The Lost Productivity Secret

By Carmen Coker

If you could have a conversation with the late Steve Jobs, right here and now, and he offered you the key to productivity and success – would you listen to his advice?

Why wouldn’t you?! Every era has their icon, and one could easily argue that Mr. Jobs was the king of the computer age, and beyond. His ideas revolutionized the world in which we live. Sadly, he was taken before his time, as many of the great ones are. But he was, in fact, generous enough to leave us with his productivity rule of thumb. So…listen up!

The Big Reveal

When asked the reason for Apple’s achievement and innovation, Steve Jobs explained: “It comes from saying ‘no’ to a thousand things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”

Doing too much seems to be part of modern life. Every day offers new chances, friendships, challenges, and ideas. Indeed, the world is a creative, exciting – and busy – place to be.

But are you letting these explorations, if you will, distract you from the most important thing? From making forward progress? From being truly great?

The Ins & Outs

The word “no” is the most powerful weapon in your productivity and time management armory. It’s simple, and it’s free – a true win-win. The problem is that many people find it difficult to say it for many reasons like: maybe you’ll seem rude, maybe the proposition feeds your ego (if you’re honest about it), maybe you feel pressure from others, maybe…the list goes on.

Here are three guidelines to ensure you can say “no, thank you” when you need to most:

1 – Clearly define your vision and priorities.

While this may seem like an oh-yeah fact, human beings often lack mindfulness about these very fundamentals when making decisions, and this can quickly cause a loss of focus. [Tip] It’s vital to separate your vision and priorities into primary, secondary, and tertiary levels, going from most important to least important. Keep a master list beside your desk, in your planner, or on your mobile for reference at any time.

2 – Use your vision and priorities to strictly screen all opportunities.

In the busyness of life, sometimes the day-to-day overwhelms the big picture. [Tip] Review your vision and priorities daily to keep them top-of-mind, plus constantly utilize them to screen decisions, big or small, about what you purchase, how to use your time, what projects you allow, and more. Weigh each opportunity according to whether or not it supports your primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. If it doesn’t, then mark it off the list.

3 – Have your no-can-do response ready.

When other parties are involved and demanding answers, it’s not uncommon for individuals to be at a loss as to how to send regrets in a genuine and honest way. [Tip] To avoid bumbling and why-did-I-say-that moments, create and memorize a simple script like: “Thank you for thinking of me. I’d love to support you, but I am unable to right now due to other obligations and priorities. Keep me in mind for next time, ok?”

The Bottom Line

Say “yes” to only those experiences that let your vision and priorities shine brightly. A highly productive person knows when and how to respectfully (and authentically) turn down anything that doesn’t sustain his/her values, goals, and dreams.

Carmen Coker is a former US Air Force officer turned professional organizer. If you want to get organized and calm the chaos in your life, go to for her free video how-to called the Secrets of the Super Organized™.


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