Want to Take Back Your Life? Learn to Say No More Often

Say No more often and boost your productivity. Every day.

It just happened again. You promise yourself over and over again that you will stop saying yes to new projects at work that eat up your time, going to meetings you don’t really want to attend, or all those other requests that kill your productivity.

Despite your determination, you couldn’t help but say “Yes” when you were asked to join a panel discussion about how to successfully scale your business. Of course, it’s a really, and I mean really cool event. You will meet some of your friends again, and maybe meet interesting new people. And you might learn valuable lessons. But it is not in line with your present priorities. It does not support your goals.

You regretted your answer immediately after you said the word “Yes”. This means another 6 hours of your valuable time is spend on someone else’s agenda.

Why do I keep saying yes when what I want to say is no?

Why Do We Always Say Yes to Others

We humans are social creatures. Our ability to get along with each other was one of the main things that allowed us to survive and thrive. Today, we don’t have to protect ourselves against predators, yet saying no still feels like a confrontation.

We still have the psychological need for companionship, belonging, and support. So, we say yes to things we don’t want to do because we want to be perceived as unselfish or cooperative. We do it because we fear that if we say no we might lose a friend, miss out on opportunities, or don’t get that promotion we have been working so hard for. Or we say yes because we believe that we have no other option than saying yes. We say yes thinking that if we refuse a request, people will stop liking us.

That’s not true at all. Saying yes can impact your professional growth, but saying no, especially when it’s uncomfortable to do so, can put you on the right path to success.

Why You Should Say No More Often

There’s a powerful quote from Steve Jobs that I think about whenever I say no to a request that is certain to kill my productivity. It goes something like this:


Only when you say no you can concentrate on the things that are actually important.” - Steve Jobs


Look, I’m not trying to suggest that you should start saying no to every request. But, you need to understand what your priorities are and act accordingly. Think about it this way:

You Don’t Have Unlimited Time and Energy

Your time is a scarce resource so you should be very mindful about how you choose to spend it. Right now you may feel good about yourself, acting like a superhero and saying yes to every request that comes your way. But, sooner rather than later, you will feel overwhelmed with all those requests, and you will get frustrated because you don’t seem to be able to get your own tasks done.

Your own Goals Matter the Most

It’s easy to say yes to requests from others, especially if they mean extra money or helping a friend in need. But, always ask yourself: is this task helping me achieve my personal or professional goals in any way? If the answer is no, then you should think twice before accepting it.

How to Say No While Still Being Polite and Professional

Saying no more often can benefit your goals, productivity and well-being. But, how can you do it without sounding disrespectful and without having the feeling that the other person does not like you anymore? Here are some suggestions:

Practice Saying No

It’s a lot easier to say no when you know how to refuse a request. So, arm yourself with a few motivated No’s. For example: “Sorry, I can’t help you because my calendar is totally full” or “Thanks for thinking about me, but it does not fit with my priorities at the moment”.

Then, you have to practice. Start small, say No to a couple of requests that come to you, which you can easily say No to. Do this a number of times so that you start feeling comfortable saying No. Then, take it up one level, say No to some more difficult requests. Keep on building your confidence like this, and before you know it saying No will feel even better than saying Yes!

Want to start immediately? Say No to one small request every day for the coming two weeks.

Know What Your Priorities and Goals Are

Real personal productivity starts with knowing what you want to achieve. Whether it is scaling your business, learning a new skill, spending more time with your family, or finding your next dream-job. Only when you know what you want to achieve you can see how many things you need to do. And how much time that will take. Every time you say Yes to someone else means that you have to postpone your own tasks and priorities!


"Saying No to someone else means Saying Yes to yourself!"


Want to start immediately? Sit down for an hour today, figure out what your own personal and professional goals are this month, and then determine which steps, tasks, you need to take to achieve those goals. Plan those steps in your calendar, and treat it as a doctor’s appointment.

Be Firm about Your No

Make it clear that your decision is final by using clear language that doesn’t leave any room for interpretation. Say “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with that” rather than “I don’t know if I can help you with that.” The latter sounds like an excuse or that you’re willing to discuss the terms. By being firm, you imply that you’ve already established your boundaries. Also, stay firm when they ask again, or try to persuade you to fulfil their requests.

Understand That You Don’t Need to Justify Your No

We’ve been taught that we should always justify our actions and not doing so can make us feel guilty. But, here’s what you need to understand: You don’t have to explain your priorities. You don’t have to explain to your co-worker why you won’t help her with her report, or to that event organiser why you won’t participate in the panel discussion to share your hard-acquired knowledge. The only person you owe any explanation to is yourself.

Be Genuine and Honest

Saying no and being firm about your decision doesn’t mean that you should be rude. Let the person know that you are happy they’ve thought of you, but you can’t help them because you have other priorities at the moment. Tell them when you’re available and, if possible, point them to someone who can help them now.

When is the next time you are going to say No?

Saying no doesn’t make you a jerk, lazy or self-centered. It shows that you have clear priorities and goals, and that you have boundaries which you respect. Take control over your time and start saying no more often.

Helping you achieve more.
Rutger