Increase Your Productivity By Saying No

When is the last time you turned down a request from a colleague, boss, or friend? Can you remember?

I’m willing to bet that you had to think pretty hard to come up with an answer.

Okay, next question: When is the last time you said “yes” to a request from a colleague, boss, or friend? Yesterday? Today? 10 minutes ago?

Most of us live in a society of “Yes.”

We live in a culture where “Yes, I’ll take on that extra project.” “Sure, I’d be happy to volunteer for parent night.” and “Okay, I can stay for the late shift.” are merely expected answers.

And what’s more, if we muster the courage to say “No,” that familiar feeling of guilt quickly sinks in.

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I know, I hear you. Saying no is often challenging and uncomfortable. We worry about disappointing a loved one. We’re concerned about looking incapable or weak. And we fear that we’ll come across as unfriendly, unhelpful, and perhaps worst of all, selfish.

Yep, I struggle with these concerns, too.

How to Increase Your Productivity By Saying No

Recently, however, I read a quotation from the book Present Over Perfect, which shifted my mindset and helped quiet my constant need to please. Those wise words were:

You can’t have yes without no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it.

If you’re anything like me, this statement made you stop for a moment. And I encourage you to pause a minute longer and think carefully about what these words mean to you.

You can’t have yes without no ~Present Over Perfect https://amzn.to/2JmaB70 #present #sayno #selfcare Click To Tweet

To me, every additional yes means saying no to the projects about which I’m genuinely passionate. It means saying no time with family and friends. It means saying no to carefree adventures with my husband, Ryan. And it means saying no to self-care and rest.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, when we only say yes, when we spread ourselves too thin, and when we convince ourselves that we’re more productive when multitasking, we push ourselves to burnout. Our work often suffers, and we rarely get to focus on the topics about which we care most deeply.

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Increase Your Productivity By Saying No

This behavior needs to change, people. If you need a permission slip, here it is:

It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to take time to do what lights you up inside. And it’s okay to protect your valuable hours each day so you can spend it with those you love.

It's okay to say no. It's okay to take time to do what lights you up inside. And it's okay to protect your valuable hours each day so you can spend it with those you love. #productivity #sayno Click To Tweet

When to Say No

So how do you know when to say no? Believe it or not, this is the fun part. It’s time to make a list.

Take a piece of paper (or use my free worksheet) and divide it into four quadrants. Next, label each quadrant: Career, Relationships, Personal, Spiritual (broadly defined – spiritual may be religious, it may not.)

Finally, write down the three most essential items in each of these categories. As you make your lists, consider: What are the things that get me excited? Which items will help me achieve my long-term goals? What are the things that bring my life joy and fulfillment?

Now that you have your list, strive to keep it at the forefront of your mind. Carry it around in your bullet journal, stick it in your purse, take a picture of it and use it as your phone’s screensaver, etc.

By having this list accessible at all times, you have a constant guide that helps you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” to future requests.

If someone asks you: “Hey, would you want to join this club with me? It meets every Tuesday and Thursday evening.”

You can turn to your list and ask yourself: “Does this project help advance my personal, career, relationship, or spiritual goals? Does it align with the essential items on my list? Do I want to do this?

If the answer is no, I urge you to decline politely.

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How to Say No Graciously 

And this brings me to my next point. How do we say no?

I get it. Saying “no” can feel uncomfortable at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, there are ways to graciously say no that still manages to demonstrate your support and interest in the person’s request. What’s more, it only takes three simple steps.

  1. Sincerely thank the person for thinking of you and reaching out, and then acknowledge the importance of their request.
  2. Explain that while you would love to help, you’re currently dedicating your time to XYZ.
  3. Tell them you would like to help in another way. Then, either make them an offer that you *ARE* willing to do, or suggest another colleague, business, or an alternative solution that can solve their problem instead.

Let’s do a few examples, shall we?

Colleague: Hey, Karen! I just had this great idea for a new project, and I thought you would be the perfect partner. Here are all the details <blah, blah, blah…>

You <inner monologue>: Hm, does this project benefit one of my three career objectives? No. Does it strengthen anything in the relationship, personal, or spiritual categories? No, it doesn’t.

You <aloud>: Thank you for thinking of me! I appreciate it. It sounds like an exciting project. At the moment, however, I’m concentrating my energies on XYZ. I’m incredibly excited about finishing this project, and I want to give it all I got. Please keep me updated about the process, however. I would love to hear how it’s going. Also, have you thought about asking Teresa to join the team? She is so talented with XYZ, and I think she would add a lot to the project.

