The Art of Radical Exclusion

Here’s the idea: we make time for what’s important to us.

If I fail to fulfill a commitment I’ve made in a timely manner, it’s because of a conscious choice I’ve made. If I don’t return the phone call I said I would, it’s because I chose to do something else.

I may or may not have a good excuse for why I failed to honor the commitment, but one thing’s for sure: if I make a habit of it, I will soon lose the trust of the person who had relied on me.

To prevent this from happening, I sometimes practice the fine art of radical exclusion. This is where I deliberately ignore or decline any number of inputs, messages, or requests for my attention in order to focus on what I decide is more important.

Some people think this is rude, but I see it as directly related to fulfilling my primary commitments – the ones I’ve made to family and close friends, the ones that call for great work, and the ones that will ultimately change the world.

The theory of radical exclusion is that if I’m chasing down voicemail and hanging on every email, I’m probably not changing the world.

The application is that, from time to time, I close up. I don’t take any more inputs for a while. I learn to say these things, repeatedly:

Sorry, I can’t commit to that.

I regret I will not be able to meet your expectations.

I am working on other commitments that will not allow me to take on any additional tasks at this time.

Antisocial? Perhaps. Rigorous? Certainly.

But in the end, we make time for what’s important to us. To fulfill some commitments, others must be excluded. You can do this bit by bit, but sorting out each request requires the use of time and energy you’re trying to gain. If you make the time (there’s no such thing as “finding” the time), you might be surprised at how beneficial this is.

Then, when you do resurface to the world of constant interruptions and continual requests, you’ll see it probably won’t have changed much while you were in exile. Instead, you’ll have changed, and you’ll emerge with more (good) work complete than you ever could have done without shutting things off for a while.

Try it sometime.


Image: VVS

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  • Maria | Never the Same River Twice says:

    This is such a hard thing to learn (I think especially for women!), but I’m starting to work on it now. I’m even going to do the 4HWW experiments on saying “no” early next year. Here’s hoping I don’t get fired before I want to!

  • Audrey says:

    Saying “no” more often in order to have more time for myself and my projects is one of my goals for next year. I can understand logically that it’s better for me to say no, but when I’m in the situation my emotional side takes over and I feel bad or guilty. I just need to remind myself that it is better for everyone involved for me to say “no” until it’s the right time for me to say “yes”. Then I’m completely committed instead of doing something out of obligation.

  • tulasi-priya says:


    This is such timely and smart advice for those of us who want to make changes in the new year. I strive to maintain that same focus on what is important, and what I’ve committed to. This is also known as dharma, or duties based on our psycho-physical natures. We can get lost in other’s expectations, especially when we get a lot of positive strokes for doing so. In the Bhagavad-gita it says it is better to perform our own duties, however faultily, than to perform the duties of another, however perfectly.

    Or as my southern family used to put it, “Tend to yer own knittin”!”

  • Janice Cartier says:

    I have a code I used to use for my friends. I would tell them that I am in “deep studio” mode. Love you , but I have to go into the cave. 😉

    Otherwise, the what I do, would not get done.

  • @TheGirlPie says:

    Man, this post breaks my heart. It’s exactly what I’ve repeated ad nauseam to a long lost love who kept failing his commitments to me (even common manners), while insisting that I was important, or that he really wanted to, or that he intended to and that’s what was key. Years and lifetimes later, it’s still so hard to know that it’s true: we do what we choose to do, what we want to do, what’s important to us. He did, I wasn’t, sigh.

    This sad awareness makes me so careful about committing without a ‘couch’ — if I don’t want to, I am clear. If I want to but may not be able to, I get specific. I too use Janice’s code to beg off for periods of time, and am welcomed out the other side. BUT being clear on priorities is key to who is told what, which gets excluded, and how to include what’s wanted for now but ALSO what’s necessary for my future. [Pass the Kleenex please.]

  • Rudolf says:

    Very good, especially during Xmas time. Rigorous approach needed. 🙂

  • Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome says:

    Yay to an awareness of choice. I love how you put the responsibility for doing or not doing something squarely on your own shoulders.

    In my mind, far too many people make decisions unconsciously then say they had no choice.

