We ask the wrong question first

In general, in my coaching practice (and life), I tend not to blanket things as “right” and “wrong”. Things can only be right or wrong for you in this moment, and even the wrong things can turn out to be right.

So I guess what I’m trying to tell you is that I wrote the title of this blog post out of succinctness rather than accuracy! Here’s the long version:

We tend to focus first on a question that doesn’t often serve us

Catchy, hey?

Editing issues aside, you probably want to know the question. To be honest, I don’t think you’re going to like it. Not at first, at least.

Here it is: The question that needs to wait is, “What should I do?”

I spend a lot of time helping business owners and clever, creative humans to prioritise their to do list, make action plans, and even write business plans.

The value I add, the place we spend our time, the process is not, in fact, writing the list.

It’s easy to write a list. It’s easy to find 10 things to do. I bet you have 10 things you think you should be doing right now.

The value and the wisdom and the secret key to success is asking a whole load of questions (and maybe getting some answers) BEFORE you ask what you should do.

Questions like:

  • What am I really hoping to achieve?
  • How do I want to feel?
  • What’s the most important thing for me right now?

(More of my favourite questions are available for free right here.)

The more you can understand the problem you’re trying to solve, the business you’re trying to create, and the world you’re trying to influence, the easier it is to write a meaningful, prioritised to do list.

So, when you’re looking at your list, when you’re wondering what to do, rather than panicking or rushing, try taking a breath.

Remember what matters most to you.

Remember that you’re capable and clever and creative.

Remember that going fast in the wrong direction isn’t that helpful.

Remember what your direction looks and feels like.

Then ask that pesky question.


Again, my 20 favourite coaching questions are available for free right here.

And my Progress not Perfection group has a prioritising group call on Monday at 12pm. You can join on a pay-what-you-can basis.

How do you prioritise your to do list?

It only takes a quick Google or Pinterest search to be completely inundated by different productivity approaches. And truthfully there are a thousand different ways you can think about your priorities.

I have a few suggestions that I’ve used with my Progress not Perfection group and my coaching clients to help them feel confident and, crucially, to make progress.

Take your to do list, and look at each category below. Mark each item with a £ (money), a ! (important), 🙂 (fun) and Q (quick), choosing no more than three things in each category.

1. Where’s the money coming from?

Take a look at your to do list and mark the items (£) that are going to bring in money directly. Things like listing a new product, invoicing the client, or sharing the discount voucher with your email list. It’s really important that we see the link between the actions we take and the money we make.

Some things might have a longer term payoff, and that’s great too. In fact, I have a whole other post coming up about long term vs short term. But for now, let me say that if you need short term income, you need to prioritise those actions first.

Sometimes this is about prioritising marketing activity. Sometimes it’s cancelling those subscriptions you don’t need, or asking for the refund on faulty goods. Sometimes it’s designing something that will sell later in the year (e.g. Christmas).

Whether you’re strapped for cash or feeling comfortable, this has to be a priority for those of us taking our businesses seriously.

2. What’s important?

Important means different things to different people, and that’s okay. This category is for any item that is important to the running of your business, whether it’s setting up your eco friendly packaging or completing your tax return. It might not be a direct revenue driver and it might not be fun, but it’s vital to YOUR business.

It could be important for you to work on new designs, or a re-brand, or a new website. Perhaps it’s about setting up a new, more efficient process for getting your orders out the door.

For me, writing a weekly blog post is important because it helps me to hone my voice, help my audience, and demonstrate my expertise.

3. What’s fun?

The more joy you experience, the more success you have, and vice versa. That’s my experience, anyway! Especially as creatives, it’s important that we feed our enjoyment of our businesses. We didn’t start them so that we could do loads of boring stressful stuff.

So highlight anything on your list that’s truly a pleasure for you to work on!

If there’s nothing fun on your list, add something. I promise you’ll start to feel better about your business when there’s something you can look forward to on there.

4. What are the quick wins?

Publish the product. Email the people. Put the thing in the mail. Reply to the commission request. Enquire about the space. Decline the invitation. Say yes to the opportunity.

Some things are quick, we just procrastinate them. What is a quick win on your to do list? If it will take less than half an hour for you to complete, add a big Q next to it.

And review your newly prioritised to do list!

Once you’ve marked up your to do list with these categories, you should have something with a bit more of a priority to it. It might not be what you thought it was, but hopefully a couple of things have started to stand out as priorities for you.

If something is going to generate revenue, and is important, that’s the place to start! If it’s fun and important, that sounds great, too. Basically, you start to weed out the things that aren’t bringing in money, aren’t important or fun, and take ages. Why do we need to prioritise those things?

This is just one model for prioritising your to do list. It’s one that certainly helps to get things in perspective.

What do you think? Does this method work for you? Or do you have your own prioritisation preferences?

If you need more help prioritising your business plans, you might like to work with me one-on-one, or sign up for my very affordable group programme, Progress not Perfection, which is only £20 per month.

Here's the thing: saying no

how to say no by Jenny HydePre-S: Looking for the printable? Skip to the end. But come back to read more good stuff!

You know what I think? I think we’re all busy. I think we’re all trying to do lots of cool things. And I think there’s always opportunity to do more. There’s always another article to read, another email to answer, and another product to design (or blog post to write!).

