Practicing the art of saying NO

Sept is a restart time for a lot of people & businesses.  It’s a return to a more predictable schedule in our work week – less vacations or long weekend trips, and a transition time for families with kids heading back-to-school. 

And along with all those fall changes, come chances to say yes.  Offers & opportunities start rolling in as things start ramping up again.

Emails or conversations with questions that start like this:

I’m in need of a volunteer for …
How would you like to be a part of …
Would you be interested in leading the … 
I’d love your input on this … 
We have this new project and we thought of you …

There are so many chances to spread ourselves out – to be helpful, considerate, of service & available, but it comes at a price.  We can’t do it all.  No matter how much we try to add more, there comes a point when something will give.  It’s usually our energy, health, or our most important relationships, as we try to juggle all the “yeses” that we signed up for.

This fall I am looking to the wisdom of Tom Friel, a former CEO, who was quoted saying, “We need to learn the art of the slow ‘yes’ and the quick ‘no’.” 

It’s not an easy concept if you are a people pleaser, a giver, or really just a human in this crazy, do-it-all culture!  It takes courage to create a boundary around your time & your energy.  And it takes practice to feel comfortable saying no gracefully.

It isn’t easy but it can be done.

Here are some tips that I am working to remember when opportunities comes knocking at the door:

1.  Pause before saying yes

Take a little time to check in with yourself before you respond.  Take few moments or better yet, ask for a day to think it over.  The extra time will give you a chance to resist a quick yes.

2.  Remember for every yes there is a trade-off

We really can’t “do it all,” so for every yes, there will be something that you give up or aren’t able to give as much energy to.  Decide if the new opportunity is worth trading for.

3.  Get clear on your top priorities

When you have clarity around the things that are the most important, it becomes easier to quickly gauge if this new opportunity aligns with the things you value most.

4.  Draft your responses

Generate some phrases that you can use when opportunities come knocking.  Try them out – actually say them aloud or draft them in an email so that they start to feel like a natural way to respond.

5.  Imagine your ideal week 

Jot down all the activities you want to spend time on in your “ideal week” & notice how many activities don’t make the list – those are the activities to drop.  And when new opportunities come in, check to see if they fit with your “ideal week.”

Saying no is a practice, one that I continue to work at.  Here’s a trip down memory lane with a post from three years ago when I started contemplating – I mean, uh, practicing, saying no.  I have had the mantra “Say no unless it’s an absolute yes,” taped to my fridge ever since.  But, I have realized this saying doesn’t offer me a whole lot of help unless I have taken the time to get clear about what is truly important in my life.  Without clarity around what we really want, it is much easier to say yes to whatever comes along.


 Take some time to write down your top 3 priorities at home and at work.  Clarity will make the “no” much easier.


Productivity and joy go down when we are spread too thin.  Identify the areas of your life where you feel stretched because of too many obligations.  What activities have you said yes to that you’d really like to let go?  Notice the first things that rose to the surface.  And ask yourself if there is any way to disengage from these activities.

When you say no to all the extras, you open space for the things you truly want.  Ready to let go, but need support to make it happen?   Contact me today!