Last night, I had a breakthrough: I realized that personal productivity is the new dieting. (Like all evening epiphanies, this one is subject to future revision, refinement, and rejection.)

Here’s what I mean.

A century ago, America didn’t have much of a weight loss industry. Why?  Lack of demand. Back then, calories were generally scarce and expensive. As a result, few people had the luxury to overindulge — which meant that waistlines didn’t expand and the Dieting Industrial Complex couldn’t exist.

But then, over the next few decades, a funny thing happened: The economics flipped. Calories became abundant and cheap. In this new environment, people, driven by genes programmed to accumulate those calories, did overindulge — which delivered lots of new customers to a once-tiny industry and presented our society with clutch of unexpected problems (obesity, diabetes, etc.)

Personal productivity has followed the same path.

A century ago, middle class Americans didn’t have many options or much information. That enabled a simpler, though not necessarily better, life. So notwithstanding a few Ben Franklins and Napoleon Hills, we didn’t need a ginormous industry devoted to helping us sort through our choices and refine our priorities.

But then, once again, things flipped. We now inhabit an environment (at least in much of the developed world) of abundant options and boundless, inexpensive information. That has triggered our dopamine-seeking instincts to pile too much onto our professional plates — which in turn has produced an entire infrastructure to help us avoid gorging ourselves.

The result is that the question that has bedeviled dieters now bedevils many of us in the option-rich, information-saturated Conceptual Age: How do we say “No?”

But as the wise Elizabeth Gilbert points out in the short video clip below, it’s not just saying no in general or declining what we don’t find interesting. It’s saying no to things we actually want to do.

Here the dieting analogy clarifies the problem. It’s easy for most of us to say no to a kelp and wheat germ smoothie. But saying no to the andouille cheese fries at Louisiana Kitchen? That’s tougher.

And so the more I think about it, the more I realize that one of our big challenges (again, for those of us who lucked out, live in the developed world, and earn our living through something besides grinding physical labor) is this: How do we say no to things we want to do?

I don’t have a good answer — but I have explored a few options:

But I wonder if we could go further and help each other out — much as peer groups assist dieters. For instance, when someone who seems pretty interesting asks to meet for coffee or to talk on the phone for “only fifteen minutes,” maybe the options aren’t only to say Yes and feel like you’ve compromised your priorities — or No and feel guilty.

Instead, maybe there’s something we could say that indicates that their request falls into the “I’d love to, but my health depends on saying no to things I want to do” category. Maybe a phrase (“cheese fries”)? A new coinage (“R-No” — for “reluctant no”)? A link to this blog post?

I wouldn’t want to return to a world of limited options and pricey information any more than I’d like to return to a world of scarce, expensive calories. But I think we all need a little help dealing with our new circumstances and saying no to things that we want to do.

If you’ve got ideas on how to do that, leave them in the Comments section and I’ll repost the best advice.

56 Responses to “How to say No . . . especially to things you want to do”

  1. Thanks for this article. This is an interesting perspective and I never thought about the economics of information overload. I made a commitment about four years ago to say no to things that I didn’t want to do, but my friends did (i.e. going to the club, drinking, etc.) However, I still have a hard time not indulging in things that I want to do. Do I really need to check my Facebook page again today?

    One thing that I have been doing is a peer group session with other entrepreneurs that we have on Friday afternoons over Skype to make sure that we are all staying on track with our goals. I love the idea of to-don’t list and I’m going to bring that up to the group tomorrow. Thanks!

  2. Jarno Virtanen says:

    I don’t think the dieting analogy works: at least the way it was used here. I understood Gilbert’s comment to mean that there’s this hugely important project, which is to be protected from _other useful and good projects_. Things you really do want to do, but shouldn’t because there’s the other project that needs to be done. The things you want to do aren’t necessarily bad for you, but if you commit to those, you cannot finish your highest priority project.

    So the things you want to do but shouldn’t is not, in my opinion, analogous with junk food.

