Most of us are limited in some respect, often by time, money, or energy. This is true for organizations as well as individuals. It is vital to remember that every time we say YES to a request for time, money, or other resource, we are saying NO to something else. There is only so much time, money, or energy available.

If we allocate our resources for maximum effectiveness and efficiency, then we need to remain aware of what we say no to. When you consistently work late or spend your weekends on the golf course, you may be saying no to your family. When you buy more car or house than you need, or take that expensive vacation once too often, you may be saying no to your financial security at retirement time or your kids’ college educations. When Congress overspends and creates a deficit, we are saddling our children (perhaps, by now, our grandchildren) with debt. We’re saying no to them, denying them options and opportunities because we did not wish to discipline ourselves.

What we are saying no to often is far in the future, or not well defined, or otherwise not right in front of us, emotionally pressing on us with a false sense of urgency the way saying yes does. It takes forethought and discipline to remember to focus on what we are saying no to and whether it is the best choice.

It is a small thing, a very little thing really, but a very important thing. As the sage said, there is little difference between people, but that little difference makes a big difference. And those little differences add up over time and create even bigger differences.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive. Originally posted December 10, 2007.