Time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders feels your pain. You’re sure you’d cope much better with your workload if only you could become adept at saying “No”— yet, you keep saying “Yes.” In The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment, Saunders suggests five ways to master the fine art of turning people down.
1. Avoid offering an immediate response
Most people’s knee-jerk reaction to requests for help requiring a significant chunk of their time is “Sure, I can do that.” Instead, say you need to review your other commitments and ask if it’s OK to get back to the requester by, say, the next day.
2. Have a clear picture of your current responsibilities
Keep your calendar and to-do list up to date so you can find out immediately whether you have time to honour a request. You can avoid the “I can just fit it in” trap if you can clearly see that you’re already booked solid.
3. Break it to them gently
If you dread turning people down, you’ll be tempted not to. Instead, make the experience less painful. Affirm that you respect the requester but unfortunately can’t help out, given your schedule. If possible, suggest someone else who can pitch in.
4. Discover your bigger “Yes”
List activities that you cherish, but that you don’t do as often as you’d like because you say “Yes” too much. Think of these anytime you find yourself in danger of overcommitting.
5. Don’t feel compelled to justify your “No”
It’s perfectly fine to say you’re not available if you know agreeing to a request would overload you. Just because you don’t have every minute booked up doesn’t mean you have free time.