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Why you need to learn to say “No” more often

Have you ever considered that when it comes to your time what you say yes to, means you’re saying no to everything else? Think about it: if you decide to do something now, that’s the one thing you do, everything else you don’t do. So, the decision to focus on a particular task, means you’re saying no to all other tasks in that moment. The task you’re focusing on is the most important task in that moment.

Sometimes tasks are decided for us. We might be given a task by our boss or our client, for instance. Something might have cropped up that requires your immediate attention; you need to do some “firefighting” – this becomes your task of the moment, nothing else matters.

If we get to decide and, thank goodness, most of the time we do, we need to weigh what needs to get done in what order or what do we choose to do first. This decision can be straightforward, but some people really struggle with it. It can send their minds spinning and almost lead to decision paralysis as they can’t decide which task to tackle first. Which is more important? This can be a reason for procrastination. Not knowing what to do first, or whether to do a task at all can stop you from taking any action at all.

How to decide what to say yes to

A quick way around could be to let chance decide. Put all of your tasks in a list, number the list, then use a randomiser app to tell you which number to do first. Or you could go old school and pick a task out of a hat. Either way, eventually all tasks will be selected and (hopefully) done.

Another option could be to go by deadline. Usually there is a certain degree of urgency associated with each task, even if it is self-imposed. Rank your tasks in the order of deadline (closest deadline first) and off you go. This means everything will (again hopefully) get done and even in a timely fashion.

Putting everything in order of importance is another option, although it might be more difficult to decide which is more important. If this is easy for you, go for this option.

The importance of saying “No”

If you find your to do list is too long, you will have to be more discerning what you say yes to. You can’t do everything. Nobody can … you’ll need to start saying no more often.

The secret of being focused is to decide on what you say “No” to in any given moment. Or as time management specialist Alan Lakein puts it: “What is the best use of your time right now?”

So, what do you want to say “No” to? Definitely distractions, procrastination and anything that is simultaneously classed as not important and not urgent.

Saying no leaves a certain timeslot open for something better. Once you say yes, that’s it, that timeslot is filled. So, it is really important to decide wisely what you say yes to.

If you’re worried about letting people down if you start saying “No” more often, think of it this way. If you know you can’t do something or haven’t yet figured out how on Earth you’re going to fit it into your overly filled schedule, it’s better to say no straight away. Otherwise, you’ll end up disappointing that person later, after they had their hopes up that you will keep your commitment. Come up with an alternative solution for them to either do the required task later on, when your diary has an opening or suggest a different person they can approach. Either way, you have helped and not let them down.

If you or your team are struggling with an ever growing to do list and haven’t seen a free evening or weekend in forever, get in touch to see how I can help. You can email me at or connect with me on LinkedIn.


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