Why You Need to Say “No” More Often (And How to Do Just That)

Do you ever find yourself saying “Yes” – only to immediately experience a sinking feeling inside?

Many of us take on too many commitments, because we have a hard time saying “no”. We’re constantly busy – perhaps without the time to exercise regularly or pursue our own goals – and yet we often bend over backwards to accommodate other people’s requests.

Of course, there’ll be times when you want to help out a friend, college, or family member. There’ll also be times when you think you don’t have any choice about saying “yes” or “no” – like when your boss asks if you can work late, again. But if you run yourself ragged trying to help out everyone else, you’re never going to achieve the things that you want.

You need to say “no” more often if:

  • You always tell yourself that you’ll be less busy in a few months … but you seem to get busier and busier.
  • You feel resentful about some of the tasks that you’d taken on, and wish you hadn’t.
  • You’re stressed out trying to find time to do everything.
  • You’re neglecting some of your basic needs, like exercise and healthy meals.

People won’t stop liking you just because you say “no” to a request (though they might well develop more respect for you). And the world won’t fall apart if you say “no”, even in situations where you feel like someone really needs your help.

Get Better at Saying No

Try to make “no” your default. It’s all too easy to say “Sure, that’s no problem” when, in truth, you’re already feeling anxious, even panicked, about how you’ll possibly find time.

Next time someone makes a request, think carefully before saying “yes”. If at all possible, delay giving a response so that you have time to think it through – for instance, you could say “I’ll need to think about that” or “Let me get back to you tomorrow once I’ve checked my diary.”

If you feel guilty about saying “no”, then you might want to journal about your feelings. You may also find it helpful to write a list of the pros and cons of saying “no”, to help you make a good decision for you.

Focus on What’s Important

It’s easier to say “no” when you’ve got a clear focus on what’s truly important in your life. That could be:

  • Your family
  • Your career
  • Your health

It could also be a specific goal, like getting out of debt, or writing a book.

When you have a key area of life or an important goal in mind, it’s easier to say “no” and feel justified. After all, isn’t spending time with your kids more important than chairing meetings of that local community group?

Learn Ways to Say No

Some people won’t take no for an answer. Others may get a little huffy or annoyed about being told “no” – especially if they’re used to you helping them out constantly.

Some good ways to say “no” are:

  • Being direct. Say “No, I can’t do that” and keep saying it.
  • Offering a compromise. If a straight “no” really isn’t going to work, how about “I’m afraid I can’t take that on, but I could help you out with …”
  • Explaining your priorities. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to help, because I’m in the middle of a career change.”
  • Writing down your “no”. If you get easily intimidated in conversations – and end up backing down from your position – then you might try responding by email or even in a written letter instead. This gives you more time to formulate responses.

Stay flexible, and use different methods depending on the situation. If you find a particular way of saying “no” that works well for you, try using it again in future.

Ultimately, you only have one life to live – and you want to make the most of it. If your life is full of unwanted commitments, or if you dread being phoned by that particular person who always wants something from you, then learn to say “no”, today.


Do you struggle to say “no”? Share your experiences in the comments – let us know what you find hard, and what’s worked for you.

Photo credit: ‘Mountains‘ by Big Stock



Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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