How to Say No When You Could Say Yes

Own your own fucking time.

You are going to get so many moments when people ask too much of you. They ask too much, and you know that you could give them what they want, but to do that, you would need to be giving up what you want. After all, you only have a finite number of seconds and minutes and hours in your day that you can’t always sacrifice for somebody else’s priorities.

But saying no is one of the most powerful things you can do. Saying no exerts control over the time that you own, and it says to other people that they don’t get to co-opt it whenever it’s convenient for them.

You’ve got to say no sometimes. If you don’t, you’re going to wind up absolutely nuts.

It’s Vital to Lay Out Your Rules for When to Say No

Here’s what Seth Godin has to say about the power of no and when to use it…

If you can’t do a good job, don’t take it on.

If it’s going to distract you from the work that truly matters, pass.

If you don’t know why they want you to do this, ask.

If you need to hide it from your mom, reconsider.

If it benefits you but not the people you care about, decline.

If you’re going along with the crowd, that’s not enough.

If it creates a habit that costs you in the long run, don’t start.

If it doesn’t move you forward, hesitate then walk away.

These rules are an awesome place to start. You don’t have to use these exactly, but a variation could work for you. Define what situations and choices and moments you’re going to choose to give a principled “No.”

Here’s some of mine. I say no when people don’t value my time enough to pay me, but value my outcomes enough to ask for it free. I say no when people ask me to do stuff without building a relationship first. I say no when an idea is just good, and yes when it’s fantastic. I say no to people who want my work if it would mean saying no to my fiancé and my family.

Your rules about the word are going to be unique to you, but they should focus on taking back your time so that you can spend it on your priorities.

Don’t Say No Rudely; But Say it Firmly

Just because you’re saying no to someone doesn’t mean you get to treat them however the hell you want. When you say no, make sure that you hit these key points.

  • Thank people for wanting your help
  • Say that you wish you could assist, but you aren’t able to
  • Offer any resources that could help them out
  • Encourage them to stay in touch

You’ll find that if you respond with that format, you’ll be far less likely to be dealing with angry folks who are personally offended. There will always be a few of those however…

Remember That Someone Will Always Think You’re an Asshole

And that’s okay. You can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. When you put yourself out there, you’re doing it with the understanding that you are going to be opened up to criticism and dislike from a lot of folks. It goes with the territory. When you tell people that you can’t do something, they’ll take it personally.

I had some guy message me last night and ask if I could help him write a business plan this weekend, that he didn’t have the budget to pay for. I told him that I couldn’t set aside time to help him with that because my time was already given to other things, and I shared some resources on business plan creation in the form of a few blog posts and PDFs.

His response? He called me a phoney because I talk about helping people but didn’t drop everything to help him. He’s still yelling at me via email. That’s not super fun. But it’s also not going to keep me up tonight. I’d rather have the knowledge that I said no and I said no quite politely and he’s mad at me for it, than have the knowledge that I’ve sacrificed my precious weekend hours to someone who doesn’t respect me.

Saying No is Vital. It’s Your Only Defense Against Exhaustion

From Craig Cincotta:

Saying no feels like it should be simple; after all we are talking about just two letters. But for many people saying no is a hard thing to do, especially if you consider yourself a person who is always looking to please others and demonstrate that you can take any task at any time.

However your inability to say no can hold you and the business back.

Don’t always try to please others. You and what you want to do are just as important. You and what you want to do don’t have to be sacrificed for them. When you get to the end of your life, you won’t look back and say “Gee, I wish I’d designed a free logo for that dude on the internet that one time.”

You’ve got a life to live. Don’t let it be taken away from you by everyone else in the world. Say no when you want to. Say yes when you want to. But only when you fucking want to.

This piece originally appeared on Medium

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