Colleague: Of course! I’ll keep you posted. And thanks for suggesting Teresa. I hadn’t thought of her, but you’re right; she’ll be a great fit.

Friend: Hey, Cassie! I just joined this incredible environmental club that meets Wednesday and Sunday evenings from 7-9 p.m. The people are incredible, and we are doing SO much to reduce the waste of plastic throughout our state.

You <inner monologue>: I love the message and purpose of this club, but would my involvement strengthen any of the top items in my four categories? No, it wouldn’t.

You <aloud>: Wow, that sounds like an incredible cause, and I can see why you’re so passionate about it! At the moment, however, my evenings are a quiet time with my husband and kids, and I’m working on putting that first. Is there an email newsletter or a Facebook group that I could join? I would love to keep up with the latest news and events. Then, if an opportunity to volunteer comes up that works with my family’s schedule, I could help out!

See? It’s not that bad, is it?


Alright, my friends. You’re now equipped with the knowledge of why, when, and how to graciously say no. Keep these tips at the forefront of your mind. Then, start exercising your new skill, and increase your productivity today!

Want some extra guidance? Then be sure to download my free 2-page worksheet! It walks you through the steps to highlight your top objectives, and it also offers an easy “mad-libs style” outline of how to say no with grace. Get it here now!

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Question:
Do you struggle with saying no? What strategies do you use to turn down an offer politely? Let me know below!

86 thoughts on “Increase Your Productivity By Saying No”

  1. You reminded me of my word for the year. Somehow, I forgot that in July! August will be better!!!

  2. I definitely needed this boost today! Sometimes, it’s so hard to say no but I know how vital it is (especially as a freelancer) to pass up on some projects to not get overtired or burnt out.

  3. I needed that permission slip. Lol. I have been working on saying no but it is SO HARD. I notice a huge difference when I am able to prioritize but setting initial boundaries can be tricky.

  4. Someone once told me that doing a lot of things is splitting my 100% into uneven efforts. By saying no, you can focus on what’s more important and give them more attention!

  5. Oh I love this. It’s so important to set boundaries and be able to gently and politely refuse something so that you can keep on track with your main goals.

  6. I read a great book called The Best Yes and in many cases your best yes is a no. No opens you up for opportunity and allows you to say yes to only those things you truly love.

  7. This is fantastic! I’m so happy to read this and feel some reassurance that saying “no” is okay! I love the idea a making a quadrant and I think seeing these important values on paper will take some of the guilt I feel from saying no at times.

  8. My life has gotten SO much better since I started saying no at appropriate times!! And I love Present over Perfect too! 🙂

    1. I am terrible at saying no but having a kid really has helped me say no. If not I’d be doing everything for everyone

  9. There are situations when I do have a hard time saying no but I try to turn them do as nice as I can. My friends and my family are the hardest people to say no to.

    1. Friends and family are the hardest, aren’t they? It sounds like you have a great positive approach though!

  10. I love the message in this post. I learned that saying No is hard, but also very important for myself and get things done. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Thank you for this! I think sometimes we all forget that there is power in the word “No”. We must remind ourselves that saying no to somethings means saying “yes” to yourself.

    1. Yeah, I hear you. Disappointing people is a tough one. But if you say no with kindness and offer a suggestion of someone else who can help, then you probably won’t disappoint them after all 🙂

  12. I used to always over-extend myself. Now, I actually block off time in my calendar so I feel better telling people I don’t have time to help them.

  13. I totally agree that people need to harness the power of the word “no.” Because we live in a “yes” society, it’s so hard to say now without the guilt, but it’s really important to practice.

  14. Yaaass (no “pun” intended). I love this. I love that there are people who know how to say NO! You come first, we should be able to understand that we cant please anyone until we please ourselves.

    1. That’s exactly right, Lauren. You can’t pour from an empty cup 🙂 We have to take care of ourselves.

  15. Be You and Thrive

    I really enjoyed the book ‘Present over perfect’. Thanks for sharing your insights on the importance of “no”. This one word (as Yes), spills into our lives in so many ways. It matters!

  16. “You can’t have yes without no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it.” I love this! Seriously, I need to make it my motto <3

  17. I love this quote “you can’t have yes without no. Another way to say it: if you’re not careful with your yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without even realizing it.” I need to say no more!

  18. This could not be more true, and it totally makes sense! If you’re caught up in everything else, you’re going to miss out on some amazing opportunities that might fill you with excitement! I am always telling my clients don’t take every client that comes your way – look for those red flags and move on!

  19. Sprinkles and Sprouts

    Some great examples for how to say no and help other peoples productivity as well as your own.

