15 Ways To Say No

Saying the 14th and 15th letters of the alphabet is hard. In order to keep performing at your best and producing your best work, you and I have to become disciplined at saying no to the wrong things– even if they are ‘good’ things– so we can say yes to great things. I discovered just how insanely valuable it is to learn to say them while writing my book, Unleashing Your Creativity. If not for this lesson, I’d have died a slow and miserable death of overwhelm and over-commitment.

How do you learn to say no to people, friends, colleagues… without feeling guilty? Feeling like you’re letting someone down? Or without sounding like a jerk?

Easy. Peasy.

Just save this handy-dandy graphic I came up with, hang it where you’ll see it daily, and randomly pick a response that’s easy, painless, and works in your favor. (And when all else fails, you can blame it on me.)

What would you add to the list?

Working From Home, Tip #10: Less Meetings

Am I crazy here??

This is going to get me on someone’s blacklist. I just know it. But the last one in our list is the most important one of all: Do everything you can to schedule less meetings.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back: Do everything in your power to schedule less meetings.

In a lot of places, meetings tend to be the junk drawer of office life. If something’s on your mind, add it to the agenda and we’ll cover it in our meeting. Ever find yourself thinking, “What would I have done today if I didn’t have that meeting? What project would I have worked on? What could I have produced?”

I know I’m going to get push-back on this. I know it’s controversial. I’m not saying we should never have meetings. What i am saying is that 90% of all meetings can be reduced to an email or a phone call. I’m saying instead of blocking an hour for a meeting—-why did we arbitrarily schedule meetings in hour-long blocks anyway??— only block 15 minutes. Give everyone 2 minutes to hear the problem or the issue we’re trying to solve, and 13 minutes to come up with 5 solutions. Then spend the rest of the day testing the solutions. There’s no wasted time. The energy level is high and the output becomes productive.

Think about it this way: Lets say you call an afternoon meeting that involves 10 people. ten is an easy number to do math with, so lets say 10. And each of those 10 people makes an average of $80k a year in salary. So for a 3-hour meeting, you’re paying more than $1100 for them to sit and talk.

That might be a great investment if the results of that meeting produces a revenue of more than $1100 dollars. Until you gain an ADDITIONAL $1100, you haven’t made your money back from sitting in just that one meeting.

Especially when it comes to longer meetings, I’d challenge you to begin to ask “Is there something else we could be doing for 3 hours that might produce better results?

Maybe it’s a 15-minute meeting, followed by 2 hours and 45 minutes of focused effort? Maybe it’s a 30 minute meeting followed by 2 ½ hours of research and testing?

Research shows that fewer meetings generally lead to greater productivity. Many meetings generally don’t move the needle forward or get things done that couldn’t be done with a phone call or email.

Oh… this is going to be controversial. People are going to say, “well, we’re working from home now.. don’t i have to check in on everyone and get their status report and have zoom calls?”

Well.. maybe. Or maybe not? Maybe it depends. A lot of us have been working from home for a while now. How’s that working? Has productivity gone up? Or down? Are you more motivated and excited about your work? Or less?

When we’re first forming our teams, sure! Go for it! Get those zoom calls, get those conference calls, get everyone on the same page… but as things move forward, don’t fall into the trap that everyone has fallen into for years, which is thinking that ‘more meetings’ necessarily means ‘more productivity’. It doesn’t… in almost everything that’s EVER been studied. EVER.

It’s important to only do meetings that absolutely move the needle forward. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe it’s worth a shot.

What do you think?? Have I gone completely crazy here?

Working From Home, Tip #9: A Hard Break

Tip #9 is short and simple. But, for some reason, hard for me to be consistent with.

Take a significant afternoon break.

Why? Because research shows when people work at home, they tend to work later, contrary to popular myth.

Maybe during the work day, you had to get out and run some errands, or pick up kids, or throw in some laundry. It’s just life. As a result, your work day runs into the evening more often. Instead of leaving your office at a designated time to commute home, you may end up working later into the evening– even after you break for dinner– and never really unplug.

Guilty. As. Charged.

I find that when I take a significant afternoon break, I can finish the workday strong without feeling guilty when I quit for the evening. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking 20-30 minutes to connect with my wife or kids. Sometimes I’ll go for a walk. Or squeeze in a quick workout. Or play with the dogs. Or take a nap.

