Priorities: ‘No’ is the New ‘Yes’
Are you a prisoner to urgent matters? Try these four powerful yet
simple practices to clarify your priorities.
by Tony Schwartz
I WAS SITTING with the CEO and senior team of a well-respected
organization. One at a time, they told me they spend their long days either
in back-to-back meetings, responding to email or putting out fires. They
also readily acknowledged this way of working wasn’t serving them well —
personally or professionally.
It’s a conundrum they couldn’t seem to solve. It’s also a theme on which I
hear variations every day. Think of it as a madness loop — a vicious cycle.
We react to what’s in front of us, whether it truly matters or not. More
than ever, we’re prisoners of the urgent.
Prioritizing requires reflection, which takes time, and many of the
executives I meet are so busy racing just to keep up that they believe they
don’t have time to stop and think about much of anything.
Too often — and masochistically — they default to “yes.” Saying yes to
requests feels safer, avoids conflict and takes less time than pausing to
decide whether or not the request is truly important.
Truth be told, there’s also an adrenaline rush in saying yes. Many of us
have become addicted, unwittingly, to the speed of our lives — the
adrenaline high of constant busyness. We mistake activity for productivity,
more for better, and we ask ourselves “What’s next?” far more often than we
do “Why this?” But as Gandhi put it, “A ‘no’ uttered from the deepest
conviction is better than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to
Saying no, thoughtfully, may be the most undervalued capacity of our times.
In a world of relentless demands and infinite options, it behooves us to
prioritize the tasks that add the most value. That also means deciding what
to do less of, or to stop doing altogether.
Making these choices requires that we regularly step back from the madding
crowd. It’s only when we pause — when we say no to the next urgent demand or
seductive source of instant gratification — that we give ourselves the space
to reflect on, metabolize, assess and make sense of what we’ve just
Taking time also allows us to collect ourselves, refuel and renew, and make
conscious course corrections that ultimately save us time when we plunge
back into the fray.
What follows are four simple practices that serve a better prioritized and
more intentional life:
1. Schedule in your calendar anything that feels important but not urgent —
to borrow Steven Covey’s phrase. If it feels urgent, you’re likely going to
get it done. If it’s something you can put off, you likely will — especially
if it’s challenging.
The key to success is building rituals — highly specific practices that you
commit to doing at precise times, so that over time they become automatic,
and no longer require much conscious intention or energy. One example is
scheduling regular time in your calendar for brainstorming, or for more
strategic and longer term thinking.
The most recent ritual I added to my life is getting entirely offline after
dinner each evening, and on the weekends. I’m only two weeks into the
practice, but I know it’s already created space in my mind to think and
2. As your final activity before leaving work in the evening, set aside
sufficient time — at least 15 to 20 minutes — to take stock of what’s
happened that day and to decide the most important tasks you want to
accomplish the next day.
Clarifying and defining your priorities — what the researcher Peter
Gollwitzer calls “implementation intentions” — will help you to stay focused
on your priorities in the face of all the distractions you’ll inevitably
face the following day.
3. Do the most important thing on your list first when you get to work in
the morning, for up to 90 minutes. Keep your door closed, your email turned
off and your phone on silent. The more singularly absorbed your focus, the
more you’ll get accomplished and the higher the quality of the work is
likely to be. When you finish, take a break to renew and refuel.
Most of us have the highest level of energy and the fewest distractions in
the morning. If you can’t begin the day that way, schedule the most
important activity as early as possible. If you’re one of the rare people
who feels more energy later in the day, designate that time instead to do
your most important activity.
4. Take at least one scheduled break in the morning, one in the afternoon
and leave your desk for lunch. These are each important opportunities to
renew yourself so that your energy doesn’t run down as the day wears on.
They’re also opportunities to briefly take stock.
Here are two questions you may want to ask yourself during these breaks:
• Did I get done what I intended to get done since my last break and if not,
• What do I want to accomplish between now and my next break, and what do I
have to say “no” to, in order to make that possible?
‘Cash mobs’ flood local shops with cash
First, there were flash mobs, masses of people who gathered in public spaces
and often burst into song and dance. Now, we have the cash mob, a similar
phenomenon — sans theatrics — that is giving small business a boost. The
organizers send out details via Facebook and Twitter: where to meet up, what
time and how much cash to bring (usually around $20).
The first cash mob was in Buffalo, N.Y., last September, organized by Chris
Smith, an engineer at Oracle. Since then, events have spread to nearly 30
cities. For example, last November in Cleveland, a cash mob descended upon
Visible Voice, a local bookstore, where a group of 40 or so spent about $1,500.