And I believe this: We have to stop the glorification of busy.

We have to put things down. We have to change our minds and actively demonstrate to ourselves and others that “busy” doesn’t mean “successful”.

For our sanity, for our health, for our sustainability, we have to get comfortable with saying “no”.

Here’s what happens when I say yes when I really needed to say no:

I tell myself it’s not a big deal – I can just do the work or the favour and then it’ll be done. I’ll feel better about it and I’ll be helping someone.

I try to squeeze it in (whatever “it” is) but usually end up procrastinating or rolling it over to tomorrow or next week or similar.

I rush it, so I don’t do a good job.

I start to doubt my abilities. I worry about it when I’m in the shower or boiling the kettle (unlike when I’m doing work I’m fully invested in, which I can usually leave at my desk).

The client or friend or family member chases me. I feel bad and defensive and frustrated.

Resentment starts to build up and I get into black and white thinking (“I’m never going to do anything for them ever again. Look how ungrateful they are”) even if they’re just asking me to do what I said I’d do.

This is an extreme example of what happens, but it’s true. Do I end up feeling good? Occasionally. Do I add more stress to my life? Definitely. Does it benefit the other person? Possibly. But do they also get annoyed with me and wish they’d asked someone else? I imagine so.

Saying yes to stuff I can’t do or am not really invested in doesn’t serve me or anyone else.


We’re nice and generous and we want to help. We don’t like letting people down. And of course there’s the “well, I have to say yes because I need the money / they’re family / I owe them” guilt and fear.

So how do we balance what’s best for us with others’ requests?

This is still a practice for me, but here are the things I’ve been working on:

  1. Get clear on your own priorities. I did this towards the end of last year, when there was just too much and I was pulled in a thousand directions. My priorities are: existing client work, marketing and developing Copper Boom, my family, my home, and my health. There are specifics within that, but it makes it very easy to see what I want to have time, energy and money for.
  2. Be clear that you’re going to start saying no to anything that doesn’t make the list. Once you have your list, you have a reference point. Something that you created in a calm moment, not the heat of the moment when you receive the email or the phone call and can get sideswiped by old habits.
  3. Share your “yes” list. This can be helpful with family, friends and staff members. If you’re going through a big change or finding that you’re overwhelmed, it can be really helpful to let loved ones and the people involved know upfront, before you start saying no to things you usually say yes to. (I’ve included some wording you can use below.)
  4. Start practicing AND understand that no is a complete sentence. We often think we have to justify saying no, but we don’t. We might put a “thank you” on the end, but we don’t have to apologise for not meeting someone’s expectations or give an excuse. Start practicing saying no in a way that feels comfortable to you, even to small things. (Again, more wording for you to practice with below).
  5. Let go of guilt. This one is an ongoing practice. Because we’ve been brought up and conditioned and generally expected to say yes to everything. Because fear and guilt sound the same, and are both trying to keep you safe in a very old-school sort of way. (“If you piss this person off, everyone in the whole world will be pissed off and you’ll never have a business or belong anywhere ever again.” They’re pretty extreme.) You might find physically shaking off guilt is helpful, when you’re feeling it. You might find it helpful to read some of the statements below. You might need to breathe through it and look back at your “yes” list to remind yourself that you’re really saying yes to those things.

It’s easy to write a list, and harder in practice. I know. But I hope that giving you some clear pointers helps to create clarity of thought.

I always find it helpful to think about the actual wording I’m going to say to people. It helps me to feel confident in dealing with requests off the cuff (like on a phone call or face to face), and like the “yes” list, I create them outside the heat of the moment, so I know I can trust them.

Here are some wording suggestions:

  • Thank you for thinking of me! This isn’t something I can commit to right now.
  • I need to consider my current schedule. Can I get back to you in a day / week?
  • I’m currently prioritising my business / family / health and can’t take on extra commitments for the foreseeable future.
  • No.
  • Thanks for your email. This isn’t a good fit for me. I hope you find someone else who can do the project justice. Good luck with it!
  • I’m not a specialist in ______ so this project isn’t something I can take on.
  • This isn’t an option for me.
  • I’d love to, but my priorities lie elsewhere right now.
  • I have to say no. Thank you for the opportunity.
  • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m not in a position to take it up.
  • That isn’t an option for us. (This one’s particularly good for staff, when you don’t want to say why.)
  • Thanks for the suggestion! I need to consider it in context of our other designs and what we’re trying to create. (For feedback on creative suggestions.)
  • That doesn’t fit with what I’m imagining. What I’d LOVE is _____.

Notice that these responses are short and sweet! It will feel awkward saying them (or writing them) at first, especially if you’re used to saying yes and/or explaining yourself. Know that they’re enough: short, sweet and respectful. No apologies for committing to yourself, and no excuses.

I also recommend that you don’t say “maybe later” if you don’t mean it. If you’re never going to say yes to something in a billion years, don’t give someone false hope.

Need a reminder somewhere you can see it? Download the free printable here!

I’m sending so much courage and love as you go forth and say no so that you can say more YES!

Until soon,

Jenny x

Further resources:


Enter The Forge

Life's too damn short to chase someone else's definition of success. I'm here to give you the courage and tools to forge your own path.