Years ago, back when my knees/hips/back were in much better shape than they are today, I did a lot of running.

I also did a lot of eating.

In fact, I sort of took my running as an excuse to eat pretty much anything I wanted, whenever I wanted. After all, I would run 5 or 10 kms (or more sometimes) each day, so it would all be fine in the end, right?

Well, yes and no. As long as I was healthy/fit/uninjured (and young), I could run pretty much run as much as I wanted. The challenge came when I was injured (and, erm, not so young, with a need to warm up for half a day before jogging to the corner). I didn’t have decent eating habits, so my weight and fitness were up and down like a yo-yo.

One day, someone showed me how far I had to run to work off an ice cream cone (or the first cone of the day anyways), and I realized that there was no way that I could ever outrun my mouth. Unless I developed a sustainable approach to what I put in my face, I’d never be able to have a sustainable level of fitness either. Not if I wanted to hold down a job, as I’d need to spend most of my day exercising to deal with dessert, never mind the burgers and chips.

What does this have to do with anything? Much of our work is with people who are feeling overwhelmed by how much they have to do. Part of the problem is that–just like handling over-eating with over-exercising–working all the hours that God sends is not a huge problem when you are young. As responsibility, complexity and volume go up the brute force approach (staying up longer and counting on adrenaline to get you through) reaches a limit.

In the domain of work, we see the overwhelm is in part created by continuing to say yes to things that we really should be saying no to, and, while there are better and worse ways of organising yourself to get on top of your commitments, there is no system in the world that can cope with the absence of a good healthy “no”. If we were saying no to food like we are currently saying no to work, we’d all need a forklift to get into bed every evening.

“Yes, but you don’t know where I work”, we often hear, “that won’t work with my boss”. Perhaps. But “no” doesn’t always sound like N-O. “No” might be “not now”, or it might be delegating more effectively, but it isn’t a “yes” with a vague sense that we might, maybe, hopefully be able to get to it. It is physically and metaphorically impossible to outrun our mouths given everything else we have on, and this is true both for food and work.

To say “no” more, we need to be clear on what we already have on. To be clear on that, we need to collect, process and organize all of our current commitments into one place, so we can have a quick look and understand on a deep level that taking on new stuff without dropping some of the old is not being helpful at all, it is being irresponsible.

So, in light of all that, what do you need to say no to in order to be able to get on top of what really matters?

  • Anne Walsh

    Great article about this…and yes, alas it’s so true that you can’t outrun your mouth (as I’ve discovered…even if I pretend to myself that eating it standing up doesn’t count….) . I think where GTD is really strong is that it gives you a proper map of the territory so you know where you can do and where…

  • Shawn Draisey

    This is a fantastic piece of writing. It may get published by Men’s Fitness due to its exercise analogy.
    I am in my GTD infantcy and it gives greater power to say “no” because of the principles and structure of the program.


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