Focus on What Matters—Not on What’s Urgent

What are some things you should say no to right now?

Darius Foroux
5 min readSep 29, 2021

Have you ever felt that you “have to” do something? Maybe you spent long hours at work because your manager said they “need” you there.

Or attended a meeting to keep up appearances. Or made decisions solely to not disappoint your parents, friends, mentors, or anyone you look up to.

This happens to all of us. I see it all the time, especially with hardworking, success-driven people.

In his book, Essentialism, George McKeown talks about the “Paradox of Success.”The more we succeed, the more we prioritize what makes us successful — and the less we prioritize what’s really important to us In this way, success becomes a distraction, sometimes without us even noticing.

How does that happen? McKeown says it comes in 4 phases.

Phase 1: We have a clear purpose, which helps us succeed at what we do. This might be a degree, a promotion, or a new business.

Phase 2: Our success makes us a reliable “go-to” person in our field. We build a good reputation. People start coming to us. We receive more options, more opportunities.

Phase 3: More options and opportunities mean more demands on our time and energy. We don’t want to let people down. We want to maintain our success or become even more successful. So we keep saying yes to these demands and spread ourselves thin.

Phase 4: We become distracted. We chase shiny objects. Our focus and energy are scattered. We’re overwhelmed. And we can’t perform at a high level because we’re doing too many things to be able to give any one project 100%.

At this rate, people suffer burnout and companies go bust. Why? Because their motivation has changed.

You don’t “have to” do most things

It’s easy to let work become your identity. Especially if you feel that other people rely on you: Co-workers, clients, students, readers. And when you get positive feedback from others, you feel like you’re doing important and productive work.

At some point, you just feel like you have to do too many things or your identity will suffer.

Darius Foroux

I write about personal finance, productivity, habits. My best-selling course, Procrastinate Zero 2, is open for registration NOW: