Knowing how to say ‘no’ is commonly cited as an important time management tool.
It makes perfect sense because if you cannot regulate the things that are vying for your time and attention, you’re going to get overloaded in no time at all.
Over-committing is poor time management and usually ends is stress.
Understanding this concept is one thing.
But actually implementing it can be very uncomfortable for many of us at times.
This is because we don’t want to disappoint, anger or offend someone else. We’re worried it will sound selfish or rude. We’re afraid that saying ‘no’ might jeopardize a personal relationship or upset a colleague at work.
It’s true that when it comes to rejecting the requests of others, there is a fine line between being abrupt and being assertive. You don’t want to be seen as a push-over or a people pleaser.
But at the same time, you don’t want to come off as a jerk and someone that is unhelpful, aggressive, rude or perhaps, even lazy.
So what to do?
It doesn’t matter whether you are a CEO or an administrative assistant. If someone else asks you to do something that is not part of your job, you need to ask yourself if you can afford to or want to invest your time in this person or task.
The rule I have started following now is that if the answer is not a 100% ‘yes’, then it has to be a ‘no’.
Life’s way too short.
Ok, now let’s look at the practicalities. So, you’ve decided it’s a ‘no’ – what next?
Here are some great tips on how to handle that ‘no’ in a way that doesn’t have to be awkward and doesn’t leave either party feeling bitter or resentful.
1. Bite the bullet
If you don’t want to do something, just say it.
Be polite. Keep it brief. Don’t feel you need to provide an explanation. There is also no need to lie and make up some elaborate excuse. Remember that saying ‘no’ does not make you a bad or selfish person.
There are all kinds of ways to say ’no’, but the structure of a generic response might be something like this:
“I appreciate the opportunity, but unfortunately, I am unable commit to this now.”
“Sorry, I understand this might be important to you, but my time is already over-committed and I need to prioritize. If that changes, I’ll be sure to let you know.”
Both of these are a clear ‘no’.
They are assertive, but because they are cushioned with a bit of politeness, kindness or empathy, they don’t come across as rude or unreasonable at all.
Unless of course, the request was from someone hanging off a cliff wanting to be pulled up. But most of the time, the kind of things you’re going to be saying ‘no’ to are not really all that urgent.
2. Offer a solution
You can soften the ‘no blow’ by proposing something else.
It might be that you can offer an alternative form of assistance by referring them to someone else or pointing them towards information that will help them.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I know my colleague, Susie, was handling something similar recently, so I’d recommend that you speak to her.“
(Susie might not be impressed at you passing the buck to her, but it just may be that she genuinely is the best person to ask!)
“I don’t have the time available to help you with that currently, but can I can send you the URLs of a couple of websites that might be useful.“
Offering a solution softens the blow and although you’re saying ‘no’. You’re also showing a willingness to assist, which will make it difficult for people to resent you.
You can use the same sort of tactic for requests from friends and family too, offering your knowledge or connections as an alternative to your time.
3. Reframe the situation
At work, saying ‘no’ to co-workers and subordinates is generally much easier than saying ‘no’ to someone in a position of authority.
So if your boss, for example, is asking you to do something that is adding to your workload, this can be tricky.
But often, a boss does not take into consideration (or sometimes even care) what is required to complete a task – they just know it needs to be done and the task gets delegated.
So, a good way to approach this is to reframe the request within the context of whatever else you are handling.
For example, something like:
“I’d be happy to take on this task, but Project X and Project Y are currently company priorities with deadlines looming for both. Which one can I drop in order to focus on this new request or how would you like me to prioritize them?“
If the new request is super-urgent, your boss will have to give you permission to drop something else, thus creating time in your schedule, or he/she will look to someone else to handle the task.
4. Be selfish
Don’t ever feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to your friends, co-workers, or even your children.
Understand that sometimes putting your own needs first is not a bad thing. Your resources are limited. In the same way that a room can only hold so many people, you can only handle so many tasks.
Know and appreciate the value of your time and resources.
If you use your time to help someone else when you know that you should have been using that time for your own work or family-related activities, it will just make you feel bitter and resentful.
You can avoid that situation by saying ‘no’ from the outset.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
If you want to manage your time more effectively and create more opportunities to pursue your own interests and pleasures, saying ‘no’ has to become the standard response to people asking you to invest your time.
So, take a leaf from the book of the legendary billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, and say ‘no’ to people and opportunities that don’t directly benefit your personal or professional life.
That’s not selfish – it’s just good time management.
Now read this one: “How To Set Boundaries At Work”