The Power of Saying No

Learning how to say “no” is not easy for anyone. Gain some insight from a millennial’s perspective on managing time and priorities.

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a late afternoon on a bitter cold Wednesday in January — two days into the week and only two days left to go. The sun was setting and golden light was pouring into my office, almost blinding, but warm. The outside temperatures had everyone on edge. One week it was negative 10 degrees for 15 days straight (a restorer’s dream), and the next 10 days were teases of spring — gorgeous 40, and a couple 50-degree days.

I sat with my eyes closed. For a moment, I tried to imagine myself somewhere warm. Somewhere my mind would slow way down, my breathing would return to a calm in-and-out, and my entire agenda was empty. No cellphone. No computer. No to-do list.

But I had to open my eyes. I had to finish one more thing before going home. Pick something. Pick something small. Just so I could cross it off my list. So, I sat and stared at the list. Everything on it was incredibly intensive. There was nothing small to choose from. My breathing was increasing and it felt like my throat was closing. My shoulders and back were screaming from being hunched over my computer. I could feel the emotions rising from my chest and filling the back of my eyes with tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears of knowing I was overwhelmed.

So, I just sat there … paralyzed. I stared into the blinding sunset, closed my eyes again, and started to pray. After my prayer, I opened my eyes and stared back down at my list, and continued to try and pick something.

The day was winding down, and others in the office were packing up to head out for the night. One colleague, Jason, was walking past me and saying goodbye when he stopped and asked if everything was alright. I hesitated to tell him, but knew he might have some advice — he’s good at that, kind of like our office Tony Robbins, full of wisdom and motivation.


“Yes.” It’s something we naturally say in our businesses. When a client calls with a water loss — yes, we will be on-site within the hour. When they ask if we handle the electrical — yes, and we make the call to the electrician. When they ask if we will clean 11,000 square feet of a warehouse — yes, ma’am! There really isn’t much we turn down. And with some exceptions, we live and breathe serving the client. It’s our business, and we are eager to grow it.


When do we say ‘yes’ and when do we say ‘no’ or ‘not now’? And, the even harder question, how do we say ‘no’?

We’ve all done it: excelled at something, and when others took notice, they ask us to do more. We are flattered and agreed to contribute to another area of an organization, association, committee, or movement. We think of ourselves as “the expert,” and with that comes other opportunities or ventures. We volunteer, we get involved with groundbreaking ideas and we are faced with opportunities we just can’t say “no” to.

If we all have the same 24 hours in a day and the same seven days in a week when the day comes and we are completely paralyzed on how to get it all done, when do we say “yes” and when do we say “no” or “not now”? And, the even harder question, how do we say “no”?

Now, I’m sure if you’re like me, you’re thinking, “Well, that’s the way all entrepreneurs start out. You must get yourself out there to make a name. It takes sacrifice and dedication. It’s tenacity and determination that will cause you to rise above. After all, that is what’s going to determine if you’re going to make it.” At least, that’s what we get inundated with on social media and online.

Here’s the problem. When our days are already filled with client projects, prospecting, follow-ups, employees, contractors, vendors, training, meetings, financials, goals, and finding people to help grow the company, that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for extras. Our evenings and weekends are filled up with family, dinner, quality time, and running the family taxi service or, in my case, playing four rounds of Memory, Guess Who, reading the same Disney Princess book we’ve read for the past two months, oh … and work. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for extras either.

The only extra time we seem to be looking at is between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. I hear sleep is overrated anyway.

After I literally conduct a five-minute brain dump on Jason of how life is amazing and business is amazing and I’m asked to do all these amazing things, I end it with one sentence that doesn’t exactly match up with anything amazing. I’m overloaded, overwhelmed, tired, and stuck. I don’t know how to say “no.”

Like a true Tony Robbins, Jason put down his jacket, pulled up a chair, and began dishing out some straightforward direction.

When someone is asking you to do something, ask them if they mind if you took some notes. Taking notes will allow you to map out what they are asking, ask more in-depth questions, and the most important reason — to provide notes to pass to another person and/or form an email.

Allow the person to talk about their idea, their concern, or the project. Your notes will allow you to check in on timelines, others involved, how much or how little they want your role to be, and so on.

Remember, if you are saying ‘yes’ to one thing, you will have to say ‘no’ to another. Can you say ‘no’ to anything? If not, then you know what you need to do.


After you both are done talking, check your notes to verify that you completely understand the project. Say:

  • Let me know if I’ve understood you correctly.
  • As I’m looking over my notes, let me double-check I haven’t missed anything. After reviewing, ask if there is anything they would add or take away from this list. This will allow for potential pitfalls. Next, ask, “Of the items on this list, what is the most important to accomplish?” Depending on the person’s answer, this will help you determine if your answer is “no,” “not now” or “yes.” If the most important item on the list is something you do, do not answer them yet. You now must look at your availability and determine how many hours you can devote to this project. Remember, if you are saying “yes” to one thing, you will have to say “no” to another. Can you say “no” to anything? If not, then you know what you need to do. If the answer is “no” or “not now,” here are a few ways to answer the person without giving the person the impression that you will always say no:
  • No, but I can connect you with the person who may be able to help.
  • I don’t know if I’m the right person for this, but would it be helpful if I could connect you with my colleague?
  • You know, I’ve had that same question. Could you please let me know when you find the answer?
  • I’d really like to talk more about this. Could we schedule a time to talk or meet again? I might be interested, but I need to check out a few things first.


I have only used this statement once, and I was standing face-to-face with the person:

“Have you ever had a time when somebody asked you to do something that you’d really love to do, but you don’t have the time to do it, and you don’t know how to tell them ‘no’? [Pause] How would you handle that?”

They knew I wanted to say “yes” but couldn’t. It was the sincerest way I ever said no to someone.


This has not been an easy road for me, but let me tell you: Life has been a little more amazing since implementing these new techniques. I have some commitments, and incredibly huge projects, nearing their end. I will take my time before committing to something that huge in the future. Time is slowly becoming freed up to put more focus and emphasis on my business. Time with my family has improved. I’m not on my phone (or, as its name really should be, my tiny pocket computer) responding to emails, notifications, and posts as much. I picked up my bow for the first time in months, and my husband and daughter all practiced together. Yes, I said it — together. And no, I didn’t post all about it on Facebook. In fact, I haven’t posted on my personal social media pages in months!

If the evening I described, in the beginning, is something you are going through now, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself: Is this how you want to continue? Do you feel that if you say “no” that people will stop noticing you? Do you think you will fade into the shadows?

The answer is “no.” One of the biggest mistakes you could be making is preventing you from crushing your goals. Now you have time to do that. RIA

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