Why You Need to Say No (title) No in several languages

Why You Need to Say No

Are you overwhelmed with demands on your time? Are obligations, commitments and activities that don’t fit your core purpose sucking the life out of you? There’s an answer to this overload. It’s learning to say no.

Life is full of choices and demands. Every day there will be things that come up, demands for your time, requests for your talents and pleas for help. If you do not learn to choose among these many choices, you give up control over your own life and that will leave you feeling exhausted, frustrated and resentful. You not only have the right to control your own life, but you have an obligation to do so.

Saying no is a matter of learning to set boundaries and choose priorities. If you don’t decide what’s important in your life, someone else will decide for you and you will soon find yourself living someone else’s life.

It is wonderful to feel needed and to be able to help. Not all requests for your time or resources should be or need to be declined. I love when I have the opportunity to serve, but I have learned that service comes at a price. Providing my business services for free can hurt my business. When I fail to value my time and talents I have learned that soon, others fail to value them as well and come to expect free all the time. And when I am working for free it takes away the time and the opportunities to earn money to meet the needs of my family. When I say yes to too many opportunities to provide personal or professional service to others, I am taking away the time I need to meet the needs of my family.

If you say yes to every request that comes along, whether it is business or personal, you will soon have no time left for the things that are necessary or important to you. You allow someone else to choose your priorities.

Do you really want someone else setting priorities for your business, your family and your life?

woman on phone saying no-dp

Breaking the Automatic “Yes” Habit

If you have a hard time saying no, you will need to develop strategies that will make it easier for you, until you break the yes-without-thinking habit.

For a time, I kept a note card taped to my phone (back in the days of landlines) that just said “NO” on it in large, bold letters. When I got a phone call asking for help, it reminded me to think before responding to requests.

I frequently get calls to provide service to people, whether it’s members of my church who have a need, to volunteer at my children’s’ schools, or to provide my professional services—at no cost—to any number of organizations, businesses and individuals.

In the past, I said yes to the point that I found myself putting in nearly full-time work weeks of volunteer service and not having the time I needed for my family’s needs, much less for running my business.

First, Say No

To break the habit, for the first three weeks or so I said no to every request without making any excuses or explanations. My response became “thank you for asking, but I’m not available for that.” (yes, I had a little script because I was so bad at it).

Part of the reason was to break the habit of feeling guilty and needing to justify my “no” response. We do not need to explain or apologize for taking control of our own lives.

Limit Your Yeses

Once I broke the “yes” habit, I allowed myself to say yes to one opportunity per week, as long as it didn’t conflict with something already on my calendar—and that meant absolutely NO time shifting to accommodate someone else’s desires. I often found that if someone really needed me, they would shift their time to match my schedule.

I also learned it was perfectly ok to say “I’ll need to check my schedule and get back to you.” It is not necessary for us to accept or decline on the spot. If the person asking requires that, then you need to say no.

Though I still sometimes say yes when I ought to say no, I have learned not to overload myself. As a result, I am more productive, less stressed and better equipped to give everything I choose to do the attention it deserves.

Learning to say no frees up your time

Steps to Saying No

1. Break the habit.

Use your voicemail if you need to. If you know that you won’t be able to say no when someone calls, let all your calls go to voicemail initially.

Then, decline all requests that require you to rearrange your calendar (i.e., rescheduling clients or pushing back delivery dates).

2. Do not accept non-work requests during your work hours.

3. Remember that failure to plan ahead on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part. Learn the difference between what is an emergency and what is poor planning.

4. Ask yourself: will accepting this request help or hurt my family or business?

5. Do NOT allow yourself to be guilted or shamed into saying yes. If you are not available, they can and will find someone else.

It is so great to be able to serve and help others when they need it. I feel blessed in my life and firmly believe in giving back and paying forward. I also believe in balance—and that is why it is important to learn to set boundaries and priorities and choose carefully for your life.

How about you? Have you struggled to say no? Do you sometimes find it a challenge to balance the need to serve with the rest of your life?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you find the balance between yes and no.

This post was originally published in 2012 and updated in March 2022.

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  1. This was great for me to read Marie! I tend to let too many people get me sidetracked when it comes to work! I’ll pin up a reminder..;)

  2. GREAT article! I struggled with this SO MUCH when I was younger! I still do to an extent. I just had to deal with this recently with an individual who knew me from way back when and assumed I was the same push-over. I’ve even noticed it seems to be a pattern with artisans. I think it’s because creativity seemed to be under appreciated throughout the 20th century. For example, when education budgets get cut, what usually gets cut first? The arts! So, we artists tend to take a backseat, even devaluing ourselves in the process, causing others to do so as well. That’s why I like that one artist shirt we share all of the time. We have to remind ourselves that this is our profession and we have bills to pay too. So many assume that because a person is a business owner, they have funds to spare and that’s just not the case. (It’s another issue of others assuming they are entitled to your money; i.e. socialism, but that’s another discussion topic.) Our time and talents are valuable. I’d rather my efforts be bestowed onto someone who is willing to pay the value, because I know they will treasure my work. I always say that I have a budget for charitable efforts and that includes my time. When that charitable budget is spent, I state such in a kindly way.

    1. You are so right, Crissy. I see this so often with my fellow artists and have definitely been guilty as well. I found a quote not too long ago that said something like, “if we do not value our own work, no one else is going to do it for us.” And I have definitely found it to be true. While some need a more realistic view of their worth because they’ve priced themselves right out of working, most artists and artisans seem to have the opposite problem.

  3. Hi Marie!

    I like what you said here: “Do NOT allow yourself to be guilted. If you are not available, they can and will find someone else. You are NOT a bad person when you decline a request to serve that will negatively impact you.

    I love to serve. I feel blessed in my life and firmly believe in giving back and paying forward. I also believe in balance—and that is why it is important to learn to set boundaries and priorities and choose carefully for your life.”

    You couldn’t have said it more perfectly.! This is an area that I have been struggling in – but I am learning more & more about setting those boundaries and improving my “No’s”

    For me I have always felt ‘bad’ for saying no & part of it is that I am so good at ‘putting myself in the other person’s shoes’ because of all the life experiences that I have had. And I do feel guilty about that. BUT.! I am learning & I think that with owning your own business this is a lesson that you are taught and I am proud that I am learning to set my good boundaries and to say ‘No’ and being able to walk away and not be guilted so much.!

    Great Article! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Laura. When we stretch ourselves too thin, especially when we allow ourselves to be “guilted” into doing something that isn’t good for us, it benefits no one in the end. Also, sometimes we just need to allow someone else the opportunity of serving.