  3. Avatar photo Dan Pink says:

    @Lawrence –

    Peer groups are a great idea. Could be a big help on this front.

  4. I think the analogy is a good one. I completely agree with the importance of saying “no” to things that we really want to do, but deep down we know are not consistent the achievement of our goals or completion of our projects.

    While the “to don’t” list is a novel idea (I already made a quick one), I prefer to think along the lines of Jim Collins’ hedgehog concept.

  5. This is a great look at things. One idea immediately that came to mind is the power of a recognized name. Many people can now say something like, “Thanks for offering me that, but I’m on South Beach,” and they expect others to 1. know what that is, 2. care, and 3. respect them for it.

    Similar to diets, I expect productivity fads to come and go a bit. But if we could figure out a good way to name something like this, it would be much simpler to enter into our collective consciousness in a way that can then be easily referenced and understood.

    Then you could say to that pretty interesting person, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m on Steep Ascent,” and s/he would feel only slightly rebuffed, but would understand that you are laser-focused on your top priorities at the moment.

  6. I’ve used the principles of Zen Buddhist practice to “guard” my book project – including having a sangha (a group of like-minded folks who “know”), a daily practice (same time, same place, the mind/body learns: “Oh, this is the only thing I can do right now”), and aspects of a sesshin or meditation retreat – limiting communication, being mindful of where energy is spent, and having a focused period of time – usually 6 weeks but I’ve done as long as 6 months – when the answer to *everything* is “No, I can’t consider anything new until [end date of sesshin].” Working FT, being a parent & partner, this and renting an office where all I do there is write and no one even knows where it is…this is the only way to get my heart-felt work done. In the same way a “diet” frees one to eat mindfully and healthily and listen to the body’s needs, this practice keeps bringing me back to what I want the most.

  7. I love how you’ve analogized to dieting. The comparison lends quite well (and makes it easier for people to see that information overload really IS a problem).

    The peer group idea is a good start, but if we, again, look to dieting, the next line of succession would be for it to seep into media outlets thereby reaching a greater audience. I wonder if this would almost be like the snake eating its own tail (as the very thing reporting on information overload would be, essentially, part of the problem). It’d be kind of like a twilight zone episode (except, set in the present day).

    Most of all — I’m glad you’ve shared. Epiphanies are great, but they’re even better when they’re “out there” for someone to build upon or extrapolate from. This idea feels like it has real depth.

    With Gratitude,


  8. Virginia Kling says:

    All great comments above. But does making this ravenous information overload eliminate the career of the personal assistant(s)? Kidding aside, like most things I believe that “all things in excess are not in my bet interest.”. Serious, too much money=tax and unknown family issues; too much religion = eliminates too much money but brings in a different level of guilt; too much information= less sleep/friends/socializing/ poor eyesight …

    The catch phease you are seeking is WILL POWER. We just need a leader to be able to point out how to identify how much is too much for each of us. Develop a scale that the average person can use to guide themselves and allow them to make the decision cause the horse won’t drink if you’re standing between the water and it’s mouth.

  9. Katie says:

    Excellent analogy. And just like with food, we overly rely on our willpower to help us, to our detriment.

    At every turn and opportunity, we so often ask the question, “Would I like to do that?”, rather than, “Is that the very best thing I can be doing with my time right now?”. And this time management question is even more crucial than weight loss or financial decisions, because time is the base – and limited – resource we need to be able to obtain all other resources (health, wealth).

    Very well put. Thanks. 🙂

  10. Alexis Neely says:

    Reluctant no, I like that. I think in general the answer is more communication of truth. So instead of just saying “yes” or “no” — how about we share what’s really going on? Something like this …

    You know, I’d really love to AND here’s what’s going on in my life … I’m running two businesses, raising my kids and juggling community and a long distance relationship. I’m going to say no for now, but please do contact me again in the future.

    Ugh, just writing out the reluctant no here brings up all my FOMO (fear of missing out) stuff. 🙂

    Thanks Dan.

