The problem with saying yes

The van in front of me was moving slowly. I finally saw that the vehicle in front of the van was a pickup with a trailerload of lumber and wallboard. We all had to take a detour. At the time the detour took us back to the road I wanted, I rejoiced that the van went straight. I was annoyed, however, when I saw that the trailer was on MY route.

I was annoyed because I was approximately 10 minutes into my 25 minute drive and was 1 minute from the scheduled arrival time.

And I realized that it wasn’t the pickup driver’s fault. It wasn’t the road crew’s fault. It wasn’t the fault of the person who called asking for attention right at the time I should have left. It wasn’t the fault of the person who gave me proofreading that I didn’t look at until 2 minutes after the time I should have left. It wasn’t the fault of the person who asked to talk with me an hour before departure time when I said, “let’s go look at the HVAC”. It also wasn’t his fault when I said, “Get me a ladder. Let’s try moving that.” It wasn’t the fault of the people whose posts I read on Google Reader, or the 5 minutes I spent on twitter. It wasn’t the fault of the people who have been wanting wifi in our building that I chose to spend time on testing using a router as an access point. It wasn’t the fault of any of the people I talked with this morning, or the people I didn’t.

I chose take on each of those unscheduled projects, conversations, fieldtrips, and on-line activities. I spent several blocks of 15 minutes this morning in ways I didn’t have to.

As a result, I spent a 25 minute car ride being very annoyed.  At myself.

I understand that there are often unavoidable reasons for being late. I understand that you cannot leave early enough for every possible road block. But I am also convinced, by my own behavior this morning, that I could have made sure I was at that conversation on time.

What makes this so convicting is that I read Seth Godin’s post about spending the next couple weeks working hard to finish projects. In “like your hair is on fire” Seth suggests that we take these last two weeks of August and, rather than slacking off at the end of summer, work hard on projects that must get done. Pretend that we are out of reach on vacation and put the focus on success.

I have a couple of those projects. I had decided to push hard this week. My lunch was related to those projects. And rather than working like my hair was on fire, I ran around in circles.

And now I’ve wasted fifteen more minutes telling you about my lack of focus.

But maybe you are like me. Maybe you say yes to way too many things. I’m not talking about huge project,  but 15-minute distractions on any given day. And maybe, like me, you are tired of creating your own lateness.

So join me in spending the next 15 minutes making the (short) list of (achievable) things that you will say “yes” to for the rest of the day. And then get ready to say “no”.


7 responses to “The problem with saying yes

  1. The Talmud has a wonderful discussion about the merits of being on time and goes into a detailed discussion about what is worse, a theft of money or a theft of time. Are you familiar with it?

  2. Oh my, how my heart goes out to you. I have a problem with this too. Learning to say “no” is a hard thing.

  3. Steve – no, i’m not. Do you have a link or a location? I mean, I’m not sure that I really want to read it, because of what it will mean to my thinking…but it’s a great question.

    Cassie – it is. Thanks.

  4. I will eternally struggle with saying the right “yes” and the right “no” at the right time, I think. But, for me, the key to getting better (and I’m a long way from having a handle on it) has been creating some margin in my life by checking more often to see if the big things that get the “yes” are aligned with my mission, the thing I think God created me to do. By saying “no” to more of the things that aren’t so closely related to that (which gives someone else the chance to say “yes”), there’s room for more of the “small yes” responses that may make a big difference to somebody. Does that make sense (without sounding like a little sermon or wagging finger lecture–because it wasn’t meant to be either of those)? Jon, your yes responses are a blessing to many, I know…I’ve been on the receiving end.

  5. Amy, here’s what so fascinating. The post that is mulling right now (cider, spices, heating for several hours) is about margin. I’ve use the metaphor once in the past 72 hours and you are the second person to mention it. So now I have to create the space to write it. (of course you have started it!)

    and thanks. 🙂

  6. You didn’t waste that 15 minutes.

  7. Pingback: Open up and think big. « Tom Altman’s Wedia Conversation