Timothy Johnson

Saying no? Written By Timothy Johnson


COVID-19 has changed a lot of things. For me, one of those has been how I work and, perhaps more importantly, how I think about work.

Like most I spent some time this year out the office working on mostly office based tasks. Data analysis, organising meetings and report writing all took up far more of my time than they had previously. Importantly I didn’t have the distraction of going to the lab or going to on a long walk to get coffee when I got frustrated by some aspect of that work.

That is the motivation for a series of reflections that led, in part, to this blog, a greater use of automation and thinking about how I approach my work.

A lot of that has focused on producing a better task management system - which I will cover on this blog shortly. Reading and properly understanding the GTD approach has transformed how I work, my feelings towards it and my output. Much like exercise, it’s remarkable how something so simple can have such a massive change on your outlook.

Today this article from the FT came into my news-feed. In it Pilita Clark spends time explaining how you should not say yes to everything because, when you do, you take on to much and you do not get stuff done.1 To quote Terry Pratchett - a case of no one being able to move because of everyone else!

While this wasn’t my main driver for the new way I’ve been thinking about work it has been an untended consequences. I have knocked some big projects out in the last few months and delivered results for projects I had previously struggled with. I was part of the problem, I said yes to too many things which meant I got nothing sorted. I have solved this not because I had more time but because I had structured that time so I can deliver what was needed.

I now have more “free time” at work. I am able to spend more time in deep focus on problems rather that batting away emails and feeling scared I should be doing something else. It’s almost magic.

So while I enjoyed the FT article and, to some extent agree, I think approaching your work in a structured and considered approach means you can say yes and get things done too!

I will be outlining my new approach here over the coming months - I hope you find it, and the philosophy behind it, as useful as I have!


1 I think it’s worth mentioning that the FT have published a lot of articles describing the effects of saying no at work over the years…