Know When to Say 'No'
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What are you saying 'no' to today? This week? And in your life more generally? Which meetings did you decide not to attend, which product features did you pass on, and which tasks did you decide to throw off your to-do list? 

And what are you making space for as a result?  

Stephen Covey put this well when he said: “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically – to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” 

It's not easy. Indeed, with increasing noise and countless competing priorities, it can be stressful, overwhelming, and almost impossible to focus on what really matters. And yet it's exactly the decision of when to say 'no', and where to invest your time and resources that will make the difference to... well, everything. 

So how can you effectively prioritise? When should you say 'no'?

Here are some models to help. I've chunked them into four main areas to help you prioritise which ones are most relevant for you right now (ironic right?). 

Prioritising the big life choices: 

  • Buffet's Two Lists

Prioritising fast and in multiple contexts: 

  • Eisenhower Matrix
  • Pareto Principle
  • Kanban
  • Impact Effort Matrix

Prioritising products and requirements

  • Kano Model
  • MOSCOW Method
  • RICE Score

Prioritising for business

  • BCG Growth-Share Matrix
  • GE McKinsey Nine Box Matrix

Let's get into more detail with each:

Want to take your Impact Effort Matrix to the next level? Try this seemingly simple equation that scores potential products for prioritisation by adding confidence and reach as additional variables.

The MoSCoW Method is a tool commonly applied to prioritising requirements as part of a Business Analyst process but, like all models, can be used more broadly.

Inspired by the Eisenhower Matrix, this model charts potential impact versus potential effort.

It's a simple Mental Model that ironically you should use for big life decisions and charting out your high priority values (and saying 'No' to the rest).

Now we get into the product and even business priority methods. Though the previous can be used for that, these models dig a little deeper. The Kano Model maps customer satisfaction versus level of execution to categorise options.

It's a model that get's a lot of mentions for a reason. It's a simple, powerful and adaptable way to identify high value areas of effort.

This model was developed by McKinsey and GE when they decided that the BCG Growth-Share Matrix was not comprehensive enough.

And finally, we move into the more robust prioritisation methods used to analyse business or product offers. This one is the BCG Matrix that assess level of growth versus market share.

Are you focusing on what's urgent and important? This is a flexible tool that can be used daily as a task list to transform your day.

This model can be applied for personal prioritisation, but is most commonly used for business prioritisation as part of Agile Methodology.


That's it for this Playbook. It's a broad overview, covering a range of prioritisation models. Keep an eye out for future Playbooks that will get into alternative combinations and specific areas. 

Until then, may you say 'no' when it counts so you can stay sane and make a huge impact as a result!

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