do
In the words of best-selling author James Altucher, here’s what what will happen if you keep saying yes to things you shouldn’t:
“Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will resent people, you will do a bad job, you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life wi be burned up.”
Most people say yes by default — for the rush of pleasing someone, because they’re scared, because they have nothing better to do.
But when you try to do everything, you become extremely ineffective and tired. You’ll probably start to feel resentful and frustrated with those around you. You’ll make less money. You’ll feel less effective, because all your time isn’t your own anymore.
It’s time to start saying no to almost everything. That’s the key to your success, because you don’t get what you want by “majoring in minor things.”
Most people think success comes after spending a long time doing things they don’t want to do — pleasing bosses, looking good at meetings, winning in office politics. They think that, eventually, all that work will pay off.
Sometimes it does. But there’s a much easier, faster way — start saying no to almost everything.
In the past few years, I’ve learned a simple truth: there is important work to be done to achieve my biggest goals, and if I want to be successful, I need to spend most of my time doing those things. The more time I spend on other things, the longer it’ll take me to reach my goals.
A couple years ago, my wife and I moved to South Korea to teach English. My biggest goal was to become a full-time writer by the end of our year.
As soon as we moved, I was offered a ton of opportunities to:
- Get paid to be a private tutor
- Be a drummer for a local church
- Be a remote data analyst
- Be a youth basketball coach
- Be a remote career coach
- Be a youth camp counselor
I said no to all of them.
Why? These were high-paying, interesting jobs that many people would love to do.
I said no because they didn’t align with my #1 goal: to become a full-time writer. That was my sole focus.
As a result, I had a ton of time to work on my writing. All my free time outside of teaching went to writing. By the end of just 12 months in South Korea focusing solely on my writing, here’s what I gained:
- A signed book deal
- 30,000+ new email subscribers
- A full-time writing income
- Hundreds of thousands of monthly readers
- Featured in huge publications like CNBC, Business Insider, Thought Catalog, and an international magazine
- Freedom to work for myself doing what I love
I learned that if I started saying “yes” to things I didn’t really want to do, then I wouldn’t reach my #1 goal. Sure, people might feel rejected, or have hurt feelings, but in the end, I chose to focus on my goal, not anyone else’s. That’s how I succeeded in achieving my most important goal.
Start saying “no” to almost everything.
“If it’s not a ‘Hell yeah!’ it’s a no.” -Derek Sivers
When You Focus On Only The Essentials, You’ll Get What You Want
What is important right now?
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about how you should spend most of your time on the important, but not urgent tasks. These tasks are the hardest type of task to do, because you could always put it off for another day without much consequence — writing a book, creating a business, improving your relationships, etc.
The truth is, most people spend most of their time on the opposite — urgent, yet not important stuff. Emails, meetings, phone notifications, celebrity gossip, the latest news cycle. All this screams now now now! But in the end, virtually none of it really mattered.
When you focus only the essentials, you’ll start getting what you want.
What do you want? It’s a fair question, one that, frankly, most people can’t answer. They haven’t put in the time to really figure out what they’re doing, where they’re headed, and how they’re going to get there. In the words of best-selling author Darren Hardy:
“Most people drift through life without devoting much conscious energy to figuring out specifically what they want and what they need to do to get themselves there.”
Once you realize what you want, you’ll see the essential things you need to do to get there. That’s when you’ll start making progress and stop wasting so much time being ineffective.
When my writing business started to take off, I was able to narrow my most essential things to do to 3 things:
- Write great content
- Create great products
- Sell those products
Everything else was non-essential.
So that’s what I did. I started focusing entirely on my writing, and selling great products I created. I invested thousands of dollars into important online tools, like better email capability, online course creation, and webinar tools.
In the past, these expenses would’ve been impossible to swallow — if you told me 3 years ago that I’d be paying $300 a month just to host all my email subscribers…I would’ve fainted.
But these are essential expenses, and as a result, I’m making far more money than ever before, and working less hours than ever before. Now that I know my essentials, I can spend all my time doing those things and trust I’ll get the results I want.
When you focus on the essentials, you’ll start getting what you want.
“What do you need to do to sleep peacefully?” -Greg Mckeown
Wherever You Are, Be There
“Wherever you are, make sure you’re there.” -Dan Sullivan
Most people’s focus is spread far too thin to achieve anything meaningful.
Instead of narrowing their time and energy into only what is most important — family, health, personal development, leaving a legacy — they’re bogged down by countless obligations they don’t care about.
Most people spend the bulk of their most potent energy reserves on (when you really look at it) essentially meaningless tasks: Email. Commuting. Complaining. Television. Partying.
Many of these are simply inconsequential tasks we build up to be of utmost importance.
The worst part about prioritizing minutiae over Legacy Tasks (the projects that truly define who you are) is you become less and less present in whatever you’re doing.
If you’re not present and fully engaged with whatever you’re currently doing, you’ll always experience subpar and diluted results, relationships, and outcomes.
Wherever you are — be there.
“You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” -John C. Maxwell.
In Anders Ericsson’s book Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, he describes how world-class experts become so skilled — basically, how they become so effective at what they do.
When they were practicing and training, these world-class performers were 100% engaged. Nothing else mattered. Chess grand masters, mixed martial artist champions, and professional athletes had one thing on their mind — whatever it was they were currently doing. They didn’t dilute their time and energy by multitasking and thinking of other projects. “It is better to train at 100% effort for a shorter time than 70% for a longer period,” Ericsson explains.
The same went for resting. Once they stopped training, they forgot about practice entirely. When they were off the clock, every fiber and thought was spent on recovery and relaxation.
100% focus when you’re training. 100% relaxing when you rest.
“100% when you’re working, 100% when you’re not.” -Anders Ericsson
“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.” -Greg Mckeown, Essentialism
The busy life will leave you tired, unfocused, and generally ineffective in everything you do.
The world’s most extraordinary and effective people spend their time very differently than everyone else — they say no to almost everything, and spend most of their time on only the essential. That’s why they’re so effective.
You need to start saying no more — to people, projects, and tasks that are keeping you stuck where you are. What got you here won’t get you there. You make progress by removing obstacles that keep you stuck.
Wherever you are, be there. Be focused on being present, wherever you are.
When you focus on the essentials, that’s when you’ll start getting what you want. That’s how you become hyper-effective.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates
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