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Farnam Street: Saying “NO” to the Non-Essential

An excellent article about speed and velocity and how to say no so we can focus on the latter over the former in our work (via Farnam Street). Here are a few highlights.


It’s tempting to think that in order to be a valuable team player, you should say “yes” to every request and task that is asked of you. People who say yes to everything have a lot of speed. They’re always doing stuff but never getting anything done. Why? Because they don’t think in terms of velocity. Understanding the difference between speed and velocity will change how you work.


Certainly, offers of work are good problems to have. A lot of people struggle to find work, and here I was, a few weeks out of university, saying no to my boss. But saying yes to everything is a quick road to mediocrity. I took a two-thirds pay cut to work for the government so I could work with incredibly smart people on a very narrow skill (think cyber). I was willing to go all in. So no, I wasn’t going say yes to things that didn’t help me hone the craft I’d given up so much to work on.


Velocity and speed are different things. Speed is the distance traveled over time. I can run around in circles with a lot of speed and cover several miles that way, but I’m not getting anywhere. Velocity measures displacement. It’s direction-aware.


Here are three ways you can increase your velocity:

  1. To the extent possible, ruthlessly shave away the unnecessary tasks, priorities, meetings, and BS.

  2. Don’t rely on your willpower to say no; instead, create systems that help you fend off distractions. 

  3. And finally, do as I did, and say “no” to your boss.


Assorted links 02.04.2018

Ben Okri on the power of stories