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Prioritizing “Yes”

John Doherty —  November 12, 2012
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Alternatively – “When Saying Yes Hurts”

I see a lot of bloggers writing about the importance of saying “no”, and then I often see responses to these such as “Good for you!” and “Alright, way to get your priorities in order!” The interesting thing to me is that when someone says that they are learning to say no, it means they are already really good at saying “Yes.”

You don’t have to learn how to do something if you already know how to do it.

I can’t help but think, though, if sometimes we have to say “Yes!”. I want to talk about the types of people and priority in which saying “yes” is. Hopefully this speaks to the values through which I live my life. I started thinking about this post because I’m currently at TechStars’ Foundercon in Boston, just 5 days after I got back to NYC from Boston, because a respected industry peer asked me to speak in their stead. I wanted to and I needed to.

Let me clarify straight off, though, that prioritizing saying “yes” to these people does not preclude saying “no” from time to time when you are overbooked. Your health and mental well-being comes first, because if you don’t have that you cease to be useful to anyone.

Family

Family is the first type of person that most of us are most inclined to say “yes” to. Our family is our closest bond, whether we like it or not, and saying “yes” to them is a priority to me since they matter in my life.

I cannot replace the bonds of family. When Mom asks me to come home for Thanksgiving, I go. When my older brother graduates from medical school next spring, I’ll go even though it will mean going straight from a conference in Miami to Houston. It means taking a day off.

But that’s ok because I know that my conscience will be clear, I’ll get my work done ahead of time, and the office will not implode with me gone for a few days.

Coworkers

Next comes my coworkers. My life revolves around my work at this point, and one of the best ways to lose your teammates or team is to be too busy for them. I recently read an interesting post about the “The Awkward Leader“, in which the author says that one of the toughest parts of leadership is being available.

My teammates come first, ahead of other industry peers. Sorry guys, but without my team I am nothing. We stand together and we fall together. I think that the people you spend your day with the most should always come first (after family and other close relationships such as a spouse or life partner). The happiness of my team is the most important thing to me.

Friends

Next comes my friends, including industry friends. My industry friends in New York City, and a small group of other industry peers, are the ones that I will bend over backwards for first. They’re the ones who have been with me through thick and thin and who support me as well, and to not support them back would be wrong. If they are raising money for something, I should be the first to give it. If they need content for their site, I should be willing to contribute to it (assuming I’m not already overloaded with writing, and I’m doing better with that). If they need a sense-check on a blog post or someone to test their tool, theirs comes first.

Others

Then comes everyone else. I’m sorry, but this is the way it has to be. I try to respond to every email that I get, but the answer to any requests may be “no” if I have already prioritized my family, coworkers, and friends.

I try to say “yes” to as much as possible, but some days, weeks, or months it’s too much. I don’t have the time to beta test every new SEO tool (though I like to provide feedback). I don’t have time to write on every SEO’s site (though it’s fun to do so from time to time). I don’t always have time to contribute to crowdsourced posts (though I try to).

And I hate that I can’t put these higher on my priority list, but they must be where they are.


I think it’s good to say “yes” to things, and sometimes it hurts. I’d rather not be in Boston right now, but I’m excited to speak to the TechStars founders and I’m doing a friend a favor. That means more to me at this point than having an extra evening to myself in New York. But if it was over the week of Thanksgiving where I have the whole week off, I would have said no. Family first, coworkers next, then friends, then everything else.

For two good posts on balance, read these:
Rand on Work/Life Balance
Brad Feld on Resetting Priorities

I’d love your thoughts.

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

4 responses to Prioritizing “Yes”

  1. Another post of interest might be this by Derek Sivers: http://sivers.org/hellyeah

    -Dan

  2. I agree with your list of priorities (understanding that it won’t be the same for everyone). I think this is relatively straightforward in the case of reasonable requests. Where it starts to get tricky is when the requests are (or seem to be) unreasonable!

  3. When I was just starting online and had practically no following, influence and presence I always thought to myself – why are all these people not taking time to respond or follow back?
    “They are prideful and not willing to even notice little guy” – I thought (that was so selfish of me, I realize now).

    Then, as influence and following grew with time and I started to understand this “phenomenon” more and more. You want to prioritize, you want to be picky about who you follow, you want to stop being guilty about not paying due attention to “low-priority” things and people in your life. Sounds harsh but that’s the only way to be relevant and valuable to the community. And only when you’re in someone’s shoes that you’ll understand all that fully (I’m not there yet).

    You’re doing it right, John! Hope you to stay focused that way! :)

  4. Great write-up John and the link to Brad Field (really liked his Tedx talk). One of my “problems” is to stop saying YES on projects and focus on the priority list ex. family first.

    I foresee a follow-up post on the power of “NO”