Lately, I’ve scheduled a 3pm alarm on my phone, Monday thru Friday. When it goes off, I take my break. Squeeze in a quick walk. Some vinyasa. Or time with the family. That way, when I come back at 3:30, I can finish out the next 2 1/2 hours strong.

Try it! Set an alarm. Take a 20-30 minute break and go for a walk. Or a nap. Or, if possible, some playtime with the kids. You have my permission to take an extended, guilt-free moment to recharge and refresh. I promise, you’ll finish out the day stronger and more creative than if you’d plowed through it feeling fatigued. Nothing great ever comes from fatigue.

And those around you deserve your greatness.

Working From Home, Tip #8: Email and Social Media

Email and social media is a never-ending game. When writing Unleashing Your Creativity, I felt so snowed under by email. I discovered it was like playing Whack-A-Mole: I could keep swinging the hammer all day long and never really accomplish anything. I’d work a while, then ‘take a break’ and check my email. Then I’d get caught up in a rabbit hole of replies, responses, projects and unsolicited spam. Instead of recharging and clearing my head, I’d end up more frustrated and creatively wiped out. Then I’d trudge back to working on my book, scattered and less creative than before. Ugh.

So, I changed the rules. Unless I’m waiting for a specific email response to something, I only check email twice per day now.

Social media is the same way. Unless I’m doing research or business-related activities I only set aside certain times of the day to ‘just see’ what’s going on on social media.

And let’s be honest, if you wanna keep your mental health in check, some of you need to severely limit the time you’re spending trolling social media. With so much political and racial upheaval going on, you might need to take a break for a while and get your mind right.

(Or, at the very least, make sure the types of social media conversations you’re having are positive, inspirational ones like the Impactivist Group.

I think of email and social media as ‘playing Whack-A-Mole because it just never stops. No matter how many emails you delete, they keep on coming. Every time you respond to one, it’s like it’s an invitation for the recipient to send you another one. So I only check it once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. Rarely will I check it multiple times during the day unless I’m looking for something specific to a deadline or a project.

Reality Check: A lot of people check email and social when they don’t know what else to do. Amirite? Or amirite?

The beautiful things I’ve learned about email specifically are these:

  1. It’s never an emergency. No matter how persuasively it’s written it is or how it makes you feel, it’s not. If it were, you’d have gotten a phone call or a knock on the door.
  2. Don’t ever read it unless I’m going to deal with it. Either take action on it, respond to it, delegate it, or delete it. Don’t waste energy pretending to deal with it over and over until you finally hit the delete button. Do it and move on.
  3. If I set aside 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening to ONLY focus on emails, I can keep my inbox under control and not play Whack-A-Mole. I can get my life back.

Bonus Tip: Since there are no real emergency emails, when I used to receive something out of the blue from a colleague or business partner that says, “Hey, Tom! I need X…. and I have to have it by noon”, or something similar, it generally made me feel anxious. Stressed. Even resentful at times. So, I adapted this response from mentor and coach Brendon Bruchard, and simply copy-and-paste it from a document on file, and send it guilt free. It simply says:

Dear ________.

Thank you so much for your request. As you can imagine, I receive lots of requests each month and the tasks or projects I’m currently involved in this week were scheduled weeks or months ago. I’m sure you understand that I have to do my best to honor those commitments that were made long before your request today.

Can you give me the absolute drop-dead deadline on this? Like, the day in which, if you don’t have it, we will all lose our jobs, our children will starve in the street, the world will descend into economic chaos and zombies will take over our city? Please let me know that date, and I’ll be happy to see if there’s a way I can honor your request.

Thank you so much!

With gratitude


I’m not even kidding.

And I’ve even gotten some replies back that say something like, “Oh… lol! It’s cool, man. I know you’re busy. How about by the 15th?”

And at that point, I’m excited to help because I can deliver my best without losing control of my life. And I’m not playing a losing game of Whack-A-Mole.

P.S. Feel free to copy and paste my email into your own as an experiment. What’s the worst that could happen??

Working From Home, Tip #7: Meal Prep

I need help with this one. I’ve never been one of those Sunday-afternoon-cook-and-cut-and-seal-and-label-it-all-for-the-week kind of guys. It’s never been my jam.

Ooohhh… and I love jam. And waffles. And Oreos. Sometimes, all in the same meal.

