Want to Get More Effective? Master This One Skill

How to achieve more with less and be human again

It’s a Monday morning. You start your day with an okay sleep. You know you should not drink on Sunday night, but you did. Anyway, no big deal because you only had a couple of drinks. Still feeling fresh and energized to crush your Monday!

You get to your office after a long commute. Or perhaps you work from home in your pajamas. The Monday work routine starts with reviewing all the inputs—emails, Slack messages, reminders from the previous week—and turning them into a long list of tasks.

Wow! You’re shocked with how much you have on your plate this week, so you get right onto them. You spend hours crossing them off one-by-one. By the end of the day, you get a lot done when looking at all the crossed items. However, something doesn’t feel right deep down.

Instead of feeling relieved, you feel overwhelmed and beaten down.

You were busy. But it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress because all those crossed items don’t look that important to you. And you know your to-do list will get filled up with the same mundane tasks again tomorrow

Sadly, that is the reality for many people today. Even I felt the same sometimes.

So what do we do? We tell ourselves that we haven’t done enough. “If only I can get these last 2 things done…” we say. And then get our heads down again, hoping to feel like we’re doing enough. But we end up feeling more miserable at the end of it.

Now imagine an alternate universe

The same Monday. The same you. But instead of feeling overwhelmed and beaten down at the end of the day, you feel great getting the important things done with focus. And you know you’re on the right track toward achieving your goals.

So how did that happen?

You see, being productive isn’t only about getting a lot done. It’s also about getting the right, important things done. Being productive is about being efficient and effective at the same time.

And I would argue that being effective is much more important than being efficient. Because getting one important thing done is better than getting 20 non-essential tasks done.

$10 work vs. $10k work

Khe Hy from RadReads has this framework called $10k work. Imagine four quadrants of work value at $10 per hour, $100 per hour, $1,000 per hour, and $10k per hour.

10k work framework by Khe Hy

To get the most value of your time, you should always focus on the $10k work. And doing a bunch of $10 work won’t help you get the same result. If you insist, the math says you would spend 1,000 hours doing $10 work to get the outcome of $10k work in an hour.

Hell yeah or no

So what’s the trick? The trick is to not let inessential tasks—the $10 work—get into your mind and to-do list in the first place. The trick is to say NO.

  • NO to other people’s requests
  • NO to your monkey thoughts
  • NO to attention-grabbing junk inputs

Every time you say YES to something, you say NO to something else. So, be cautious with what you say YES to.

A heuristic I like is the “Hell yeah or no” by Derek Sivers.

If you feel anything less than “hell yeah!” about something, say no.

On the flip side, the first step to mastering the skill of saying NO is to have a few HELL YEAH in place. What are your HELL YEAH visions? How about HELL YEAH goals and projects? What are your HELL YEAH daily routines?

Having them at the top of your mind helps you stay focused and make it easy for you to say NO to anything that doesn’t align with them. And like every skill, the more you practice it, the better you get at it.

Being human again

Saying NO is also about being human. You see, people who say YES to everything believe that somehow, they can have everything they want at the same time—without making any sacrifices. And with enough tactics and grit, they will gain complete control of their time and lives.

But to be in total control of something means to be totally detached from it. You need to be able to separate yourself entirely from a thing to gain full control over it. And clearly, we can’t separate our time and lives from ourselves completely. Instead, we’re living in our time and lives.

Saying NO is about giving up total control and being human again. It’s the first step to the awareness that we will never get everything done.

To sum it up: Find and focus on your 10k work, practice saying NO to inessential tasks, and get comfortable with having some of what you opt-out to do undone at the end of the day.


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