Using ‘hell yes or no’ to change the way you work

January 25, 2016


When I first stepped into the world of PR – and the professional world altogether for that matter – I felt like an imposter in an industry where everyone was far more qualified than I was (and maybe everyone was). Fortunately, I was brought on to a team of highly creative, passionate people, some of whom also felt the same about their experience, but were giving it 100% regardless. As I rolled up my sleeves, I proceeded to make a fool out of myself at times, but I also managed to throw some wins on the board thanks to a few key leaders around me. One of these leaders shared a mantra with me that I continue to apply to my decision-making process: the “hell yes or no” approach.

“Hell yes or no” is a phrase initially coined by an entrepreneur named Derek Sivers. The model is what you might expect: if your gut tells you to go for something because it excites you enough to evoke a hell yes response, then go for it — every time. That “something” could be anything: a project, a new job, a road trip, or a date. If any part of the scenario isn’t a “hell yes,” then your answer should be “no.”

First, let’s be clear about what the philosophy does not mean:

Don’t let the mantra introduce a “me first, no matter what” mentality — that’s a distortion of the philosophy. “Hell yes or no” is about protecting the limited capacity that each person has for creativity, hard work, and quality contributions. Logic follows that if you spread yourself too thin, each area of your life will likely suffer as a result. Prioritize your finite capacity by understanding what is most meaningful and important to you — which can and should include opportunities to help others and put yourself second (or third or fourth).

“Hell yes or no” doesn’t mean that you prematurely throw in the towel when it comes to learning something new. Watch yourself as you make decisions with “hell yes or no;” if you find that you’re avoiding things simply because they seem too difficult or unknown, take a second look at your motivations (example: “I could train to climb that peak, but I don’t know if I’ll enjoy it, so I better not”). Your biggest passion might be something you don’t know you enjoy yet, so don’t rule out fresh opportunities or limit yourself by focusing only on things you know you love.

You’re not turning your brain off. “Hell yes or no” doesn’t mean that everything is based on your gut reaction or that you shouldn’t weigh decisions logically. The philosophy is actually highly logic-oriented and addresses the important concept of “opportunity cost” head on. For each decision you make, there’s an opportunity cost. If you decide to stay inside and read instead of going to the gym, the cost is that you’re missing the chance to be active and contribute to your overall health. Flipped the other way, if you choose the gym, your cost is that you miss the chance to activate your mind or relax through reading. “Hell yes or no” amplifies the opportunity cost dilemma to a point where each “yes” can be determined in a way that saves time and energy.

“Hell yes or no” done right:

In PR, I know this philosophy has helped me to think carefully about my time and the time of others. When I’m pitching a journalist, I make sure I’m not wasting their time with information or a resource that doesn’t relate to their coverage (ideally, I’m hoping they’ll react with a “hell yes” and we both win). When supporting clients, the same is true for implementing strategies and tactics that bring value to their brand or business in a meaningful way. Does the tactic align with a bigger picture goal for the client? Make sure there’s a “hell yes” at the core of your reasoning.

The outcome of this mantra over time is an adjusted mentality overall. One major result is that you’ll start protecting your time and you’ll deeply understand the value of time — both your own and the time of others. The cliche, “time is money” is a cliche for a reason, and once you go through a few laps of having your own time wasted, the cliche takes on a new meaning. “Hell yes or no” gives you the opportunity to protect your time for the projects that matter most, and it reminds you to think about what might be a “hell yes” for others, too.

Inevitably, you’ll also notice that you work harder (and somehow have more energy). Consider the times when you noticed you were working hard — really hard. Odds are, those were times when the stakes were high and, ideally, when you were extremely passionate about the goal at hand. If you increase the number of projects that are passion-driven, you’ll work a lot harder and you’ll enjoy work more altogether.

When done right, “hell yes or no” can bring extra depth to just about any aspect of life. When every project and opportunity you take on is filtered by this approach, the excess, mundane tasks fall away and you quickly realize that everything you’re invested in has meaning and big picture value.


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