Michael Bungay Stanier on Work, Goals, and the Power of No

Michael Bungay Stanier is the author of several top-selling books, including The Coaching Habit and Do More Great Work. He’s also the founder of Box of Crayons, a company dedicated to helping organizations and business leaders do great work. This is his story on work, goals and why you should learn to say no

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The snowball started back in 2002 when I wrote my first newsletter. But it wasn’t until 2010 that I wrote my first book. Now, I’ve written several books, but I still don’t consider it my career. The writing (and content creation) I do fits in to the the larger ecosystem of the business I run, Box of Crayons, which teaches 10-minute coaching to busy managers.

The bigger game we’re playing is helping people show up as the best versions of themselves. We want to give all sorts of people practical coaching skills because it feels like the best idea that I’ve got to make an impact on the lives of others. It’s simply what I know best.

That being said, I’m still in shock over the success of the latest book, The Coaching Habit. The positive reactions and acknowledgement from the community has been amazing, and it means a lot for Box of Crayons. We’ve doubled our business in the last year, and it’s likely to double again in the next little while.

So what this means is that I’ve moved to holding a CEO role, which is more strategy and coaching, and less doing. It’s been so odd to watch this happen, but it’s been a terrific learning experience making the change.

Although the role switch has been a learning experience, it helps that I love what I do, and the people with whom I work with. They motivate me to get up every morning and achieve my dreams.

It’s also helped that for the past 15 years or more, I’ve had a clear personal goal: to infect a billion people with the possibility virus.

Whenever I need clarity in my work, I focus on a great work project. What this means is that I work on 90 day cycles where I try and figure out what’s the most important goals for those 3 months, work on them, and then repeat.

The biggest wall I run into is how erratic the other aspects of my life can be. As much as I keep trying to maintain a balance between my work, my friends, and my family, I try and remember that you can’t actually do it all. So you have to pick what you most care about, and realize that you’ll inevitably have to let some other stuff go. And that’s okay.

One thing I do make sure I maintain though is getting enough sleep! It’s the biggest thing for me. Second would be exercise, but sleep definitely has to be first. It all boils down to is remembering none of this matters in the big scheme of things. In 100 years, it’s likely that no one will know me or my work.

This gives me permission to go for my dreams with gusto now and hold onto the outcome lightly.

If there’s any advice I’d want to give, it’s learn to say no. My “Yes” really means something. To this point, I try to keep to “No” as my default answer to everything.

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