Creativity

You’ll Never Be Creative Unless You Learn To Say NO

Controversial question of the day: “Do you return every phone call, text message, and e-mail?” I’d love for you to answer in the comments section below, because I don’t. I don’t believe we’re obligated to respond to everyone who calls, e-mails, or otherwise reaches out. Certainly we want to be nice, and we never want to be rude or condescending. However, if you’re going to accomplish something significant with your life, you simply can’t say YES to everyone.

Think about it. If I called Director Steven Spielberg right now, what are the odds that he’d actually respond? Pretty low. Steven has much bigger fish to fry.

But today, people feel powerfully compelled to answer the phone, even in the most awkward situations. I was talking to a friend the other day and his cell phone rang. He actually interrupted our face-to-face conversation to answer the phone and say, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now. Can I call you back in an hour?”

Wait – isn’t that what voice mail is for?

“If you spend all day responding to phone calls and e-mail, then you’re spending your day responding to other people’s priorities.” 

It’s especially difficult for our team because Cooke Media Group is a service provider. We work with clients helping them use the media more effectively, so we always want to be available to them. But even our clients know that we’re not helping them by constantly being in “response mode.” They also want us working on what we do best, because that’s what helps them the most.

The point is – start valuing your time. Start focusing on your work. If you can gang up your return calls and e-mails later in the day fine – but even then, prioritize who you respond to and why. For now, consider yourself free from the overwhelming need to respond to everyone.

It’s not only not necessary, but if you don’t, it will eventually derail your creative career.

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14 Comments

  1. Excellent point and question Phil. As a pastor, this is a hard one for me. I don’t answer every call. Even those with the town’s name in it usually means some sort of garbage call. I let it go to vm. If I’m riding my bike and the phone rings I check to see if its my wife. If not, vm. I check a text when I stop. But the urge to respond is real. I want to be accessible if needed. There is a fine line for sure.

  2. You’re mixing three separate issues here: “Do you return every phone call, text message, and e-mail” is one, “You’ll Never Be Creative Unless You Learn To Say NO” is a second, and “…people feel powerfully compelled to answer the phone, even in the most awkward situations” is a third.

    So are you really asking whether we should be always available and respond immediately, whether we should respond positively whenever possible, or whether we should respond at all to everyone?

    No, I don’t answer every phone call or immediately respond to every e-mail. I’m not going to interrupt a face-to-face meeting to answer my phone in most cases, or stop writing a report to check and respond to e-mail every 20 minutes.

    Yes, I do respond to everything I possibly can (except sales calls/e-mails). First, I never know where the next client is going to come from – some seemingly innocuous contacts have turned into long-term relationships. Second, I’ve had to rely on others for help, so I try to help any time I can. Maybe if I were Spielberg, who I’m sure gets hundreds of requests for his time, money, and expertise, it would be different, but I’m obviously not Spielberg.

    But third, sometimes that response is NO. I can’t do everything for everyone. It’s okay to say no.

  3. No, I don’t answer all calls and emails. There are time wasting and distracting to me, most especially, when I am studying.
    Thank you so much for the post Phil.

  4. You’re mixing three separate issues here: “Do you return every phone call, text message, and e-mail” is one, “You’ll Never Be Creative Unless You Learn To Say NO” is a second, and “…people feel powerfully compelled to answer the phone, even in the most awkward situations” is a third.

    So are you really asking whether we should be always available and respond immediately, whether we should respond positively whenever possible, or whether we should respond at all to everyone?

    No, I don’t answer every phone call or immediately respond to every e-mail. I’m not going to interrupt a face-to-face meeting to answer my phone in most cases, or stop writing a report to check and respond to e-mail every 20 minutes.

    Yes, I do respond to everything I possibly can (except sales calls/e-mails). First, I never know where the next client is going to come from – some seemingly innocuous contacts have turned into long-term relationships. Second, I’ve had to rely on others for help, so I try to help any time I can. Maybe if I were Spielberg, who I’m sure gets hundreds of requests for his time, money, and expertise, it would be different, but I’m obviously not Spielberg.

    But third, sometimes that response is NO. I can’t do everything for everyone. It’s okay to say no.

  5. This is so true! I used to feel a sense of obligation to pick every single call until I realised that it was affecting my productivity. I had to slap myself to the consciousness that I am not a call centre operator…lol. However, I try to return as many calls I can at my free time. Thanks Phil for sharing!

  6. Totally agree. I have used this same tactic in both my personal and work life. I also like to just send the items I need to respond to directly to my task list for time I have set aside for that sort of thing.

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