And working in an office, I can (more) easily pack something healthy or run grab something semi-nutritious within a few blocks. Borking from home? Fuggadaboutit. A lot of days I look up from my desk and it’s like 2 in the afternoon and I’m starving. Like, I look up and go, “wow! I didn’t eat any lunch…. or any breakfast!” I think to myself, “Oh my gosh, I could literally eat a baby whale right now”.

So I go to the kitchen and don’t think about what’s best for me to eat. I’m not thinking about nutrition and protein and vitamins. I’m thinking ‘what can I shove into my mouth right now?’.

So I go to the pantry and end up eating crap in the middle of the afternoon. Way too many carbs or super highly processed food. Basically junk. I might grab a bag of chips and a handful of Oreos and a Dr. Pepper… then back to work.

So then I end up feeling like crap. My mind is foggy from all the sugar. I’m in this carb coma because all the blood from my brain has rushed to my belly to help with digestion. I’m sleepy and a little cranky… then i get frustrated at myself because I know I should make better choices… so I start beating myself up and feeling like a failure, so my self worth takes a hit, and now my motivation to do my best work is completely in the toilet.


Anybody else every get caught in that spiral?

So meal prep, or at least preparing my snacks, has been hugely important. Not so much prepping all my meals for the week, but being conscious about having healthy snacks on hand (veggies, nuts, yogurt) and eating a sensible lunch.

And NO sodas. NO cookies. NO sugar. NO truckloads of overly processed carbs.

Dr. Mark Hyman talks about the fact that food isn’t just calories, it’s data. Your body takes in food as information. So whatever you eat ‘programs’ your body to act or perform in a certain way. I’m not saying you have to give your body the same ultra high performance foods that a world class marathoner or body builder would need, but you need to be aware that the food you put in your mouth, not only affects your body. It affects your brain. Your mood. Your attitude. Your energy. And your productivity.

And who wants to feel like crap all afternoon and then spend time with your family all grumpy and groggy and in a bad mood? That’s not how I want to show up for the people I love the most.

So being intentional about keeping healthy foods in the house has made a huge difference. Again… it’s common sense. But not common practice. And it really can be life-changing.

And as I said at the top… I’m not great at this. I could use some help getting better. Do you have any tips that work for you? What kinds of foods (data) are you putting into your body that seem to be helping?

Working From Home, Tip #6: Interruptions

Mi familia. (minus one who was out of town)

Do you set any kind of Interruption Rules? To be honest, I struggle with this one. With all of us working from home and distance learning, trying to juggle life in a completely new way… what are the rules when someone can interrupt you?

When can your spouse interrupt you? When can your kids interrupt you? I mean, if you’re in your office or working at the kitchen table, are the kids allowed to just come in screaming?

I know… a lot of things depend on the situation and the age of your kids. I get it. Right now, our oldest has graduated and is working (but living at home), our almost-17-year-old is pretty successful at school and is a super self-starter, and our 11-year-old is… well… a high-energy 11-year-old.

And if this were happening when our kids were 10, 7, and newborn… things would be radically different. Yikes. I can’t even imagine…

The bottom line is you have to teach people, kids and adults alike, when it’s acceptable to interrupt you. And maybe, yes.. you can interrupt me at anytime… just don’t come in here screaming. Or, since my kids are a little older now, they know if there’s no blood and no vomit, it can probably wait until the top of the hour when I take my break, right? No blood? No vomit? It can wait another 20 -30 minutes.

Just remember, whatever we’re doing, we’re always teaching people how to treat us. If you share your opinion about something and your friend or spouse yells about how wrong you are, then you change your opinion, you’ve just taught them how to treat you. “Yell at me and I’ll change’.

It works the same way in the office and at home. How you respond to interruptions teaches everyone around you how to interrupt you. Remember, however, to be kind. Be gentle. Because no one is trying to be mean to you or sabotage your work. Remember when someone ‘interrupts’ you, their just in their own heads and concerned with their own stuff more than yours (which is their right). So give them a little grace and just explain, “Hey, it’s really hard for me to keep my focus while I’m working when I get interrupted. Can you give me until I take a break in a few minutes? That way I can give you my full attention.” (Who doesn’t love someone’s full attention??)

And sure, you may have to do it over and over and over and over… and over. But it’s worth the harmony and peace that results. Clear communication is always best.