  11. Dragos Roua says:

    I was a big fan of GTD myself, until I realized GTD is about “doing” things (yeah, really). Whereas, believe it or not, we’re designed to act in at least 2 more other realms than the realm of “Do”. And those two realms are “Assess” and “Decide”.

    In “Assess” I’m evaluating, collecting data, even procrastinating (I confess I wanted a productivity framework which includes procrastination 🙂 ). In “Decide” I “sign a contract” to do something, by assigning a date and a context (GTD-like contexts) to it. I’m not assessing anything, I’m just projecting this future reality, when that thing will be done. While in “Do”, I simply do that thing, knowing that it was already assessed and decided upon. So my tasks are floating in these 3 realms, based on my in-the-now availability and “mood” (which of course includes the commitments made in “Decide”).

    One of the advantages of this framework is that I eliminated guilt. If there’s something I want to do, I just empty my head on it, putting it in “Assess” and it may stay there for years, until I “Decide” if I’m gonnna “Do” it or not. If I don’t want to do it, it will just stay there. It’s a way of saying “No” as in “Not right now”. It has also many other advantages, like the ability to send a task back and forth from “Do”, “Decide” and “Assess”, something which I’m referring to as “the death of the deadline as we know it”.

  12. Ooh interesting. I’m writing a book at the moment, on the stuff that sucks up our time, so this is very relevant – personally and professionally!

    I try to say Yes on my own terms. If I do want to talk to someone I ask myself when, where, how and how long would work best for me and give them that option. “I’d love to talk. How about…” If an explanation is needed, “I’m full on with x right now or I’m flat out working on my book until xx. Can we hook up after that?”

    It’s like me choosing to have a small piece of really nice chocolate after I’m full with a nutritious meal, rather than gorging on it when I’m starving!

    If I’m even more time-pressed I may mention an event or networking meeting I’m due to attend and suggest we meet there.

    And if the other person has a deadline or wants to run something specific by me, then I’ll suggest they email me their thoughts and I’ll get back to them in my own time.

    Hope that helps – keep us updated on the names front!

  13. Jen Marten says:

    I have two things I do. First, I treat new committments like sweaters. If I take on a new one, an old one has to be discarded. Second, I learned a lesson from a friend a few years back. She took a highlighter and wrote NO in big letters across every page of her calendar. When she was asked to do something else, she would say, “I would love to, but my calendar is telling me no.” It’s amazing how that visual actually works.

  14. Renaud says:

    I should do this every morning:
    – Get urgent emails out of the way, before 9am
    – Put the rest on a to-do list, organized by priority. Dump the non-important stuff.
    – At 9am: plan the day ahead: how much free time do I have? what can I realistically do before 7pm?
    – Only do these things, and forget all the rest. Take breaks at least every 90min.

  15. Alexis Robin says:

    I am a GTD loyalist myself.

    Choosing what to do and not to do is simple not easy. First you must know where you’re headed. Where do you want to be at the end of this year? Then every time you decide to do or not to do, ask, “Will this get me closer or further to my goal”? If it’s closer you do it, if it’s further you don’t.

    Knowing that I’m human and sometimes want to do the things that won’t get me closer to my goals, I use the 80/20 rule. If I can say no to those less productive things 80% of the time then I’m that much closer to where I want to be.

  16. Anne says:

    As an over-indulger of both food and information, I enjoyed reading your blog post this morning while simultaneously consuming breakfast and my twitter feed. I think the analogy is good, but I would take it just a bit further.

    In my struggle with food I have learned that it is not just my genes or my willpower that gives me trouble. It is my internal “script” about food – a convoluted mess of cultural ideas and family habits. Key to losing more than 60 pounds (finally!) has not been learning to say “no” but to listen to when my body really wants me to say “yes”. Yes to exercise, yes to healthy foods, etc.

    In the same way, I think we have to develop new skills of intuition when it comes to filtering information. Maybe this is tapping into our natural curiosity or noticing when we just can’t shake a question or idea. Tuning in to that still, small voice that says, “pay attention!” That’s something I am still figuring out.