    I embraced the power of no about 18 months ago and have really turned my business around.

  20. Such an interesting read! I think there’s alot to focusing on exactly what we want without trying to be everything and do everything. This post really made me reflect and think about my current choices. Great read!

    Shauna

  21. Erin Haugerud

    Oh my gosh this has taken me so long to figure out! I committed to so much stuff previously and it stressed me out so much! I have learned when to say No and it’s amazing!

    1. I hear you, Emily. I think that’s a fear that many of us battle. But if we say no graciously, and offer an alternative solution, I think that makes a big difference 🙂

  22. journeyatsahm

    It’s so tough in society to feel like you can say no. I remember being in a full time job and having to say no. People were shocked. You have to find ways to spin it and say, I think so-and-so would be a better fit this time around. They haven’t been on a project like this and it would be a great learning experience.

    1. Yes, exactly! It’s almost like they stare at you in disbelief. I love your strategy of spinning it into something positive for someone else. I’ll be sure to try that next time 🙂

    1. Yes, it’s hard to do, but so important at the same time. The way I’m able to say no with more confidence is simply reminding myself of what my primary goals are. If the minor request doesn’t benefit my bigger priorities, then I can politely decline (more-or-less) guilt-free. I’m still working on the guilt part myself 😉

  23. So true! I have struggled in the past with saying yes to everything, but in the end something inevitably suffers. And while I still struggle with saying no sometimes, it is worth it in the end.

    1. Exactly, Julie. It’s easy to say yes in the moment, but then when the time comes to balance everything out, something inevitably suffers. And oftentimes, it’s the bigger priority goal that gets hit.

  24. saying no to othgers is something that I really struggle with, but with a lot of gritted teeth I am starting to say no slowly.

    1. Saying no is definitely a challenge, Candace. I am SO glad to learn that you’re practicing it more often, however. That’s great news!

  25. Oh my gosh. I needed this. Needed this so bad. I say yes to everything – I literally feel terrible when I say no. It eats me up & I feel selfish. I take on way too much always & I never want to do anything half way, so I end up pulling all nighters & not taking care of myself. Pinning this to read again (and again), because I can already tell it is going to take some practice for me! 😉

    1. Hey, Ashley! I’m so glad to hear it resonated with you. I can certainly relate to those feelings of guilt. And for you, it sounds like your self-care suffers as a result. The way I try to ease my guilt behind saying “no” is by reminding myself of my bigger goals. For example, it’s really important to me to have as many evenings at home with my husband as possible, since we both have rather busy schedules. So when requests for evening events come up, I remind myself of my main priority – time at home with Ryan – and that makes the “no” a little easier 🙂

  26. 21flavorsofsplendor

    I needed this today! I just told my husband this morning to make sure I start saying no more because I am starting to feel overwhelmed.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, but I’m glad that this message came at the right time! It’s so helpful to have an accountability partner to help hold you to that goal, too 🙂

  27. Paula,

    I am the queen of spreading myself too thin. With two teenage boys, who play numerous sports, I find myself short on time constantly. Then of course, there are the constant requests for volunteers.

    I love this post. Learning to say no is so hard and takes so much time and energy. However, I’ve found that the more I say no, the more I’m able to say yes to the things that make me happy.

    I have not read “Present Over Perfect”. Sounds like a great read and I’ll be adding it to my list. 🙂

    1. Wow – it sounds like you have a lot of demands on your plate, Ruth! I’m so glad to hear that saying no is getting easier. It’s so important to take time for ourselves and not spread ourselves too thin. Self-care everyday 🙂

  28. What a great reminder that saying no to others means saying yes to ourselves and the activities that bring us life. Self care is so important but it can so often slip down in priority when we have families, job, commitment. Yet, so critical for our spirits, health and hearts to say yes to life giving activities.

  29. I have to say, I’m pretty good at saying no when I have to. I just feel horrible inside when I do, like I’ve let that person down or they won’t come to me for help again! I have to work on that part lol

    1. It sounds like you’re on the right path then, Nicole! Feeling guilty is very real, however. I completely understand. Have you tried offering an alternative solution or suggested another person to consult? Maybe by doing that, you won’t feel like you’re letting them down when saying no. 🙂

  30. Setting some boundaries around how we want to spend our time and the activities we choose to get involved in is so important. Yet, it can be hard to say no because we care about others. But we also need to remember to take care of ourselves too. Thanks for the post!

    1. Exactly, Anne 🙂 It can be a tricky balance, but it’s so important, and totally doable!

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