Some personal development writers say that they only do things that feel like a “hell yes.”

If it’s not a “hell yes,” then it’s a “hell no.” Another common phrase is “saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.” Inspired by these two perspectives, I’m theming September “Yes and No.” The key reasons I’ve chosen this theme are that I want to spend my personal resources intentionally and I want to develop new habits and routines that serve me in my new home and my last year of my PhD program.

Today’s blog post will walk you through my three-part process for making a Yes and No list and putting it to work by grounding your goals in a clear what, why, and how. I include a how-to at the bottom of the post in the takeaways.

Step 1: What Do I Want, Broadly?

In order to identify specific steps I could take to accomplish my Yes and No goals, I first had to brainstorm on what I want to manifest and what I want to avoid. Here’s what I came up with:

I want to say yes to things that nourish and challenge me. I want to be able to look back come October 1st and say “I accomplished my personal and professional goals intentionally and calmly.” I want to say no to things that unnecessarily zap my mental, emotional, and physical energies. I want to turn down any opportunities that don’t serve my larger path, and I want to avoid distractions.

Step 2: What Do I Want More and Less Of?

Once I had a general idea of what results I wanted to achieve over the next month, I started getting more specific about how I can achieve my goals. My first step was to identify WHAT I wanted more and less of this month. I’ll share those in Step 3.

Step 3: Link to a Purpose and Put into Practice

I then connected each item on my MORE and LESS lists to a purpose by answering WHY I wanted more or less of it. By rooting each item to a specific purpose, I was able to feel motivated to accomplish it. Next came the HOW: I identified explicit, actionable, and achievable steps I could take to accomplish each item. Here’s what some of those look like: 

September MORE List: What, Why, and How?

WHAT: My theme word for the year: garden. 

WHY: I want to increase curiosity, beauty, art, and music in my garden of 2019 because these things make me feel whole, fulfilled, and calm. 

HOW: I can nourish my life like a garden by procuring a violin and practicing it, listening to classical music and jazz, getting a library card in my new hometown, spending time in nature, and truly being present with my loved ones.


WHAT: Make real progress on my dissertation. 

WHY: The sooner I accomplish my dissertation goals each day/week, the sooner I’m able to do other fun things; making progress on my dissertation calms my body and mind. 

HOW: To make meaningful progress on my dissertation, I should set clear goals, strive for a flow state when I work, complete Catherine Price’s Break Up With Your Phone protocol, and set up accountability via deadlines with my dissertation chair.


September LESS List: What, Why, and How? 

WHAT: Stress about work. 

WHY: I struggle to focus and revert to negative self talk when I’m upset about work (including my dissertation). I feel upset when I feel like I’m “wasting energy,” since my energy is limited by my health issues. 

HOW: I can have less stress about work if I protect the blank space in my days, break down large projects into clear steps with individual deadlines, and maintain boundaries around my availability.


WHAT: Not taking care of my body. 

WHY: When I push myself to work when I’m in pain, I feel anxious and struggle to focus. When I get too tired I struggle to focus and get brain fog. 

HOW: I can take better care of my body by getting up from my desk and walking around during breaks, stretching regularly, prioritizing yoga sessions, drinking water, meditating, maintaining blank space in my days, taking my supplements/meds, and listening to my body.


Having identified my “how” actions, I know explicitly what I can do to nourish more Yes activities and less No activities over the next month. I’ve effectively generated a to-do list!


To make your own Yes and No list, think of what you want more of in your life and what you want less of in your life. If you like, limit your timeline to the next month or quarter to put your wants for more and less in context of what’s on your plate right now. You can use these sentences as a guide:

I want more of ___ in my life because ____.

I want less of ____ in my life because ____.

Once you’ve done this, think of things you can do for each one. Make these steps explicit, actionable, and achievable. To set yourself up for success, focus on the highest priority or highest return tasks first, and if necessary, move some of your wants for more/less to another month. This will help you not to overschedule or overtask yourself. 

Use tools like calendar pop-up reminders, written notes around your apartment or office, or accountability buddies to help you focus on accomplishing your Yes and No tasks. Bonus points for scheduling in reflecting on your progress every few days or once a week. Set aside 20 minutes once a week to journal on the following questions: What’s working? What’s not working? What are you learning? What should you shift or change? Are you doing too much, too little, just enough? 

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