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Why I Keep My Calendar Empty...
Last Updated April 2nd, 2015

The train came…

I hopped on it and never looked back.

What train?

The NO train.

I Was Burnt Out Until I Followed The Advice Of Some Of The World’s Most Productive People

About 2 years ago, I got burnt out. I gave speaking engagements all over the country. I appeared on every interview show I could find. And I always had meeting after meeting after meeting.

And I told my friend Marie Forleo how I felt, and she gave it to me straight: “it’s time to hop on the no train.”

I listened.

I now say no to almost everything.

The result?



And most important – I actually GET THINGS DONE.

But you can’t say “no” to everything.

So, in this video, I’ll share why I keep my calendar empty – and when (and why) I make an exception.

How Saying No Will Change Your Life

I see this happen all the time…

New business owners think that to get ahead, they have to keep saying yes.

They think the more meetings they schedule and the more networking they do, it will skyrocket their business. Plus, they want to be generous with their time and helpful to others, which is great…

But then they get stuck. They stretch themselves so thin that they don’t have time to work on the most important parts of their business.

When I realized I was doing the same thing in my business, I made a big change. And it really paid off.

I’m Derek Halpern, and you’re watching Social Triggers, the place entrepreneurs and executives learn to get ahead in business and life.

And in this video, I’ll share what I did and why. Plus, I’ll give you some tools you can use to stay focused.

Back in 2012 and 2013, I was busy. I was meeting with new people almost everyday and doing several speaking engagements each month.

And while my business did well and revenue increased, I knew I wasn’t performing at the top of my ability.

When I looked at how I was spending my time, I realized that only about 10% of it led to any real business growth.

Those chance meetings I felt like I’d be an idiot for missing out on almost never resulted in anything worthwhile. I was wasting my time instead of spending it on the most important things that would actually grow my business.

And that’s when I decided to do something extreme…

I decided to give a hard no to anything that didn’t directly relate to and help with whatever I was focusing on right now.

That means no meetings, no speaking engagements, no interviews, nothing.

And sure, maybe I missed a connection or two that could have led to an opportunity down the line…

But the bottom line is that I already had a list of things to do that I wasn’t doing. And I needed to focus on that first.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to lock yourself up in your office and say no to everything if you want to accomplish any real goals.

But I am trying to show you the importance of taking back your calendar and focusing on your most important work – whether that’s getting new subscribers, creating a new course, or writing the sales copy for your new product.

And I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

Fast Company shared a story about how, when Warren Buffett first met Bill Gates in 1991, he encouraged him to keep his calendar empty.

He said:

“You’ve gotta keep control of your time. And you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.”

Steve Jobs is another example. He was known for his laser focus. I read in Business Insider that Jony Ive, Apple’s head of design, said, “Steve was the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life.”

And what Steve Jobs said about focus is spot on. He said:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.”

And that’s what you have to do when it comes to deciding how you’re going to spend your time. You can waste it on endless meetings or you can focus it on the doing the important work in your business.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay. I get it. But how can I decide what to say yes to? And what to say no to?”

Well, don’t worry. I’ve got three tips for you that you can start implementing immediately.

First, and I said this earlier, you need to:

Say No To Almost EVERYTHING That Doesn’t Directly Affect What You’re Working on Right Now

I know this seems harsh. But if you’re looking to build something meaningful, then you have to do it. Don’t let anything distract you from your number one goal.

I did this in 2014 because I was focused on building new products. And in one year, I was able to turn my 1-product company into a 4-product company.

If I said yes to several speaking engagements each month… If I said yes to every interview that came my way… If I said yes to every dinner… If I said yes to every personal engagement…

There’s NO WAY I could have accomplished this much in a year.

You see, we all get caught in the “Fear of Missing Out” trap. We don’t want to miss a big opportunity. We don’t want to miss a valuable connection.

But Richard Branson said it best:

“Business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another one coming.”


Schedule Time With Yourself

This one is HUGE. And it’s actually something I’ve just recently started doing.

Believe it or not, I used to not work so smart. I’d wake up, do what I felt like doing for the day, and that was it. I wasn’t being strategic with my time and it affected my productivity.

Now, when I want to work on something on my to do list, I add it to my calendar. I block off time to work on just that task.

I’ve found that doing this really helps me to get the stuff done I need to get done without distraction. And you should start doing that, too.

And finally, I realize that it’s not realistic to say no to everything. You need some meetings. But the trick is to…

Have A System In Place For How And When You Schedule Those Meetings

For example, I save Friday for my meetings day. This way, I have four full days open for me to focus on more important work.

And, if something needs my attention earlier in the week, then it has to wait until after 5:00pm.

Those are my rules. And creating a similar system will allow you to keep full control over your calendar so that things don’t get out of hand.

But you don’t have to follow my rules. You can make rules for yourself – and that’s fine, too.

So, to quickly recap. You need to take control of your calendar, and here are three ways you can do it:

1. Say no to almost everything that doesn’t directly affect what you’re working on right now.

2. Schedule time with yourself.

3. Create a system for how and when you schedule meetings.

Now, I have a question for you:

Do you find these tips helpful? Which are you most excited to implement?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Also, if you know anyone who struggles with always saying yes, pass along this video! You’ll be helping them out and me out, too.

And if you’re new here, be sure to subscribe to Social Triggers and hop on my mailing list, where you’ll receive exclusive content from yours truly.

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55 comments Leave a comment

I combine my daily morning run/walk with some self-help tapes to listen to so both my mind and body get a workout at the same time


So the question I have about this Derek is, are you able to say no now, because you said yes before and this helped build your profile.

Or can we still follow your suggestions of no and will the strategic yes provide enough exposure so people know who we are?

Spencer Goldade

One of the first things I started doing to take back my time was declining meetings unless they had very clear agendas and action points we were looking to accomplish and there really needed to be a meeting to solve those things.

The next thing I did was decline any and every lunch meeting, unless it was 100% integral and (snicker) lunch was provided.

I used to work for a company where it was common that people scheduled meetings to essentially talk about having other meetings. We’d also have meetings that were essentially check ins on the status of projects but could have been solved through a simple email or training the team to reach out if they had an update or needed something and otherwise being left undisturbed to be productive. These are all things that myself and others slowly combatted, challenged, and eventually had successes removing from day to day processes.

Hedviga Nosáľová


I’m glad I found this website. It helps in many things. I’m starting my bussiness, but I’m still student. It’s a long time run, but always I’m happy to find usefull articles. Thank you and Greeting from the Czech rep. 🙂


Very solid advice here. People all the time think that the more you do, the better your business will go, when that’s not necessarily true. Burning yourself out helps no one! Glad you shared this wonderful piece of advice on saying “no”!

George Meszaros

You hear people say all the time “learn to say no”. I agree. You have to be very selective with your time.


Hi Derek, namazing content as always.

This year, I said no to one on one personal training and even some online weight loss coaching. It was hard at first because that cuts down some of my revenue stream.

However, I should be focusing on creating an online course that help those clients hence 3rd tip creating a system.

Bought Zippy Course, not use it yet. still creating mini course and editing the videos. Thanks for an awesome product and this blogpost as a reminder.

P.S. Sweet video intro!

Alyssa O'Sullivan


Love this advice!

Everybody thinks ‘yes’ is the power word, but it’s so important that you’re spreading the word that ‘no’ is an organizational tool, too.

I’ve been working on saying ‘no’ more (and I’ve been getting more sleep!) but I’m exciting to start rewarding myself with more time, like you suggest in step 2.

Thanks for the motivation!


Savannah Alalia

You are on the money with this !!
All my success has come about when I am fully in charge of my diary and I say NO ALOT. I did not realise how powerful it was until 3 years ago I started saying YES to everything, just to see what would happen….. and guess what things fell apart – which was great at the time as I needed to rebuild my life so it looked different.
And now it does. I know what I am building and where I am going and I jumped back on the NO train about 6 months ago and hey presto like MAGIC I’m reminded IT REALLY WORKS.
Thank you for your sharing – great to hear it again 😀 !!!

Its a AWESOME reminder 😀

Melissa Gutierrez

No phone calls or email after 8:30pm.


Thanks for the timely reminder! No is a healthy word and it can work to your advantage.
My favorite of the three tips you shared is “spending time with myself”. Doing it will set me up for effective success.

