Something that I have been thinking about a lot recently is the duality between saying yes to one thing and saying no to another. Simply by saying yes to one thing, I must necessarily say no to another, and vice versa. Therefore, deciding or agreeing to do something requires a choice to be made about priorities.
This may not be news or rocket science to some people, but it might help others to think a little more deeply about the topic, especially if you sometimes struggle to get through everything on your to-do list. This can be quite common for people at work, but it can also be quite common for people running a martial arts club, with all the admin that that entails!
Since I cannot multitask, I can really only do one thing at once. To reduce it to the simplest possible choice, I can be awake or I can be asleep. Choosing to go to sleep, or saying yes to sleep, means that I cannot be awake, which means saying no to being awake. Similarly, choosing to stay awake means that I am losing out on sleeping time.
Do I catch up on sleep or do I write my next article? Right now, looking after a young baby, I’m saying yes to sleep every time, and that’s why there haven’t been any updates for quite a long time!
We can think about it in terms of broad activities as well. Do I say yes to sitting working at the computer, and therefore say no to spending time with my family? Or do I say yes to spending time with my family, requiring that I say no to working right now?
With a newborn in my life, I need to say no to working time quite often at the moment, consciously prioritising spending time with my family. But even during “normal” times, should I prioritise work or should I prioritise time with family? There have been times where my priorities have had to lean more one way or another, but most of the time I try to keep it balanced, so that I can get sufficient work done while also not spending my whole life working.
Even so, at any given moment in time, I can only do one thing, I can only say yes to one thing, and everything else must receive a no. But if there is only so much working time available, what to prioritise and in what order? If I say yes to answering emails, then I must be saying no to doing the accounting or book editing or teaching. Likewise, if I say yes to a teaching engagement, then I must be saying no to all these other things.
At one point a few years ago, I was teaching at an average of three events every two months, at least one of which would require flying to travel abroad. Saying yes to all of these events really did help establish my name as a professional HEMA instructor, but it meant that I was spending very little time with my family and I had a constant backlog of emails to answer.
At the moment, I am saying no to quite a lot of event requests, especially those that will involve a lot of travelling time, because I simply must prioritise in a healthier fashion. Understanding that everything in life requires an explicit yes or no, and framing my working time in this way, has helped me get through the last few months of looking after a newborn while also prioritising the most important things to keep my business running.
But how else might we use this sort of model? Can it be useful to help a club leader prioritise?
I have known many instructors over the years who burned themselves out by doing too much teaching every week. Although it initially seemed like a good idea to do one night of longsword, one night of sabre, one night of rapier, one night of supplementary physical training, and perhaps one night of sparring every week, just how sustainable is that in the long run? If the instructor needs to be present at every single session, but has felt pressured into saying yes to each new activity by people who are only saying yes to one of these sessions weekly, then this is not good. At some point, the instructor has to start saying no to new things, and probably also has to start saying no to things that are already running, so that something can continue to run successfully without it all coming crashing down in flames.
Similarly, I have known people spend far too much time talking on the phone, answering individual emails, all that sort of thing, giving prospective new members that personal touch, only for the prospects never to turn up. Saying yes to long conversations means saying no to everything else that needs to be done. If you were to say no to long conversations instead, how else might you ensure that prospective members get the information they need? Maybe the answer there is to say yes to developing a good website, so that you can protect your time by saying no to long conversations thereafter.
One final question that it worth considering. Do you say yes or no to financial risk? If you say no to financial risk, that means you are not hiring an expensive hall or buying much loaner gear – which also means that you can’t charge a high attendance fee and might mean that people are unlikely to want to visit the venue that you are able to afford. There’s nothing wrong with this choice, you just have to be aware of what you are saying no to, in its fullest extent. If you say yes to the financial risk, however, then you can say yes to a nicer venue and more loaner gear, so you can probably say yes to higher attendance fees and maybe even yes to more members because everything is nicer when you have money to spend.
To wrap this up, because I’m at a little over 1000 words now and the baby is beginning to stir in the cot, what sort of things do you say yes or no to when you thinking about your HEMA club? Whether you are an instructor or a student, what makes you say yes, and what gets the no from you? How do you prioritise your involvement in the club compared with everything else happening in your life – and if you wish something might be different, how could you make that start to happen?
And the baby is awake, so I must say yes to her, and no to any further edits.
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.