I'm a graphic designer and writer in Northern Ireland. Welcome to my blog.

“The button that keeps us on”

Kevin Ashton wrote a short piece called Creative People Say No.

Here’s a quick excerpt:

“We are not taught to say ‘no.’ We are taught not to say ‘no.’ ‘No’ is rude. ‘No’ is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. ‘No’ is for drugs and strangers with candy.

“‘No’ makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But ‘no’ is the button that keeps us on.”

On button
Photo by iMorpheus

It takes a few minutes to read the rest.

Back in 2010 I talked about why it pays to say no. It’s the same today. I accept about 5 or 10 percent of the projects I’m asked about. It takes a fair chunk of time replying to everyone, but being more selective means I’m a much better fit for the projects I agree to, I’m happier at work, and my clients get a better service.

When I started out I’d accept almost any job that came my way. But over time I learned how to choose clients more wisely — a huge help with stress levels. There’s a chapter about that in my second book with useful stories from Russell Holmes, Darragh Neely, Tim Lapetino, and Fiona Burrage.

As the late motivational writer Stephen R. Covey once said, “Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things.”

Here a few other reads on the value of that little two letter word:

Setting boundaries and saying no… nicely, on 99U
Simple ways to say no, on zenhabits
Saying “no” by Jason Santa Maria

My second book on Amazon

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6 comments about ““The button that keeps us on””

  1. “‘No’ makes us aloof, boring, impolite, unfriendly, selfish, anti-social, uncaring, lonely and an arsenal of other insults. But ‘no’ is the button that keeps us on.”

    I love this excerpt! Well put and can be applied to just about any field. If it’s any indication of whats to come in the book, I am sure it will be a great read! What are some of the biggest red flags that will make you turn away a client?

  2. You can tell a lot from the first few emails, Taylor. It’s stupid how many I get that don’t start with a simple “hello,” and then there are those where it’s obviously a “cut and paste” job going to who knows how many others.

  3. Except that as a self-taught designer trying to feed his family, I can’t afford to work on only 10% of the projects that come in. Doesn’t talent and gifting play a factor?

  4. If there’s no talent, there’ll be no enquiries. I’ve found that by spending more time on fewer projects, the results are better, and clients are happier to make more of an investment. It works out better for both of us.

  5. This is something that I’m (thankfully) working through at the moment. When I first started freelancing I had to take what work came along. Even after 17-years in the industry I had to work very hard to get noticed as a ‘new’ freelancer and it was certainly very tough going. In fact it took me 5-years of freelancing to get to a point where I could finally make the break and go full-time working for myself. I see some designers going into full-time freelance directly from university and in my opinion I’m not surprised that they find it tough going. I’m not saying don’t do it of course but it will be much harder that way.

    It’s still very tough and a lot of hard work but I am finally at a point where I can begin to cherry pick the projects a little. I have gone through the process of; taking on everything I can get, being too busy and almost letting quality slip and then now finally being a little braver and starting to say ‘no’ and bringing the quality back inline with what I’m happy with which brings me to my main point. The more I say no and focus my time on producing better work, the more I start to receive better enquiries.

    When I was busy trying to do everything and taking on all projects I just seemed to be muddy-minded and not focused properly. It’s important, when you can of course, to select projects that are both inspiring to you and beneficial to both yourself and your clients.

  6. Good on you, Steve. I agree, it’s tough getting to the stage where you can make your selections without doubting yourself. But when you’re there, work tends to be a lot more fun.

Anything to add?

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