    But the idea of saying “no” to information doesn’t sit with me well. Not because I have an info addiction, but because the best things I have ever heard or read came from places and people I normally never would have sought out on my own. Within any rigid “no” system I could possibly lose the opportunity to stumble upon that crucial piece of information, hidden in the most unlikely of places. In my experience, that’s the kind of information that shifts paradigms.

    Kind of like how a little book called “Free Agent Nation” helped me rethink my consulting business. 🙂 Yeah, that was a gift from a friend – never would have picked that out on my own!

  17. An alternate less intimidating way to way to think about doing work is organizing your tasks in a simple kanban workflow. If you limit your frame of workspace, the chances of getting work done are a lot better. This is not new. Small production batches improve quality and opportunity to collaborate – this is a Lean principle that works/worked. Why not apply that to your personal To Do lists?

    I just released my kanban based To Do list app. Check it out at and my blog:


  18. Randy says:

    heidi grant halvorson just had a course on goals and motivation and tackled this subject straight on. The gist is that you can’t say no, you have to create situations where no’s occur less. Yes, you can increase your willpower but it depletes quickly.

    Look her up… her book is Success. I’m also loving The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It

  19. Mike Brice says:

    The actor Vin Diesel told Jay Leno that the key to success was not giving up what you want most for what you want now. While his friends had new TVs and cable, he lived without as he was saving for a camera that he would use to launch his film career.

    I have often thought of this – am I giving up what I want most for what I want now.

  20. Brilliant post – and timely, as this is something I really need help with myself.

    I’m learning that part of the answer for me is allowing myself to focus on what I am most excited about and most drawn to do (my purpose and excitement), from which focus follows when I trust that I won’t miss out by focusing and that many things/opportunities will come around again if they are exciting to me and make sense for me.

    However, it’s very much a work in progress, especially as I am a person that most stretches myself and thrives in the midst of diversity, complexity, and seemingly impossible goals.

  21. Doug Toft says:

    Change your speaking. Substitute “and” for “but.”

    “I’d love to do that, but I’m saying no” changes to “I’d love to do that AND I’m saying no.”

    Saying “and” affirms the value of a potential project while also asserting our right to choose.

    Ironically, admitting the value of a project makes it easier for me to say no to it.

  22. Bruce Howard says:

    Dan, all the responses show how this posting is resonating with folks! I too borrow from GTD and other toolkits…all a work in progress, and one that changes as I age and re-evaluate what matters most. Ferocius single-mindedness helps fuel accomplishments, and can sometimes leave collateral damage in its wake.

    I’ve tried to eliminate some of the noise: less television, dumped my smartphone (ok, do have an iPad now), and just try to be less interupt-driven…but it’s a challenge.

  23. Rachel Peterson says:

    I align with some of your other commenters around exploring “doing vs. being”. I work with (coaching) clients to learn to … stop. breathe. ask themselves, 1) Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now, and 2) am I being who I most want to be right now. This simple practice can readjust the cluttered mind and bring focus back to the present. Where, if we are honest, we are our most calm and productive selves.

    ~ love your posts, queries, and observations… keep ’em coming…

  24. I do what I love. I say no to things that I don’t want to. But I have a hard time not to be exhausted by my fear of being left behind. Of missing out on the interesting conversations taking place when I am not there. Missing out of the one piece of information that could have made tremendous impact for me and my business.

    And turning 50 this year I have recently befriended a new kind of fear. The ”not having enough time” fear. I want to do so much. Experience so many things. But will there be enough time. These fears drive me to go on turbo. Doing what I love. But doing it too fast. Too much. And too often.

    I have to stay still and say to myself: ”There is enough time. The good stuff will show itself to me. When I am ready for it. I don’t have to be there, and everywhere. It will come.”

  25. great analogy — I made the same one to a friend who was having a really hard time with her friend group… we coined the term “Dorito” — as in, the kind of junk food that’s not worth the calories — to define some of the people in her life.

