For the better part of my young adulthood, the “yes” or “no” dilemma followed me around like a shadow. I wanted to be involved with as many things as possible, show my openness to new experiences, and, as many who have been there, avoid FOMO, or fear of missing out, at all costs.
Fast-forward to my first year of entrepreneurship, a period that encapsulates a period of important decision-making and critical thinking. It’s also a time where saying “yes” to every opportunity can quickly mean finding yourself without a business.
For the past 14 years of growing my company, JotForm, I’ve had to learn to put my foot down on repeated occasions and prioritize projects that align the best with my vision. This is because, when you save up all those consequential times of saying “yes,” real breakthroughs can happen.
Fortunately, there are ways we can cultivate this ability of prioritization and keep ourselves accountable. Here are three ways to spend time and focus on what truly matters to you.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
The more we get acclimated to saying “no,” the more we can reserve our energy for the important “yeses.” It’s a critical skill entrepreneurs should aim to cultivate.
“As we learn to say no to certain projects, we’re left with more room to give an emphatic ‘yes’ to other ones,” writes Cari Richards in The New York Times.
I’d like to offer the following example of my own experience grappling with discomfort. This past October we celebrated the launch of our latest product, JotForm Tables, a tool that allows anyone to manage, track, and organize their data, all in one place. It’s a product we were eager to see out in the world—and one we spent a whopping three years working on.
This fall, my company and I launched JotForm tables, an organization tool for data. It’s a product we were eager to see out in the world, and one we spent three years working on it. When it debuted this October, it felt like a big finish line we had crossed. However, the journey to get us to this milestone was not easy, by any means.
The weeks after its release, we witnessed firsthand how something we spent so much time carefully developing, was now helping to improve the lives of our customers. It’s an indescribable feeling.
But the journey to get us here hasn’t been easy by any means. Saying a wholehearted “yes” to this dream three years ago meant shutting the door to other demands on my time. While it was often tempting to think of putting this project aside and saying “yes” to other opportunities, I kept coming back to my main anchor—to build a company I can be proud of.
To do that, I had to remain patient and firm. And critically, I had to become comfortable with the unknown to pursue what mattered most to me.
Focus on the essentials
To do our best decision-making, embracing trade-offs must be a common practice.
What is essential often eludes us. We agree when a colleague wants to “pick our brain” for five minutes (eventually turning into sixty). We say “yes” to attending unnecessary conferences and meetings. We say “why not” because we simply don’t want to miss out, as mentioned.
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done,” explains Greg McKeown, in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. “It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
Inevitably, chasing after whim after whim is a way for us to follow our desires and mask our fears. What’s really negging us is that unsaid question is, “If I say ‘no,’ what will I lose?” Inversely, doing what is essential involves asking,” If I say ‘no,’ what will I gain?”
When you follow your values over your whims, you’re focusing on an abundance mindset, rather than one of scarcity. In moving toward experiences that stretch your perseverance, you’re investing in the bigger picture.
Go for optimism
According to Inc., although a leader’s success will always require tenacity, hard work, and concentration, a mindset focused on growth suggests one important underlying quality—optimism.
A poorly concealed secret about myself is I consider myself an unapologetic optimist.I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m hopeful against all odds, confident things will work out in the end.
This internal optimism is what allows me to say “no” in the moment—because I harbor a deep belief in taking my time to create something great. What I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that when it comes to my business and my personal life, what’s essential is what best aligns with my values, which are pursuing what I truly want and what affords me freedom.
I can more readily say “no,” when I realize I am following a path—not of alleviating fear–but achieving growth.
Therefore, if saying “no” means creating the space for my most meaningful projects to emerge, then I know I can spend three, five, or even 10 years earnestly applying myself and pursuing a decision of “yes.”
Aytekin Tank is the founder of JotForm, a popular online form builder. Established in 2006, JotForm allows customizable data collection for enhanced lead generation, survey distribution, payment collections, and more.