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I recently attended a networking event and it seemed like everyone I spoke with was so busy. Clearly, busyness has become a badge of honor. It was great to hear about a handful of really compelling projects, but more often than not, the people I spoke with seemed overwhelmed and tired. A surprising number were discussing their divorces. Many were happy to talk about their lives/work but seemed uninterested in others.

And then, there was a recent conversation with a blockchain developer about my plans for Smart Projex. He asked me if I was ready for 60+ hour weeks. Is that really what it takes to build a successful company? I hope not.

I recently read Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder. In it she discusses the need to reevaluate what success looks like and the problem with sleep deprivation. She sees a big problem. I think part of the problem is the difficulty that companies and individuals have in saying no. Here are some reasons why we need to say no to low-value projects (and tasks).

Half-done, or not even started, low-value projects zap energy.

Our brains can only focus on so many things – and when we are worrying about that nagging project or task that we aren’t very interested in, it zaps our energy. It doesn’t matter that we aren’t spending a lot of time working on it; the fact that it is on our list drains our energy.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time studying David Allen’s methodology, Getting Things Done. He promotes the idea of keeping a list of those tasks that you don’t want to forget and placing them on a Someday Maybe list. He also advocates regularly reviewing this list to see which tasks you want to move into some form of doing category.

I disagree with his idea of a Someday Maybe list. I tried it, for years. All it did was waste time and energy. I guess you could use the regular review to delete projects or tasks that no longer seem important, but somehow, I never did that. Just having the list gave me a license to keep adding items. And the regular review took longer, as the list grew.

So now, when I think of a cool, Someday Maybe idea, I focus on how much value there is in doing the project (or task). If it is a high-value idea, I put it on my list for the day on which I plan to do it. That could easily change when I get to that date. But I don’t spend time on low-value projects.

And I find that if it’s truly a high-value project, it will keep coming back to my mind, whether it is written down or not.

Focus is key.

And again, the brain can only focus on so much at once. Most business leaders that I talk with have multiple projects in the same area happening at once. And most of the people on these projects are working on multiple projects. And most of them have personal and community projects on top of their business work.

I work with a technology team and when the list of features that we are working on (for multiple clients) gets too long, I get a little crazy. This is where I think the Kanban approach has value. We need to limit our work in progress.

Patrick Lencioni, in his book, The Advantage, Enhanced Edition: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business, recommends a thematic goal. According to Lencioni, a thematic goal is the organization’s single focus. It should be achievable in a specific time frame and shared across the entire organization. Don’t attach quantifiable metrics to the thematic goal. That comes later. This is one approach to improving your focus.

Effective decision-making and creativity are compromised when people are sleep deprived.

The transportation industry has seen its fair share of high-profile accidents caused by lack of sleep. For example, the deadly 2013 Metro-North derailment reportedly occurred when William Rockefeller fell asleep at the controls. The Exxon Valdez, Challenger explosion, Colgan Air Flight 3407, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl incidents were all, at least partially attributable to fatigue.

Penny Lewis, Professor at Cardiff University, has researched the idea of sleep and its impact on creativity. To some extent, her research follows the groundbreaking work of Otto Loewi, dating back to the 1920’s. Professor Lewis and her colleagues have posited the idea that the two different sleep phases —REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM—work together “to help us find unrecognized links between what we already know, and discover out-of-the-box solutions to vexing problems…. Essentially, non-REM sleep extracts concepts, and REM sleep connects them.”

A well-lived life is not just about work projects.

Periodically I read about the idea of work-life balance. And for employees with rigid schedules, I can see why they talk about that.

Arianna Huffington, in her book, Thrive, discusses success and the problem of viewing success by looking only at money and power. She recommends a third metric that we need to add to money and power, in order to measure success. This third metric is represented by four pillars – well-being, wisdom, wonder, and giving.

We are more than our work. Our friendships, families, and communities are important, and those relationships take time to nurture. If you are not saying no to your low-value work, you are spending time on things that don’t matter. And that is cutting in to the time that you have for relationships that matter, including self-care.

High-value projects build energy.  

Have you ever walked out of a meeting with a new task that felt so amazingly compelling that you just couldn’t wait to get started? Somehow, you forgot about things that were on your list because you were so engrossed in solving this new problem or figuring out this new challenge. Contrast that feeling with the lethargy that you feel when you are thinking about a project that has no value.

Are you struggling to say no? Give me a call and we’ll talk through your problem. Maybe I’ll write a blog about it.