  26. Cynthia Maloney says:

    I think the obvious parallel is the idea of delayed gratification. It’s not that you can’t talk with your friends, or eat those Doritos, it’s just that you can’t do it right now. Now you have to work, write, turn off the Twitter, whatever it is you need to do to feel like you are accomplishing something. Self-discipline is always useful, and difficult!

  27. Kathy Sierra says:

    Baumeister’s work tells us that (as an earlier commenter mentioned) that finding more/better ways to say “no” to things we crave is the least effective (if even POSSIBLE) approach while finding ways to *avoid* contexts where we’re seduced has a far greater chance for success. I am loving Clay Johnson’s book “Information Diet” for a semi-related look at this problem.

    But I think the science around willpower-as-easily-depleted-resource holds the best promise for helping us with this. I think the analogy is spot-on, and in the willpower and (partly controversial) brain glucose studies show, saying NO to reading that news story is absolutely tied to saying no to that chocolate cake. Or more unsettling, the more you say NO to the productivity-killing-but-desirable things, the more you will say YES to the diet-killing food.

    i’d be so thrilled to see you take this one on 🙂

  28. I love this comparison.

    A To-Do list can be as good a productivity diet aid as a food plan is for your girth. By outlining what you want to do you have an arial view of your day. The list helps you see if your day has balance.

    If you get an attractive invitation you can quickly look at your list and see if you can drop something, maintain balance and take advantage of the invite. Or you can see that you have hit the activity calorie allotment for the day and save that opportunity for another day.

  29. Ben Knight says:

    Dan, I believe the Conceptual Age is over (like the height of Conceptual Art in the 1960s).

    We are in a different Age now. Most people are just hanging on to the 20th century.

  30. Robyn W says:

    Interesting approach – but a robust assessment of the newsletters, blogs that clog my email would mean that its “cheese-fries” or “rNo” to Dan Pink!

    Your safe for now as I don’t have the time to unsubscribe.

  31. You’ve hit the nail on the head. So hard to say no to the things that you really want to do – so we need to create our bigger picture on what outcomes we want to achieve, and what choices will get us there. Time is a scarce and non renewable resource.

  32. Ian Altman says:


    Great points. A friend of mine lost a ton of weight by staying on a strict low carb diet. Every few weeks, he would pick one day when he would binge on carbs. He would actually eat an entire sheet cake. This would satisfy his craving and helped him maintain focus the rest of the time.

    Following that model, perhaps we carve out a specific day or two each month to allow ourselves to do non-strategic things. Load all of the non-strategic “want to” tasks into the one or two days instead of allowing them to interrupt the rest of the month’s days.

    I tell my audiences that the key to effective business growth is not the skill to close good opportunities, but the skill to not waste time on the ones that are unlikely to produce positive results. Doing so allows proper focus on the good pursuits.

    Thanks for sharing.

  33. Hollie Flynn says:


    Good stuff. I am EXCELLENT at saying no to things that don’t align without any guilt. I am HORRIBLE at saying Yes! Yes! Yes! to all the things that excite me. Another new biz, another trip, a second home…another idea. It has led to a SUPER-SIZED life. I realized last year, that all my “yeses” were leaving little time and energy to fully enjoy and fully optimize any one yes. I’m currently downsizing to be more fully alive and have a richer experience with a couple of Yeses! It’s a practice for sure…I have to continually rope myself back in. But I know it will lead to much greater happiness and satisfaction. Great evening epiphany! 🙂

  34. This was a really great post. Very helpful. I struggle with this all the time. The to-don’t list idea is great! And I LOVE Jen’s idea of visually placing “NO” on a calendar, and the idea of not adding to the list of things you want to do until you’ve removed one. All great stuff.