Besides… If you’re working from home with someone else who’s working from home.. and you know their interruption rules, follow them out of respect. They’ll be much more likely to follow yours in return.

Working From Home, Tip #5: Involve Your Family

An often-overlooked no-brainer is the simple task of scheduling time with the family. As things evolve in our post-Covid world, everyone is dealing with uncertainty and unknowns. Be sure to give those around you as much information as you can as to what to expect right now. Talk to them about what you’re doing.

“Hey, kids. This week, mom has to be in a meeting during lunchtimes, so at 11:00 get your lunch from the refrigerator.”

“Dad has to be on conference calls in the morning.”

“Makayla has her Zoom meeting for her hardest class at 10:20, so Dad needs to be on standby to help if she needs it.”

Whatever it is for you. The main thing for us has been making sure we communicate with everyone in the house, so we’re all aware of what each of us needs. That way everyone is on the same page, and everyone understands what each other needs.

I talk to my kids about my morning routine so they understand what I’m up to (and to hopefully build in good habits with them as well). I talk about my work schedule and listen to them tell me about their school (at home) schedule. We talk about our ‘interruption rules’.

I tell Heather or the kids, “Hey, I’m going out into the studio. I’ll be back in an hour.”

Or… “look.. I get up around 5:30 so I can work out, do my bulletproof coffee, hydrate, and get in my morning inspiration time, like Morning Pages, prayer, meditation, whatever.. so if you see me out in the backyard before 7:30 or so.. and you need something.. try to wait until I come back into the house.”

Or… “Hey.. your brother isn’t a morning person. Just because he’s up, doesn’t mean he wants to talk and chat about the movie you watched last night… give him time. When he’s ready to socialize, he’ll come out of his room. That’s the schedule he needs to operate on right now… you know? Give him some space..”

Are there things YOU do with your family during this time that has made life easier? What are they? What should we add to the list?

Working From Home, Tip #4: Pit Stops

Why do race cars make pit stops??

Think of yourself as a race car.

If you’re familiar at all with racing, you know that every so often a driver will pull into the pit. In fact, it’s required.

A pit stop is a simple thing. But it’s crucial. Change the tires. Top off the fuel. Clean the windshield. Chug some Gatorade. Why would anyone waste time stopping while everyone around them is flying by at 200mph? Couldn’t the tires go a few more laps? Couldn’t the fuel last just a little bit longer? Sure. Maybe the car could keep going a little bit more… But eventually, it would break down. Run out of fuel. Or worse, malfunction and crash. It’s the pit stop that lets the driver finish the race.

YOU are that car. I know it sounds silly, but I take a break EVERY hour. I tend to do my block time in chunks of 45-55 minutes. Always. Always, always, always.

The largest research study of performance and productivity shows that productivity goes way up when taking a break after 52 minutes. I use a literal timer on my computer or phone every time my butt sits down in the chair to work on a project. Nine times out of 10, I just say, “Hey Siri… set a timer for 45 minutes.” And if I’m doing emails, I dig into emails until that timer goes off. No Facebook. No Instagram. No blogging. No other projects.

If the timer goes off and I’m in the middle of something or really in that theta brainwave flow of what I’m doing, I have the freedom to keep on working until I come to a stopping point that’s not interrupting my productivity. But most of the time, I wrap up what I’m working on and take a 10-minute Pit Stop.

During that 10 minutes, I can go back into the kitchen and check my phone for any urgent messages I may have missed. I might grab a bottle of water, do some pushups or a few vinyasa flows, go for a walk around the block and get some sunshine and fresh air, do some breath work or stretching, take the dogs to the backyard… whatever. (Even closing your eyes for 1-2 minutes during this time can have a huge effect, since a ton of fatigue can come from eye, neck, and shoulder strain if you’re sitting in front of a computer all day!)

Ten minutes is really a long time. The main thing is to give your eyes and brain a rest, to move your body, to re-engage with the world around you… so you can get into your next chunk of block time refreshed and refocused.

When you just burn nonstop through the day, by the time you get to 3, 4, 5pm… you’re burned up. And nothing GREAT comes out of that. No great ideas. No great art. No great projects. Nothing.

But when you take a break every 50 minutes, you’re taking regular Pit Stops throughout the day to recharge and refuel. Again, I know this sounds like common sense. Or even silly. But do the math: If you work 8-9 hours in a day, and you take a 10-minute recharge each hour, you’re refilling yourself for 1.5 hours during that day. That’s an hour-and-a-half more fuel for creativity and enthusiasm and energy and problem-solving.