Lou Johnson

Derek, I get easily distracted. Thanks to this video, I will start putting time aside to building my inventions. Lou.

Mary Kathryn Johnson

A Power Calendar is Vital, and starting my day with a P.O.W.E.R. routine before I start work helps me stick to that calendar.

Great tips, Derek!

Karl Karrlander

Derek, loving what you’re doing with Social Triggers! You’ve got that love-hate personality in my opinion and I gotta tell you, I love you personality.

Keep up the awesome work with Social Triggers, I might just join on of your courses soon enough!

By the way, would you mind me doing a review/case study of Social Triggers soon enough on my own blog? 🙂

Michael Burgman

Derek thank you for this video. It was just the reminder I needed. My problem over the years have been that I have many talents and am often called upon for many different things. Each call or course is urgent to the person calling me! I have learned to become “unavailable” and to redirect people in another direction that involves less or no further use of my time. I found that people often don’t even look for other options if you make the mistake of being easily available. It is one of those times when being “hard to get” is beneficial for all involved!


Thanks for the videos. I am french and you have many foreigners listening to your videos so please can you register them on you tube so it is easier for us to catch every words as we can use the widget to have words written on the video as Mary Forleo does. We can read as listening you

bye bye

Brent Dunn

Totally agree Derek.

I use to say yes to every client and ever request. Yes, I was making money but many of them were wasting more time than they were worth.

It wasn’t until I went back, looked at which of my clients were worth the time and told all the others no that I started to find success.

This has also been true with “new ideas”. Usually when I have a brand new idea I get all excited and think it’s the best idea in the world. I use to even start several projects from these new ideas without really thinking of them further.

To solve this I now write all my ideas down on a piece of paper so they’re all next to each other. Then go back and look at the end of the week which ones are good and cross out all the ones that aren’t.

I guess we do this because we feel that if we don’t say yes opportunity will pass us by. While in reality if we don’t say no, opportunities will pass us because we’re to busy to notice.

Anne | Bloggers With Day Jobs

I started saying “no” to every new idea that pops into my mind. New directions I could possibly take. New ways to make a great project even greater. The only way to get my priorities done is to DO THEM. Once I finish, I’ve got a parking lot full of new ideas to tackle!

Antonia K Zorluer

This is essential advice, Derek! I can totally relate to it…

When I first started freelance copywriting, it was hard getting clients. Once business picked up I would say YES to every new opportunity because I enjoyed the appreciation, work and of course, my growing income. And I didn’t want to miss any opportunity.

at some point I felt like I couldn’t focus efficiently on any client! My brain was doing 5 things at a time. I knew it was time to say NO. I analyzed my client accounts and kept working with only a few that gave me opportunity to achieve my career goals and offered me potential for growth. My best career decision!

Antoniya K Zorluer

This is essential advice, Derek! I can totally relate to it…

When I first started freelance copywriting, it was hard getting clients. Once business picked up I would say YES to every new opportunity because I enjoyed the appreciation, work and of course, my growing income. And I didn’t want to miss any opportunity.

However, at some point I felt like I couldn’t focus efficiently on any client! My brain was doing 5 things at a time. I knew it was time to say NO. I analyzed my client accounts and kept working with only a few that gave me opportunity to achieve my career goals and offered me potential for growth. My best career decision!


You are right. I am learning to say no. I am grateful for someone to pressure me to do my content creation.


Hey Derek,
Another great video!
Do you you think you could maybe do a video on anything WordPress related? Maybe a list of your favourite plugins or something?
Thanks Derek!


These are great. I’d just add one more. A weekly review, where I evaluate what went well, and what didn’t. Knowing where I’m following through, and when things are slipping through the cracks makes a huge difference in my productivity.


This really hit home for me. It’s reassuring to hear someone so successful took a time out and said what for me is the scariest word… no.

Thank you

Erron Adams

Totally agree, winnowing the unnecessary is what gets the necessary done.

Catherine | Fit Armadillo

SUCH an important lesson here! I used to feel guilty about saying no to people, but now I don’t. Especially after setting up calls to help people who flaked on me.

One of my solutions has been building a second part of my business. Now when people want to “pick my brain” they can, but they have to pay me (or sign up for a free strategy session I control). It’s worked really well!