    A couple of things have helped me, as I work full time, am earning my MBA at night, and am working on a startup on the side. My fear was always that saying no to a good freelance writing or PR project I get offered would mean I would somehow hurt/burn the possibly relationship with the person asking. As a 25-year old still at the beginning of my career, I hate the idea of hurting any possible relationships. When explaining this to a professor of mine, he told me that it is OK to say no, but follow up with “but I can do a phone call to discuss,” or “but in 3 months I will have more time to work and explore this. I will email you then.” It has helped, and I’ve learned that people are receptive and understanding that sometimes you just have too much on your plate.

    The app I use to manage my to-dos is “Do it tomorrow,” because it relieves me of that overwhelming feeling that I need to do 23 things today. Check it out, its an easy way to manage and prioritize.

    I’m also currently working on an app that will make running errands a bit easier, mostly because I would rather be working on something productive than pick up my drycleaning, finding a new doctor, or going to the shoe repair shop.

    Thanks again for the post!

  35. Jennie Wong says:

    As an executive coach, I have found in my work with high performing clients that the best tool for saying “no” is to clearly define your “yes” list. I work in a “3 goals in 3 months” format, and I help my clients not only create SMART goals, but also to develop a shorthand for each of their goals, allowing them to quickly bring to mind or recite the 3 things that they have committed to for the quarter. This makes saying no to everything else much, much easier.

  36. Daniel McDougall says:

    I have found Rescue Time productivity tool to be very good.

    It doesn’t block websites but it records how much time you spend there and gives you a weekly summary on Sunday. Knowing how you spend your time gives you a very powerful tool for making a plan about how to be more productive.

    At work, I have installed Leachblocker on firefox to block websites at specific times. This is more drastic but effective. The problem being is I will find other interesting websites to check out.

  37. Conor Neill says:

    I have been working on “saying no more” for about 5 years. I am getting better and better… but I find that it is always in a moment of distraction that someone manages to approach me and get the question in… and I find my mouth saying “sure, yeah.. ok”… and then I’m in.

    5 years ago, I developed a way of saying no that didn’t use no. I said “yeah, sure I’m free at 7am in my office in Sabadell [30kms away from Barcelona]” – this tended to have the effect of blocking out all but those that really were going to use my time valuably.

    I am still a learner on this one. Thanks for the reflections and ideas. Have a great weekend. (this weekend I did say “yes” to skiing… but that is a good thing!)

  38. Rick Lee says:


    I’ve loved your writings since Drive…and Left Brain Right Brain or sumptin’ like that. Your creative irreverence is incomparable. Now I hear that you will not even speak with me. Pains me.

    But your thesis was, once again, right on.

  39. Bruce Costa says:

    I’ve been struggling with these concepts for about the past two years, leading me to coin the term “Managing My Ignorance” among my associates. You describe the phenomenon well. I might argue that it’s worse than cheese on fries: they are items we feel that we HAVE TO do.

    To wit, I’ve been practicing Tom Peters’ friend’s “To Don’t List” for the last several months. My end-of-day stress and, indeed, feelings of elation are directly related to the length of the list I ended up with that morning. In other words, as Peters alludes, the number of things I’ll accomplish in a day, while invisible to me in the planning phase, are finite. My estimation of my abilities over the subsequent several hours, however, seems infinite. When I successfully find humility during that phase, that static accomplishment more likely ends with a day where I’ve accomplished 80% of what I’ve planned rather than 20%. High energy follows.

    Our career choices are so often the result of accidents of geography while we’re not old enough to understand the concept. We choose our college majors based on advice from a meeting or two with a guidance counsellor and think we know. As geography becomes less important to interweb-fluent young people, Managing Ignorance becomes more important. The solution is to study our gifts and resources and get our parents to help us decide what to invest the 10,000 hours IN.

  40. You nailed the comparison. Something clicked in me as soon as I read your analogy.

    Like so many others I have wrestled with this issue of information overload. I’ve been playing with just saying “no” but I could never wrap my brain around it.

    Now I fully get it.

    I’m suffering from information bloated, obese, congestive brain failure (no different than congestive heart failure from overeating).