  • Janice Cartier says:

    Hands GirlPie tissue.. been there too sweetie…(although media man is making strides these days.)
    There’s a book out called Total Leadership that I am working through. It was featured on Tim Ferriss’s blog some time ago and the premise made sense to me. Four areas of our life, work, community, love and self ( I think I got those right) should not be balanced like a scale, but synchronized like a jazz quartet.
    Maybe I bought the analogy, but so far the first part is examining who you are and what you are about authentically. Anyway, I bought the book not only for myself, but to recognize the same qualities in the next person I chose to be with. You know, the grown up who knows what IS really important in life. 😉 And how to play those notes like a master.

  • LifeMadeGreat | Juliet says:


    This one is a struggle, but it is necessary. (I really battle with it and am very much in my starting stages of changing it)

    I think that authenticity is important and doing something that you don’t really file like is not being authentic (unless you are doing it specifically for someone and that is the important bit).

    Sooner or later taking on too much will wipe out the YOU. Not doing the necessary for yourslef means you can’t give as much to others.

    I do not believe it is antisocial at all. Anyway, who is to say that antisocial is wrong? 😉

    If people drift out of your life because of it, did you really want them there in the first place?

    You can see I have lots of thoughts around this one 😉


  • anwar says:

    Radical exclusion is the essence of living.You need time for yourself whether it is reading that book you been delaying to read , walk along the beach,park – you owe it to yourself.It is like recharging -“you always come out better on the other side”

  • Sheri.A. says:

    Hi Chris,

    I feel it’s not so much rigorous or even anti-social…I’d say more of a focused in/output kinda thing. Do it, love it.


  • Deb says:

    I am nodding at GirlPie’s comment about a former love who demonstrated a refusal to keep promises.

    That aside, my current circumstances have dictated that I use the library’s internet access or my financial boat will not float very long. It is a bit of a hardship on the one hand; and I have had to explain and seek the cooperation of all my sources and my print editors (I freelance for a small hometown paper). However, having my online activity consolidated into two 1 hour dockets has been overall very freeing from a creativity and productivity angle; so much so that I am not certain internet is going to be the first thing I restore once my attorney is paid off. I’ll have to think about it.

    Loved the post.

  • Carolyn says:

    I also struggle with this – and just when I think I’ve got it under control… things get out of control! Personally, it’s very hard since the emails and requests I receive tend to have strong emotions tied to them. I am learning to create boundaries and say “no, but….” I have compiled a list of individuals and organizations that I can then recommend so it leaves the message on a positive note.

    This is such a great topic for discussion!

  • kg says:

    I schedule in weekly no input times where I don’t do email, internet or the phone. If I get too many inputs without a break I feel out of sorts. My family says I’m hibernating but I come out of it refreshed. They don’t really hibernate to the extent that I do.

  • juds123 says:

    I agree. Just like editing or pruning, take out what is not needed nor essential. And the best part is the feeling of liberation afterwards. 🙂

  • stephani says:

    This is great advice. Recently I had to bow out of a whole slew of socializing to get a huge project complete. I let everyone know ahead of time via email that I was offline and on sabbatical. When I returned with great joy I sent out a collective “thank you” to all those who supported me with the hiatus I needed, I said something like “I’ve missed birthdays, get togethers, a birth, and an operation, but thankyou to all of you who helped me reach my goals, yeah! we did it! You’d be surprised how supportive people are.
    Thanks, Chris.

  • Joe Breunig says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! We need to recognize the time wasters of our lives and gently push them to the side. It’s unfortunate that we’re seldom taught as children the importance of managing one’s time, seeing that its the greatest non-renewable asset that we possess. It seems a lot of the people I’ve worked with fail to grasp the significance of this resource.

    I briefly had a supervisor who was a ‘button pusher’; as a result, I seemed to have lots of ongoing conflict with this particular person. His claim/justification for doing this was that ‘keeping me on edge was keeping me sharp and focused’ My response was that ‘he was wasting my time with nonsense and lowering my productivity with said distraction’. I can’t overemphasize the need to stand up for one’s self – even if it means termination from one’s job.

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