Full Plate? It's Time to Learn to Say No

Woman doing work in home office and holding a coffee mug
Woman doing work in home office and holding a coffee mug

Are you balancing family, work, school and more? Are you taking time to improve yourself to create a better life, even a better world? None of this happens without determination, persistence and perseverance. It also doesn’t happen without time.

Your time is your own, and although you might not like saying no to others, sometimes you have to so that you can stay committed to yourself and your priorities and stay focused on the path you have chosen. Why is saying no so hard? We worry if we say no we’ll miss out on something good, we’ll regret it somehow later or we simply won’t look like the team player we try to be.

Saying no can also be perceived as abrupt, insensitive and downright rude. But saying yes to more than we can handle doesn’t go well either. It’s a good idea to know your limits, stay committed to your priorities and not be afraid to politely and respectfully decline.

Here are a few strategies, as outlined in articles on management-issues.com and zenhabits.net, to help you stay the course:

  1. If you are trying to avoid overcommitting, simply say: “I can’t commit to this right now because I have other priorities at the moment.” This tells the other person that you are busy and can’t take on more. It leaves an opening for future requests, but shuts down anything immediate.
  2. If you receive a request that you’d be able to take on in the future, but not right now, you could suggest reconnecting at a specific time down the road. Unless it is a particularly time-sensitive request, this is a good solution because it gives you more control while not offending or irritating the requesting party.
  3. If you receive a request or offer that you do like or appreciate in some way, let the requester know. Respectfully decline with a positive spin. Tell him or her that although you can’t participate right now, you think the idea/cause/opportunity is really great. The person making the request will appreciate the feedback, and will likely walk away with a positive feeling – despite the fact that you said no.
  4. If something does come your way that piques your interest, don’t commit without thinking it through. Sometimes having a little breathing room helps with clarity. You might figure out a way to accommodate the request without jeopardizing your own priorities, or you might just feel more confident in whatever decision you make.
  5. Refer another colleague or contact if you think someone else might be a better fit for an incoming request. Your referral might be someone the requesting party didn’t think of, and the suggestion might be very much appreciated. It’s a win-win: Your time is safe, and you look like a hero.

Although saying no and setting boundaries with people can be difficult, it gets easier with practice. You have every right to pursue your dreams and work toward your goals – whether that means raising a family, pursuing a career, getting a degree and more – and if saying no to others makes that possible, then you have the right to do that too.