Saying no is hard, but important for getting ahead!


Ha! Organizing my time ^^^^ (oy auto spell check!!!)


Yes! I like the “create a system” tip. That is my next step to get tanis ng my time. Derek, thank you for the ever awesome content!

Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels

I have my “moments” when I work until 6am without a break. And then I have the “other moments” when I don’t do anything few days. I try to focus what’s important – be productive or don’t do it at all. There is no point to push myself if my imagination and creativity are not working. That means I need a break and I take it. I know, it is so hard to let go. It feels like I am missing out something. But the reality is, I am only doing my job when I am in a mood, and when I am not, I focus on my family and spare time. Luckily it kind of works out equally 🙂


This is such great advice! You can’t focus on the business growth tasks if you are too busy trying to take advantage of every single opportunity that comes along.

Steven Davis

Thanks, Derek. So true.

I shudder when I think about how much time I wasted at networking events and even speaking at conferences.

More laser focus!

Lisa Rothstein

What makes this work for me, is the saying “no” to EVERYTHING. It’s a huge load off my mind not to have to evaluate every opportunity or activity (Do I want to do it? Might it lead to something? Will someone else be let down if I don’t? Does it sound like fun?) and just no that the default answer is always “no” UNLESS it directly goes to my main goal. DONE!
Kind of like a diet that tells you exactly what to eat and everything else is a NO. Frees up a lot of mental energy.
I can see that if you make this a policy for a while, you can end up in a place where you can say yes to more things because you will have built something for yourself (like Derek’s 4-product empire) that supports you. BUT I can see that remaining in control of your own calendar is key. I see that I have been managing my time a lot by urgencies — usually other people’s!
Thanks for the wake-up call!

Clover Jean Entertainment

Hi Derek, I’m glad you got your thing together. Saying NO is a very difficult thing to do. With a little bit of perseverance, it can be done. I know because that’s where I am at. However, I must admit I love an empty schedule but I do enjoy the quality work. By the way, I don’t like the FREE E-book pop up, it is screaming at me! All the best, Clover


Here’s a tip that has been great for me. When I plan my daily schedule, all things being equal, I do the toughest least desirable task FIRST. After completing that, I find the rest of my day is usually smooth sailing !


The best thing I’ve done to give my calendar free space is create a vetting process for people I hire and for new clients. I actually say NO to people, even if it means walking away from money!


Brilliant! I’ve had Johnny Ive’s comment in my head for some time now, but your video hit me in the face like a 2×4.

Any tips on managing the inbox? Does saying no apply to responding to every email that comes in?

Thanks for everything!

Adam Dobay

I used to schedule things for early in the week, or for early in the day so I have time for my personal projects when I’m done with the other stuff. It makes so much sense to switch that around. Gonna start next week!

Justin Bivens


I very much enjoyed this. I also agree with the others about the improvement on your branding. I have a question about your videos. I notice you always go with a solid color. Even this website is solid white with not a lot of side widgets. Your branding went from white to black. What is the reason for this? Personal choice or strategic? Thanks.


Great advice. The post is about focus and yet the type keeps going out of focus. Love the content, but too much style.


I like the concept of this but it never works for me…in my experience the second I let off the “gas” and start trying to spend time on development of my business instead of doing day to day “stuff” that actually generates revenue, I end up with huge income gaps.

I guess it depends on the industry and also how your business income is derived. If I don’t answer the phone I stop making money and the entrepreneurial game ends.


Love the new video branding. Love the advice.

If I really want to have time to myself these days, I have to either stay up really late (no one else is awake to bother me) or lock myself up at work.

Saying no just might become my new favorite thing.

Amada Anderson

I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur, artist and philanthropist and I juggle many different projects throughout the year but whatever I am working on I always give my all and I find myself really drained afterwards. So I said this year I was going to give myself a business makeover! I started looking online for project management software etc and I just recently came across something called 17hats/Motiv. I also found ASANA and am a constant user of evernote and my google calendar.

