learn to say no

Learn to Say No (and protect your time)

Do you say yes to everything? You know who you are.

Saying no to people can be tough. Sometimes, life gets away because we’re too busy to say no. We know that we don’t have endless amounts of time, we feel the pinch, and yet we keep adding more and more to our schedule simply because someone asked.

Because we think, If I don’t do it, who will?. Or, If I say ‘no’ to this, will they still like me? Or even, I should be able to handle this. If I can’t, it’s a problem with me, not them. 

I said this in my last post about ways to simplify your life, but I’ll say it again here: Just because you are asked to do a good thing, doesn’t make it your good thing.

I know that I’m a little bit over-simplifying this, but it’s true. Yes, some things just have to get done. Yes, sometimes it will be you who needs to scrub the toilet or coordinate the event.

But, sometimes it won’t. Sometimes that will be more than you can handle. It could be the one thing that will tip your scale from calmly being able to handle and enjoy your life…to throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum. Not that this has ever happened to me. 😉 Ha!

Want more help with simplifying your life? Start here!

So then, how do you know what to say no to? How do you actually say no to people? And how do you stop feeling guilty for saying no?

What Should You Say No To?

This is hard for me to answer because honestly, only you can know this. But, I’ll give you a little advice: say no to anything that goes against what you believe- about life, yourself, morality, God, whatever.

Additionally, you need to say no to everything new you are asked to do when you are already feeling overwhelmed. You need to take care of yourself first so that you have the energy and strength to help others.

Learn to recognize when you are at max capacity and begin to protect your time. And remember, your max capacity may look very different than your sister’s max capacity, your neighbor’s max capacity, or your friend’s max capacity.

Resist the urge to compare how much you are doing to how much others are doing. This is simply not a good way to evaluate your life. EVER.

Why Am I Overwhelmed?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, it is likely due to one of three things: (1) You took on too much. (2) You don’t make time for what matters most to you. (3) Something out of your control happened that is stressing you out. It can feel stressful to have to say no sometimes too.

If you find yourself in the camp of #1, it’s time to scale back. Take an honest look at EVERYTHING you do and see what you need to stop doing, or at least take a break from for now.

If #2 is where you find yourself, it’s time to reevaluate. What do you need to make time for? Do you need to take better care of yourself (exercise, rest, sleep, hobbies, reading your Bible)? Do you want to spend more time with your family or friends? Or do you want time to volunteer and serve others?

Ask yourself, “What should I sacrifice from my schedule so that these priorities for me can happen?”

If you find yourself in the situation of #3, it’s time to ask for help. Seek out a friend, a pastor, a therapist, or ask for help if that’s what you need.

How Do I Say No?

You just do it. Let the word slip from your lips, and try not to look too shocked that you actually did it. 😉

Say no with a smile-with kindness- but just say no. You can even practice saying no in your bathroom mirror if you have to! Try to anticipate what you will be asked to do and prepare your answer ahead of time.

Evaluate The Situation

Perform a critical appraisal of the situation and requestor. Is someone politely asking for something that you can do? Or bullying you into something with a passive aggressive undertone?

Do you feel like you can say no? Is it your job to do it?

You want to make sure that you’re not trying to get out of something and that you’re not needed. You don’t want to be too nice and say yes to everything, but you’ll have to do your part to keep the team moving forward. Prioritize your needs as well as the requestors.

If you’re going to say yes, why? Are you stuck on pleasing others at your expense or is it something you have to do.

Respectfully Decline

Politely say that you’re not able to take on the request. It doesn’t matter why.

Be Confident

It’s OK to say no. You’re not being rude and selfish. You’re taking care of yourself.

You can’t perform 100% all of the time. You need balance. Standing up for yourself is important.

Build confidence in your decision to say no and follow through. Let go of negativity and move on.

Set Clear Boundaries

Learn how to set reasonable boundaries. You need to establish boundaries that you and your co-workers, friends, and family respect. Follow through on your commitments but don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness.

Grow Healthy Relationships

When you care about people, you want to take care of them. When they care about you, they want to take care of you. Sometimes doing too much is a sign of a codependent relationship where the two can’t function without each other. Codependency is unhealthy.

Don’t make up excuses and start apologizing. Be honest about your needs and workload. And don’t forget to listen to their needs and let them get back to you if needed. It goes without saying that everyone needs to take responsibility for their wants and needs.

Another way to say no

(Because ‘no’ is a complete sentence.)


“No, thank you.”
(If you are feeling that simply saying “no” is too harsh)

“Not this time.”

“Sorry, that doesn’t work for me.”

“I’m too busy right now. Keep me in mind for the future.”
(If that’s truly what you want.)

“I can’t make that work right now.”

“I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to attend/help.”

“Thank you for thinking of me, but I won’t be able to help this time.”

“I appreciate you asking, but I can’t.”

“I wish I could! But I can’t.”

“My schedule is up in the air right now.”
(Isn’t this almost always the case?!)

“I’m not the right person for the job.”

“I have different priorities these days.”

“I will sit this one out.”
(Great response for something you have helped out with in the past.)

“No, I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do…”
(Maybe you can’t run the bake sale, but you can make a pan of brownies.)

How Do I Stop Feeling Guilty For Saying No?

Once you say no, you may start to feel guilty. But you don’t have to as long as you said no for the right reasons!

You can say no and feel good about it when you know what you would be giving up…what you would be sacrificing. You can say no and feel no guilt when you are feeling overwhelmed. You can even say no with absolutely no regrets when you feel the pull to change your priorities.

There are two keys to saying no without guilt following you:

(1) Know your why
(2) Say no respectfully

Make sure you know why you are saying no, and make sure you believe it’s the right thing for you to do right now. Be prepared with an answer if they push back, but if it’s none of their business, a simple “no” will suffice.

At the same time, you want to be respectful with how you say no. You don’t want to burn bridges or offend here. You need to be assertive, not aggressive.

Final Thoughts

Protect your time. Protect your heart. Protect your life.

Learning to say no and setting boundaries are important steps in simplifying our lives. People pleasing doesn’t help anyone.

You should be able to say no without feeling down. If we don’t learn how to say no, we run the risk of burnout, contempt, bitterness, and poor performance. We don’t want to be discouraged. Don’t let this happen to you!

Once you learn to set boundaries without being selfish, you’ll find that things just work better. It just might make you feel happier. You can politely decline requests and others may decline your requests. It’s about respect. Think about it. Putting yourself first might make you better.

Check out this post for more help with decluttering your schedule.

We will continue this “Simplify Your Life” blog series next week and talk about the second way to simplify your life: downsize. Together, we will evaluate what we could (and should) do without. If you are taking steps to simplify your life, you won’t want to miss this post!

Remember: you can’t change how fast-paced the world is, but you can change your speed. Take steps today to simplify your life so you always have time for what matters most to you.SaveSave


Theresa Bedford is a nationally syndicated writer. Her work has been seen on the Associated Press Wire, Blox Digital, and MSN. She writes about productivity, money, and simple living to help people focus on what really matters in life.