Just Say No

Morning exercise

It’s Friday afternoon in late summer.  Our Production Manager, John, is sitting in his well-organized office with noise from the manufacturing floor in the background.  He is just about ready to enjoy the weekend but is taking time to plan the coming week.  John thinks to himself, “we never get as much done as we should.  There are too many fires to put out. These Kaizens are taking too long and my to do list just keeps getting longer.” Just then, his boss walks in, “John, I’ve got a great idea on how to reduce waste.  It’s got to be our top priority because we can’t afford to wait….”

Sound familiar?  Most of us are pretty busy in today’s manufacturing plants.  There are countless opportunities for improving the operation and reducing waste.  There are the meetings and coordination required to keep the plant running.  Then there are the unexpected problems that require your time and attention.

So how do you get everything done, especially when you can’t afford to wait?  You are going to have to say no to something.  You may say no to the most important project through neglect if you do prioritize and get let by the tyranny of the urgent.  Steve Jobs turned Apple around by focusing on fewer products.  According to Jobs, focus is about saying no.  The total is less than the sum of the parts when you try to do too many things.  Saying no helps you stay on track and keeps you from trying too many things.

Steve Jobs is talking about managing innovation at one the most creative companies in the world.  Yet this advice applies in manufacturing plants as well.  You cannot give your priority projects focus when there are too many priorities.  Stephen Covey’s classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls us to put first things first.  You have to say no to some other things if you are going to put first things first.

You are invited to watch the video where Steve Jobs explains this position then to reflect on a few questions:

Do you have too many priorities in your factory?  Can you share an example of how you accomplished something great by saying no to something that could have been good? How does John apply “Just say no” with his boss?


Special thanks to the Time Back Management Blog for bringing the video and quotes to my attention.  Please leave a comment below if you liked this article. You can also connect on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, subscribe via e-mail (right side bar), retweet, digg, or stumble this article. Your feedback is appreciated.

You can check out my Facebook page and continue the discussion there as well.


About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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8 Responses to Just Say No

  1. Hi Chris,
    I like the Video !

    The total is less than the sum of the parts when you try to do too many things- That’s my key take away from his message. Personally- i do try to balance many thing at once. Its just time and enery consuming effort.

    • Ganesh,

      It is a good video. The sum being less than the parts is a great way to describe it which hit home with me too. It’s not practical to do just one thing at a time from start to finish. Many of us have seen when we have too many things on our plate and are unable to do things well. The challenge is to know when you are at your limit. Thanks for your comments.


  2. Stan says:

    Covey (2004) wrote, “I believe that if you were to ask what lies in Quadrant II and cultivate the proactivity to go after it, you would find the same results. Your effectiveness would increase dramatically. Your crises and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you would be thinking ahead, working on the roots, doing the preventive things that keep situations from developing into crises in the first place” (p. 156). When lean leaders spend their time in Quadrant II, they are improving the process. These improvements in turn minimize their time in Quadrant I – fighting fires. Having a Quadrant II focus (improving the process), which includes learning to say “no,” is the key to freeing up time that is typically wasted in fighting fires.

  3. Angela says:

    These words ring true in running any business and even your home. Juggling home and a small business, I get what Steve Jobs is saying. Getting it all done sometimes means saying no to certain things. Valuable lesson and definitely one to keep in mind in everyday life. Thanks for a great article.

    • Hi Angela,

      Thank you for the kind feedback. Another way of putting it is “don’t be afraid to give up the good for the great.” It’s a philosophy that needs to be applied anywhere that time or resources are limited. Thanks again.


  4. Al Eddy says:

    Their is power in the word NO. Trying to do lot’s of things at the same time means something will not get done on time or in the way it should. Do this for too long and it will lead to burn out and then you will be no good to no buddy.

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