The way I want to start streamlining my business is to come up with questionnaires to send to people to get a full idea of what they need. Then schedule a phone call to make sure that I understand it. I also started using timetrade for those phone calls. Then once we are all on the same page I send them my proposal agreement and invoice. BAM get the job started and done. I also signed up for Anymeeting to chat with them or do webinars with them afterwards but what I quickly have found is that most people don’t want to be sitting at a PC they want someone to sit with them, this of course takes up more time but I include it in the invoice.

But we all need to be reminded that it comes down to boundaries that we set for ourselves and our priorities.

Finding and keeping the balance and Focus on the YOU and WHY you are doing what you love every day will help.

Thanks for the video!


I make a list the night before with the things I need to do the next day. In the morning, I make sure I exercise for 20 minutes, and then I work on the most important item on my list (the one that will be the most useful to my clients and that makes the most sense financially for my business).

Laura Allahverdi

I LOVE this …

I do all of these, I have a lot of rules in place, I say no a lot, even ahead of time and def schedule time w myself.

I have a really strong ‘filter’ for new information and new opportunities. I don’t even give away my email address or watch a webinar that doesn’t pertain to what I’m focused on at the moment.


I’ve started saying no to networking events that are not industry specific. I hate networking to begin with, and so many times I come home with a pile of cards that I know will lead me no where. So I’ve stopped wasting my (and other people’s) time, and starting clearing my calendar.


Great strategies Derek.

Scheduling time for yourself is great advice and what I’m working on getting better at. I find that if I create a schedule, including even the smallest tasks, I am more productive and I tend to stay “on task”.


Derek, I am with you 100%. I got on the ‘no’ train last fall after doing some careful planning of my priorities for 2015. And an amazing thing has happened; in more than one instance when I have said ‘no’ because an opportunity isn’t aligned with my core work, the person asking was keen enough to reshape the opportunity in order to make it enticing for me. Win, win!


Hi Derek,

I love this video!! It is the most favourite so far!

I struggle with this, being a creative. I am excited to implement:
-working out my 3 strategic priorities and staying focused on those
-schedule time for me first and then decide when I can let others have access to me
-Not being fearful that if I say no I am missing out – TRUST
-Keep focused on my needs and not letting everyone pull me in their direction.

With gratitude,



Hey Derek,

I would include not only time but people who drain you with these rules. No matter what intentions people have, good or bad, you need to say no to those who are draining you or causing you emotional harm.

I had a couple people in my causing me a lot of emotional truama. I decide to cut them out of my life and everything got better.

Don’t be afraid to cut those who are draining you. You won’t regret it.


Great tips! This strategy will change your life, not just your business, and it can apply to personal time too!

Thanks Derek!

Here’s one thing that I do…when people request a phone call or meeting, I push it off by about a week, and request that they send me an email that would cover most of what they think they need the meeting for, so that “I can prepare.” For a heavy percentage of the time, I find that after 2-3 emails, we’ve covered everything we need to WITHOUT the phone call or meeting. That allows me to not only streamline the process, but also save time. It also gives me better project tracking since email is easier to track and reference than a free flowing conversation.


    Kevin! I could not possibly love those tips about phone calls/meetings more. I only wish I had read it about two weeks ago, before a HUGE time waster entered my life. I will definitely be following your approach in the future, thank you!


      Awesome! It’s definitely saved me some time and trouble!

Geniece Brown

Hi Derek,

I was so hungry for getting clients for my business that I used to go to meet with other business owners who would say they wanted to meet with me for ‘mutual benefit’ and I thought that was really helping me. When in reality they only wanted to meet so they could present their product or service and sell me on it.

Bill Alpert

Yes, excellent advice. One thing that’s on my calendar, the first hour or two of the day are to recharge my body and brain. So meditation, some exercise and a low sugar smoothie with greens start my day.
For me it’s hard to say no to things that “sharpen the saw.” Many of these activities are enjoyable, worthwhile, and they are tangentially related to my business. But they can also be extremely time consuming. This is where I need to improve.

    Brent Dunn

    Hi Bill,

    I’ve had the same problems as you.

    Even though I haven’t really lowered the amount of time I spend on these things, I have broken them up to be more efficient.

    For example, I like to walk/run 3-4 miles a day. Instead of doing this all in one go though I’ll break it up in 1 mile at a time. This allows me to swap to running if I get writers block or feel I’m not being efficient enough at my current task.

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