Learn to say no. That’s the secret to doing the work you really care about, the stuff you dreamed of when you started out.
So says Michael Bungay Stanier, author of Do More Great Work: Stop the Busywork. Start the Work That Matters (Workman Press, 2010). In his book, Bungay Stanier lays out 15 exercises to launch readers on their way to purposeful work. While his topic is hardly new, his model can “pull you out of the hubbub of your daily work so you can do more great work,” Bungay Stanier told Travel Market Report.
Now senior partner of Box of Crayons, a Toronto firm that “helps organizations do great work,” Bungay Stanier has not lived a life that’s a “perfect trajectory,” he said. “One of the ways you become a successful entrepreneur is you build up scar tissue. I have stumbled and fallen. I’ve failed to get along with bosses. I’ve been fired.” It’s part of doing great work.
TMR: What’s the model your book is based on?
MBS: Everything you do falls into three buckets – bad work, good work and great work. Bad work is the waste-of-time sap-your-life bureaucratic work. Good work is your job description – it is productive, focused and important and gets stuff done. Great work is meaningful, engaging work that makes a difference.
TMR: Does great work have to be, well, great?
MBS: It’s a subjective measure – what is the work that means something to me? It can be the most ordinary thing. It can be finding time to truly nurture my children. It can be making a business process absolutely fantastic. It may be designing extraordinary holiday packages that give clients a travel experience that takes their breath away.
TMR: You’ve called saying no the heart of the issue.
MBS: The truth is our glass of water is full, and you can’t pour any more into a full glass. So the starting point is being clear about what matters to you and about the opportunities; what projects might be available for you to do great work? Then it’s getting clear about what to say no to and figuring out how to say no. Learn to say yes more slowly. Delay the moment by asking questions: ‘Why are you asking me? Who else have you asked? What exactly do you mean by urgent?’ Then there’s a chance the spotlight will move on.
TMR: What if you’re self-employed or an independent travel seller?
MBS: One powerful thing to do to keep from getting sucked into the minutiae of running your business is to give yourself time to stop and think and plan. Ask yourself: What should I be doing that would have the most impact? What can I find other people to do? For instance, I recently pulled together five databases of potential clients to approach, but the databases were in different formats. I want on Elance, the web community where people bid on projects, and posted a project to consolidate the database. Within 24 hours, and for $50, somebody reformatted and cleaned it up. I could have spent six hours doing that myself.
TMR: Can you bring this to the level of daily work?
MBS: In my office I have two small tables. One is my good work table, where my computer sits and I get through stuff. The other table is where I go to do great work. Your body leads your brain. So when you sit down at your good work desk your body goes, ‘We’re here to be efficient, to get through the email backlog.’ It fires in a way that limits your ability to think creatively and expansively and strategically. Sit in a different place and you’ll think in a different way.
I also start each day, before I open my computer, by defining one task to do today to move a great work project forward. And find someone to partner or buddy up with about staying focused on what really matters. Build an environment that encourages you to behave the way you want.