Master Your Commitments: The Power of NO

17.06.2019 |

Episode #6 of the course Master your time: The secret to being insanely productive by John Robin


Welcome to Day 6 of Master Your Time!

I hope that after yesterday, you’re now excited to harness the higher focus of batching to push into your powerful Monday-Thursday “punches” of four to six blocks.

That said, you might already spot the number-one enemy to this process: commitments, errands, obligations, and meetings, especially meetings!

In fact, today, we’re going to return to Day 2’s lesson on distractions to treat them on a higher level beyond just the 25-minute period of focus itself.


The Power of NO

You’ve likely heard the business advice that saying NO to almost everything is the key to saying YES to only the absolute best things you should spend your time on.

Saying NO is not as simple as this advice makes it sound. It’s not just about saying NO to opportunities or business decisions.

The most important NO you want to harness is the NO that will guard your focused time.

Say no to meetings—unless you have no choice.

These are a big-time killer and often unnecessary. Get out of as many of them as possible.

Say no to emails—except on your breaks.

These are just as big time-killers (but more invisible). Restrict yourself to answering emails on your breaks, with the timer ticking. This forces you to answer quickly.

There’s a reason that very busy people have one-line email responses.

Say no to errands—except on your less demanding days.

You might have some errands to run. Don’t plan these on the days you want to channel your highest focus, i.e., Monday to Thursday. Ideally, plan them on Friday. This way, when you do have these distractions, you’re mostly done with what you need to get done for the week, and interruptions do not disrupt the higher focus you need to push past your daily Pareto threshold.

Say no to everything—except when you’re in “to-do mode.”

As your day progresses, things will come up. Everything, when it comes up, will seem urgent, and because of that urgency, it will seem important.

With the rare exception of life-altering crises, very few of these urgent things are so important that they can’t wait until your current 25-minute focus period is over. In fact, most, if not all, can wait until your current block of 3 x 25-minute periods is over.

But you don’t want to forget altogether. So, whenever something comes up, put it in your Reminders app.

I can’t stress enough how critical the idea of delegating tasks or decisions to reminders is for keeping your focus pure. In fact, it’s so big, it will be its own lesson!


Master Your Commitments

The art of mastering your commitments is actually very difficult and not something you can simply fix in a week or even in a few weeks’ time. Sometimes, it requires radical life decisions.

The key to continually honing this is to develop a “first things first” orientation:

• First and foremost comes the 33.75 hours/week you are going to spend on focused work.

• After this, first and foremost, will come your time to do whatever you want.

• After this, first and foremost, will come commitments.

Learn to let things pile up. In fact, hundreds of starred emails and dozens of waiting reminders is a sign that you have your priorities right. Learn to feel bad that you can’t do absolutely everything, but within this feeling, feel good about the fact that while you can’t do everything, you’re investing your time in the most important things first.

You can view the above list as a series of guiding NO factors:

• Priority 1: Say NO to whatever it takes to preserve your focus.

• Priority 2: Say NO to whatever it takes to preserve your sanity and life balance.

• Priority 3: Say NO to whatever it takes to make your commitments so demanding, they can’t come last.

This is very hard to do. In fact, you’ll likely be working on it (like I am) the rest of your life. The good news is, the more you work at this, the better you get at it.



Commitments will compromise the strength of batching and make it harder for you to invest 20% of your work time in your most important focused work. You can separate them from this time by saying NO to most commitments, delegating ones you can’t avoid to the end of the week, and using the Reminders app to get them out of sight, out of mind (but not forgotten).

Your homework: List your top distracting commitments and how to overcome them.

Tomorrow, we’re going to dig more into the art of reminders and why this matters for preserving focus, by way of the science of working memory.


Recommended book

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey


Share with friends