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Say No to People Making Demands on Your Time

By

Updated May 27, 2014

Two colleagues in conversation in meeting
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Dan Kenyon/Digital Vision/Getty Images
Are you overscheduled and overstressed? With today’s busy schedules, you’re not alone. One way to pare down your schedule is to get good at saying no to new commitments. Whether you say "yes" instead of no out of guilt, inner conflict, or a misguided notion that you can "do it all," learning to say no to more requests can be one of the biggest favors you can do yourself and those you love. It helps reduce stress levels and gives you time for what’s really important.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: Very little. And it will free up time for what's important!

Here's How:

  1. Just say, “I’m sorry. I can't do this right now.” Use a sympathetic, but firm tone. If pressured as to why, reply that it doesn’t fit with your schedule, and change the subject. Most reasonable people will accept this as an answer, so if someone keeps pressuring you, they’re being rude, and it’s OK to just repeat, “I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t fit with my schedule," and change the subject, or even walk away if you have to.

  2. If you’re uncomfortable being so firm, or are dealing with pushy people, it’s OK to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This gives you a chance to review your schedule, as well as your feelings about saying "yes" to another commitment, do a cost-benefit analysis, and then get back to them with a yes or no. Most importantly, this tactic helps you avoid letting yourself be pressured into overscheduling your life and taking on too much stress.

  3. If you would really like to do what they’re requesting, but don’t have the time (or are having trouble accepting that you don’t), it’s fine to say, “I can’t do this, but I can…” and mention a lesser commitment that you can make. This way you’ll still be partially involved, but it will be on your own terms.

Tips:

  1. Be firm -- not defensive or overly apologetic -- and polite. This gives the signal that you are sympathetic, but will not easily change your mind if pressured.

  2. If you decide to tell the person you’ll get back to them, be matter-of-fact and not too promising. If you lead people to believe you’ll likely say "yes" later, they’ll be more disappointed with a later "no."

  3. If asked for an explanation, remember that you really don’t owe anyone one. “It doesn’t fit with my schedule,” is perfectly acceptable.

  4. Remember that there are only so many hours in the day. This means that whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. So even if you somehow can fit a new commitment into your schedule, if it’s not more important than what you would have to give up to do it (including time for relaxation and self care), you really don’t have the time in your schedule.

  5. This article has more strategies for finding time if you're too busy.

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