The Secret to Getting the Right Things Done

Learning to say no gives managers more control of their time — and their value.

In this short video, author and executive coach Greg McKeown boils down the primary message of his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014) and workshops to this: When you control your choices about how you spend your time and energy, you’ll get the right things done at the right time.

If this were easy, McKeown concedes, people wouldn’t need help doing it. But controlling your time often involves saying “no” to bosses, colleagues, and family. For most people, he says, that can feel so risky that they “won’t even experiment with saying ‘no’.” Learning how to say no sensibly, with grace, and unapologetically is the key to staying focused on the critical things you want to pursue — what McKeown calls “the disciplined pursuit of less.”

McKeown’s coaching work with Silicon Valley executives has led him to believe that success itself is one of the biggest catalysts of failure. Success can lead to an overwhelming uptick in options, causing many leaders and managers to lose the focus that brought them success in the first place.

Finding the space and time to identify the most important things to focus on is the first step. The next step is to eliminate the other demands on your plate and to set up a process for “effortless execution” (in which doing what is essential becomes the default position as opposed to the exception). By focusing on what is essential, McKeown counsels, you can decrease stress while increasing your own satisfaction and contribution to your workplace.