Creating an “Absolute Yes List” and “Just Say No List:” A Worthwhile Exercise for Achieving Success in Your Life, Career & Business
Written by Lisa Montanaro | December 13, 2012

We all have goals — or in New Year’s parlance, resolutions. We all have visions of what we’d like our lives, careers, and business to be. For many people, thinking about what you would like to change and transform is the easy part. The tough part is actually turning those goals and visions into reality.

There are many strategies for creating the life, career, or business that you want. Each strategy involves some type of reflection and planning. You know that you need to prioritize. Failing to do so means that everything gets equal weight. But how do you determine what’s important and gets more of your attention?

My favorite exercise is to jot down a list of everything that could occupy your time, energy and resources, and then ask the simple question of each item: Yes or No? I call this creating your Absolute Yes List and Just Say No List.

For some people, the best way to determine what to focus on is to start by listing all of the things you DO NOT want to occupy your time, energy, and resources. This becomes the basis of your Just Say No List, which is made up of the things you absolutely know you don’t want in your life, career or business. Starting with the No List is often a great way to purge, eliminate, shed, or release. It can feel freeing and creates space in your mind for focusing on the things you DO want in your life, career or business. The items that go on your Just Say No List should come easily. They are the ones that sap your energy, pull you away from your core interests and greatest desires, have proven time and again to be a waste of time, rightfully belong on someone’s else’s list, or are loaded with guilt and negative energy. Say good riddance and put them on your No List! Doesn’t that feel good?

For others, starting with the Absolute Yes List is easier. If you already know that you have some things that you are itching to try, do, and manifest, those items go on the Yes List. Add anything that you want to create space, time, energy and resources for. If you know it is a priority, it goes on the Yes List. Remember, this is an Absolute Yes List. Not a wishy-washy, should-coulda, maybe, someday, we’ll-see list! Don’t worry about how you will get it done, or even when. At this stage, your job is just to categorize whether it is an Absolute Yes or a big fat No.

You will probably have a pretty robust list on both sides (at least I would hope so!). The goal is to make quick and efficient, but meaningful decisions, about whether something is a Yes or No. The more clarity you have around whether something is deserving of your time and attention (a Yes item), or is something you know you don’t want in your life (a No item), the better off you will be. It is the gray areas, the Maybes, that often cause the most strife. Therefore, the goal of this exercise is to be as emphatic as you can be, to whittle down the Maybe List as much as possible. Or, better yet, don’t even allow yourself to have a Maybe List! Try to make a decision. I like to say if it isn’t an Absolute Yes (which is a pretty strong yes), then it usually belongs on the Just Say No.

Take some time to enjoy this exercise, and design a life, career or business that’s a great match for you. You will often need to tweak or course correct your lists as things change. That’s okay. But having your lists as a starting point will serve you well as you can use them as a litmus test to measure all requests, obligations, tasks, responsibilities, and to-do’s against. Try to embrace both the planning process and the changes. It’s how we grow — in life and in business.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.