Plus, you’re leaving enough gas in the tank, not only to get you to the end of the work day, but for your family and loved ones after work is done.

I challenge you to give it shot. Do it for one day and see if you don’t feel more energized. More productive. More rested and more excited about your work. And let me know what you think!

Working From Home, Tip #3: Block Time

Block time is super important for our productivity. If you’re not familiar with it, it just means you schedule time in your day for a certain thing. Things like working on your presentation, writing content for your blog or social media, researching a new project, checking email, making outbound calls., scheduling meetings, or even taking meetings.

Again, it sounds like common sense. But it’s not common practice. If it sounds simple, it’s because it is..and here’s the key:

If you block time to return phone calls at, say, 3:30-4:30 in the afternoon, you don’t check social media AT ALL during that time.

If you schedule block time at 10am to work on a presentation or write a song or a blog or create email automations for the month, you don’t answer the phone or return texts or check your email during that time.

If you’re working on social media at 11am, you don’t hop back and forth to email or todo lists during that time. You only focus on social media work.

Period. The end. You’re purposefully not drifting along, trying to work through the day according to how you may feel at the moment. And I know… for those of us who are creatives, it sounds confining and miserable and restrictive. But it’s not, I promise. By having structure, you actually have more freedom. More creativity. More free time.

For instance, in my life this is how it plays out. If I’m working out in my home studio or office, especially if it’s a creative block of time where I’m writing or doing video or working on a presentation, I intentionally leave my phone in the kitchen. My kids know that, unless there’s vomit or blood, don’t interrupt me. I’ll be available in 45 minutes (more on that in Tip #4). Until then, I need my full attention where it is so that I can give my full attention to them when I’m there. It has to work both ways. (FULL DISCLOSURE: Our school-age kids at home are 11 and 17… and they’re pretty good at being self-starters and self-sufficient. If you have younger kids in the house, I know this can be super difficult! What have you found that works for you??)

By the same token, when I’ve blocked family time, I don’t answer work texts or calls (unless it’s an emergency… which it almost never is.) I’m not going to schedule a work meeting during dinner with my wife. I’m not checking email or writing copy for a blog when I’ve blocked time for a family movie night. I treat scheduled family time just as importantly as a doctor appointment or a meeting with the CEO of a large company. Maybe even more so.

The problem is some of us still believe the lie of ‘multitasking’ and don’t realize that every time you switch tasks, you eat up precious mental energy and calories, and contribute to mental fatigue. And once you switch tasks, it can take up to 20 minutes to get back into the flow of what you were working on before you were interrupted. By jumping from task to task without completing them, you’re sabotaging yourself, sabotaging your productivity and your energy. As a result, your mood and emotional state will suffer because you feel less productive at the end of the day. How many times have you beat yourself up emotionally because you felt like the day was a failure or not as productive as it could’ve been. Or because you feel you didn’t do your best? It’s demoralizing.

Block Time has helped me create more. Produce more. Do more. And have more energy and focus for my loved ones once my work day is done. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll give it a shot!

Working From Home, Tip #2: Ask The Right Questions

Tip #2 is simple. I start my work day with 2 questions: What do I need to accomplish? And what’s going to trip me up?

I keep a daily and weekly to-do list… (that’s my personal list to the left.)

Being able to identify potential problems, what could trip me up, has been HUGE for me. Thinking ahead. Before I ever get started in my day and identifying things like interruptions from social media, interruptions from my kids, or unplanned phone calls or texts. Do I have any virtual meetings today? And if so, who’s in that meeting that might need some help staying on track? Who might tend to dominate the conversation that I can help gently re-direct to keep things moving forward? I ask myself, ‘If _____ happens, how would my best self handle that? What would the best version of me do in order to keep things moving in a positive, productive direction?

Beginning to develop that muscle of looking down the road and predicting what might become a stumbling point, so that if or when it happens, I already have a strategy or a tool to manage it.

That’s helped me a TON. Maybe it will help you. Whether it’s on a sticky note on your computer, or an item in your daily calendar, or a list on your phone, start your work time with those two simple questions: What do I need to accomplish? And what’s going to trip me up?

You’ve heard the saying ‘the best offense is a good defense’? Well sometimes, the best offense is just a good offense.