    The analogy worked for me. It brought clarity to a confusing issue, and the background concept explaining both with cost of calories and cost of information both work…

    I say run with it. It’s a good one!

  41. I’ve been working and writing about this concept for awhile now. It’s always the stuff you love to do that’s the hardest to say no to, but it’s so essential to say no in order to reach that “bigger yes,” isn’t it?

    Who was it that said “say no to the good in favor of the great”?

    Still learning…

    Thanks for the Elizabeth Gilbert clip — I LOVE the idea of being my own bodyguard!

  42. Larry Chasse says:

    An analogy I would use is more around finances. If you simplify your life of a high consumptive spending lifestyle then you need less money to live on. You lead a better quality life with less stress and you are better able to prioritize your spending.

    I see taking on every to-do as similar. If you work for a company or are your own boss (freelancer), you need to focus on what counts. The lunch dates with colleagues or wasted 20 minute conversations hurt your personal time, which can have a negative effect on quality of life and productivity. These are still important, but make sure not to say yes to everyone.

    Someone above mentioned it and I would like to echo my agreement on a group that meets. Having mentors and peers who you can bounce ideas off of and help you keep you on track is important.

  43. Romy Singh says:

    Thanks for sharing such a nice article…..

    For me saying no to all those stuffs that i liked is much tougher, but i have my own solution that i would like to share here.

    1- I think the bad side of my loving stuff that makes it easier to say no to my loving stuff.

    2- Flip Your Mind and convert your love into hate.

    3- Follow This “Sometime Saying No Can Save Your Life.”

    4- Make A list of stuffs that you need to say no

    5- Realize the importance of saying no..

    all are my ways to say no to the things that i like…..

  44. jen says:

    Loved this and it has enabled me to consider ideas – the comments have been helpful too…but to add to my confusion and consume more of my time I would love to know what GTD is….

  45. Great topic and comments – lots of “food for thought”!

    Some things I’ve tried:
    1. We all have only 24 hrs in a day, & I’ve learned that time goes faster when trying to do multiple things at once (impossible but I still try!) rather than focusing on one thing at a time. Focusing helps me to get more out of each hour. Some people call this mindfulness.

    2. With work tasks and priorities, I use the 6-D method – sorry, don’t recall the source-when many things pile up I look at each time item and decide if it’s a Do, Delegate, Defer, Drop, or Diminish. Tricky when my boss doesn’t agree with my assessment, but when that happens, add another D, a Do-over of priorities!

    3. I left Facebook this week, my second leaving. It’s a time killer. But I still blog and tweet.

    4. A colleague suggested concentrating on my community/ies – whatever those are, and not get caught up in news stories and events that are removed and, while interesting, not relevant. Of course everyone will have their own parameters and approach to local/regional/nat’l/int’l news, but his suggestion reminded me to consider more thoughtfully what I choose to pay attention, or not, to.

  46. Fantastic post, Dan! Your insights led to several epiphanies for me too:
    1. The connection between dieting and managing time is more than just an analogy. In fact, the more “will power” I spend managing my calendar, the less I have to eat the good stuff I’m supposed to. My potato-chip diet these days is not just because I’m tired, but it’s because I’m done with exercising strict will power the rest of day around time and commitments.
    2. It’s still confusing to know what “good” looks like around time management, as everyone’s information/schedule/to-do list diet is different. This is what may lead to the “I’ll just answer this one more email/call/text etc”, because we don’t realize that it’s secretly making us unhealthy. We can’t measure the incremental impact until we’ve hit intolerable levels of exhaustion and stress. Could we imagine a “Body Mass Index” equivalent that will help us all calibrate in useful and productive ways?
    3. Finally, I think it’s important to recognize that time is not the only variable in this diet. There are strategic judgment and decisions associated with each choice we make about how we use our time. Neuroscience now tells us that every decision we make literally depletes energy in our brain. Even the small decisions are taxing (respond to that text now or later? lunch in or out?). Beyond David Allen-like to-do system (which also takes energy to keep up), what are the equivalent “super foods” that are going to keep our brains healthy over the long haul? Small moments of laughter? Protecting time for hobbies? Weekly unplugged hours? Even healthy diets are encouraged to mix in some dark chocolate and a great glass.