The blog cashmobs.wordpress.com offers suggested guidelines for setting up a
cash mob, including: a location is announced but not a specific business,
businesses must be locally owned, business owners give back to the community in
some way and the businesses must approve the cash mob before it is announced.
Also, the location should be near a local watering hole, so that the mob can
grab drinks afterward, thus supporting another local business.
Source: Inc. Magazine, Mar. 2012
Rise of the solo economy
According to a 1957 survey, the average American thought that people who
preferred being unmarried were either “sick,” “immoral” or “neurotic.” Oh, how
things have changed. Today, only 51% of adults are married and 28% of all
households now consist of just one person — the highest level in U.S. history.
Conventional wisdom is that these “singletons” tend to be lonely and isolated,
perhaps even social failures. But after extensive research, Eric Klinenberg, a
professor of sociology at New York University and author of Going Solo: The
Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, has concluded
that the conventional wisdom has it wrong. He says that most singletons are so
by choice, are reluctant to settle and willingly pay a premium for the privilege
of living alone.
In fact, singletons are fueling the economy. They spend more discretionary
dollars than their married counterparts. Their average per capita annual
expenditure was $34,471 in 2010, compared with $28,017 for married individuals
without kids and $23,179 per person in the highest-spending families with
children. Singletons play an essential role in revitalizing cities and public
spaces. They’re more likely to eat in cafés and restaurants, go to a gym, take
art classes, attend public events and volunteer. A majority of singletons are
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that U.S. singles contribute $1.9
trillion to the economy annually. Historically, corporations have made little
effort to target this market. But their purchasing power has grown so
dramatically that companies are beginning to pay attention.
Source: Fortune, Feb. 6, 2012
Is Pinterest the next big thing in social media?
A new social media site is stepping up as a valuable marketing tool for
businesses. Pinterest, an online bulletin board for your favorite images,
launched in 2010 and is already experiencing wild growth. The site registered
more than 7 million unique visitors in December, up from 1.6 million in
September. And it’s driving more traffic to company websites and blogs than
YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined.
Pinterest allows you to organize images — such as beautiful floral arrangements
or wines you’ve tasted — into boards for specific categories. When you “pin”
something new, your followers will see it. They can like, comment or re-pin it
to their boards. Like Facebook content, your Pinterest pins can go viral.
Perhaps the most powerful business application is the ability to post images of
your products on your Pinterest board and link them back to your website. It
works as a sort of virtual store catalog.
But remember that this is social media. If you simply display images of your
products without contributing other content or sharing other users’ pins, you’ll
likely find that people don’t pay much attention. But savvy social media users
know not to get too promotional. For example, Daniel Gordon, who runs Samuel
Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City, pins pictures of his rings and watches, but he
also has a board for images that make him laugh and other types of products he
Source: Entrepreneur.com, February 7, 2012
Newspaper websites visited by 63% of adults
While newspaper readership has been declining in recent years, newspaper
websites are gaining steam and becoming more appealing to advertisers. More
newspapers are implementing strategies designed to boost digital ad response,
such as product launches including animated editorials and smart phone apps.
Newspaper websites in the fourth quarter of 2011 averaged more than 111 million
monthly unique visitors, according to an analysis of comScore data by the
Newspaper Association of America. The monthly figure represented an increase of
almost 6% over the year-earlier period.
The data also show that 63% of all adult Internet users visit newspaper
websites. Furthermore, newspaper websites attract affluent readers — 70% of
Internet users with household income above $60,000 are reached by newspaper
websites, a reach that climbs to 75% when looking at household incomes above
Other key findings of the analysis: For people ages 45 to 54, newspaper website
percentage reach of Internet users climbed to 67%. Within the 18-to-34
demographic, newspaper website reach of Internet users remained at or above 60%.
Source: Mediapost.com, Feb. 20, 2012
Can Facebook’s EdgeRank be manipulated?
EdgeRank is an algorithm that Facebook uses to determine if fans get to see
your posts. It’s based on the number of interactions a page receives such as
“likes,” posts or comments. Because of EdgeRank, the typical post only reaches
about 17% of your fans.
BlitzLocal released a study titled, “What We’ve Learned From 120 Billion
Facebook Impressions.” The study suggests that to increase interaction, brands
need to post more often and engage their consumers in a two-way dialogue. More
than 70% of the interaction occurs during the first hour that a post is made.
Keep your efforts up by posting more often and monitoring right after you post
(versus posting and going to bed.)
The best posts, in order of effectiveness, are: video, links, asking a question,
photos and status updates. In all cases, a post with a question tends to drive
increased interaction (up to 20%) compared to posts without questions.
Longer posts tend to perform poorly. The ideal interaction being driven by posts
is between 100 to 119 characters.
Source: Clickz.com, Feb. 23, 2012
- Discover new ideas
for your business by “hate
surfing.” One of the
best ways to change your
customer’s experience is to dive
headfirst into negativity. Hate
surfing is a term that describes
the act of going online
specifically to read as many
negative comments, reviews, blog
posts, tweets and messages as
possible to generate insights
that can help you run your
business better. Start with any
negative comments about your own
company and expand to your
competitors and the industry in
general. Hiding within those
complaints are opportunities to
delight customers in ways your
competitors might be missing.
- Persuade prospects
to respond to your emails
through the use of certain words
in the subject line.
Baydin, a maker of email
management tools, gathered data
from 5 million emails and
discovered which subject lines
got the most responses and which
did not. The most effective
words are: apply, opportunity,
demo, connect, payments,
conference and cancellation.
Words to avoid: confirm, join,
assistance, speaker, press,
social and invite.
- Achieve your goals
by keeping your mouth shut.
This idea was popularized by
Derek Sivers in his presentation
at TED. Contrary to popular
belief, psychology tests have
proven that when you tell
someone your goal and they
acknowledge it, you are less
likely to do the work to realize
that goal. This is because your
brain mistakes the talking for
the doing — that is, the
gratification that the social
acknowledgment brings tricks
your brain into feeling that the
goal has already been
accomplished. The satisfaction
you experience in the telling
removes the motivation to do
whatever it takes to actually
make it happen.
- A strong “call to
action” can be a powerful
motivator for your prospect
to take the next step in the
buying process (e.g., call,
click, stop by, download,
“like,” tell a friend, etc.). A
wimpy call to action, such as
“call us” or “click here,” will
do little to spur action. Rev up
your message with these tips: 1)
Start by identifying the problem
(the pain) and explain how your
product or service solves it.
The benefits you offer can
become part of your call to
action. 2) Make your call to
action stand out visually. 3)
Offer an incentive, such as a
discount or free gift, as a
reward for heeding your call to
action. 4) Avoid surrounding
your call to action with too
many choices. For example,
presenting three action choices
— “View Demo,” “Get More
Information” and “Buy Now” — all
in the same place will reduce
the success rate.
- When trying to
focusing on problems tends to
create fatigue and resistance,
many studies have shown, whereas
looking for opportunities to
build on strengths leads to
inspiration and motivation. This
doesn’t mean ignoring problems.
But it does mean that the
rational idea of pointing out to
employees just how bad things
are doesn’t work. Instead, focus
on how your organization’s, or
individuals’, strengths can be
used to overcome challenges.
- Has this ever
happened to you? You’re
talking to a client and you
realize that the conversation
has gotten off on the wrong
foot. When a business
conversation becomes awkward and
stilted — or even worse, heated
and combative — what do you do
next? If you continue trying to
make your point, the tension is
likely to escalate, creating a
greater divide. If you bring the
conversation to an abrupt end
and exit, you’ll both be left
with a bad taste in your mouth.
However, you can likely salvage
the situation with the use of
this phrase: “Do you mind if we
start over?” People are
forgiving. They want things to
go well, and this question
disarms them and eases the way
to a new beginning.
Source: Power Questions
by Andrew Sobel and Jerry Panas
- If you often lower
your price to get the deal, you
are probably selling in the
wrong context. Price is
relative to business problems.
If you are selling in the
iron-triangle of Service,
Quality and Price, then you are
not selling value that solves
business problems. You are
selling into a comparative
matrix that boxes you into a
same-same measurement with your
competitors. When you solve
business problems — time, money
and risk — then you are in a
very different dialogue. What’s
more, the greater your ability
to solve those problems, the
more you should be able to
charge. In the world of business
solutions, there is no such
thing as a true
so stop acting like what you
offer is a commodity and show
how you are different.
- Military veterans
that own their own business
have a number of resources
available to them. From training
to financing to federal
contracting opportunities, new
programs are cropping up
frequently. There are too many
to list here, but you can visit
http://dbhc.us/5 for more
- How mobile-friendly
is your website? Today,
it’s reported that half of all
local searches are performed on
a mobile device, and those
searchers are quick to leave a
website that has slow load times
and poor readability. In fact,
60% expect a mobile site to load
properly in three seconds or
less. A new Google initiative,
GoMo (www.howtogomo.com), allows
you to test the mobile
functionality of your website,
showing you what your mobile
visitors are actually seeing. It
also provides tips for improving
the mobile readiness of your
site, as well as resources for
building the mobile version of
your website. Some tips: keep
loading times fast, simplify
navigation, be “thumb friendly”
and design for visibility.
Business Intelligence Report
(ISSN 1091-9597) is published 12 times a
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Copyright, 2012, DBH Communications,
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