    At the very least, maybe it helps a little to know that we’re not alone in dealing with this overwhelming epidemic. And, like great diets, maybe we could learn a little something from the French (who also cleaned up awards at the Oscars tonight). Perhaps the answer is that we should all start taking August off.

    I’m just glad that we’re all talking about it. Thanks again for sharing your epiphany, Dan!

  47. A+ on the parallelism to the dieting industry.

    The growth of an industry is almost and understatement looking at the wealth of different strategies, technologies and tools to help with our information infatuation.

  48. Andy Smith says:

    Dieting isn’t a great analogy, for the reason that for most people, long term, it doesn’t work:

  49. Robert Chen says:

    Great article! I struggle with taking on too much as well and I have used many sytems (gtd included) to get the most out of my time. The problem was with the more time saved, I would take on more activities which diluted my effectiveness to finish my current projects. What helped me a lot was asking myself the positive intention for taking on too much. For me, the positive intention was to prevent the loss of opportunity which is why I would read that one extra book or do that one extra activity. Once I realized that I feared missed opportunities, I reframe my current situation to believing that by not finishing what is on my to do list now, I am also missing opportunities and that saying no to things I like will allow me to finish what I am doing which will open up more opportunities.

  50. PK says:

    No solutions from me. This is one of my primary struggles. Saying “no” to things I want to do is something that I have been practicing especially this year (2 months down). While I did not actually make a New Year’s resolution, practicing the “no” was something I was thinking about. Thank you for bringing up the topic so I can glean from others ideas. There are so many, many things that are interesting and/or fun to do, how to prioritize them is challenging.

  51. Matthew RS says:

    A powerful Renaissance moment when we can re-see that Greeks had it all before us:

    “Moderation, which consists in an indifference about little things, and in a prudent zeal about things of importance, can proceed from nothing but true knowledge, which has its foundation in self-acquaintance.”


    “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

    – Platon

  52. Darren says:

    I love this analogy. Your article inspired a post on my blog today about whether or not I could apply the same techniques I have found to diet successfully toward helping me deal with information overload and saying no to “the stream” that I am bombarded with (or that I bombard myself with). You have inspired a personal experiment – thanks!

  53. Eddie Deen says:

    When a person knows the label-er in the midst of their experiences, they can take control over how they are labeling the data. This leads to taking responsibility for their success or failure. This will lead to where you feel like you belong, earning your keep. This leads to validation and happiness. If happiness is just tied to eating, previous programming is the cause, you were unaware of the label-er, and the experience labeled you. Pay attention to what you are paying attention to, then and only then can you rewire the amygdala, the emotional part of your brain. You are the owner of the brain, you should be driving instead of your brain. Why are you the passenger? You allowed the brain to fall prey to the illusion, the illusion of allowing something extrinsic to be tied to your happiness. It is your self-interpretation that determines your self-will. Go back and change the labels on early-childhood percetpions, the moment you perceived your control and power taken away.

  54. Ulla says:

    I am also a fan of the ‘To-Dont’ list, as a graphic designer, I was swamped with work and just couldn’t say no to people, eventually promising work I knew I couldn’t fulfill, it mostly comes with experience and saying no could be ont of the best things you can learn.

  55. Love it! What a great concept, and something I haven’t heard before … saying “no” to things you want to do.

  56. Maggie M-P says:

    Daniel said, “Instead, maybe there’s something we could say that indicates that their request falls into the “I’d love to, but my health depends on saying no to things I want to do” category”

    I’m thinking that a “No that wants to be a Yes” might be a “NoY” (yep, almost “annoy” 🙂 As in, “NoY, I’d love to help you plan for your Paris vacation but duty calls.” (just used that one in real life!)