You’ve been there, right? Sometimes we say yes because we want to solve a problem or meet a need. In other situations, we say yes because we straight-up want to be liked. And either way, it’s not good, because we already live in a day and age where being “crazy busy” functions as a status symbol. We joke about the months flying by, lament chock-full calendars of events, and murmur mmhmm in recognition when others talk about running out of time.
But learning how to say no is an incredibly efficient skill that benefits your career, creative goals, and general well-being. Saying no may make you feel anxious or guilty at first, but it’s actually the fast-track to earning respect, being more productive, prioritizing your needs, and determining appropriate boundaries. Here are five reasons why “no” often leads you down a better path than “yes.”
1. You are not an unlimited resource.
Some days, I act like Superwoman, getting as much done as possible, checking off my to-do list with a flourish, zooming through each meal and basically assuming I can fit it all in with no consequences. And that’s when I crash: I get physically sick or I become emotionally strung out. I start begrudging my responsibilities, moaning and groaning, and I lose patience.
The hard part? It’s usually my own fault, because I’ve said yes to too much. As much as I’d like to be Superwoman (hell, even Supergirl), I’m not. And that’s fine.
You are not an unlimited resource. You have a certain amount of time, energy, money, attention — whatever — and how you choose to spend each is critical. Additionally, the more you give, the more people expect you to give, and honestly, the stakes never go down. If you’re insanely busy, feeling distressed, wondering when life is just going to calm down a little bit, I have news for you: you need to start saying no.
If your response to anything is less than “hell yeah!” then your answer should be no.
2. Saying no doesn’t make you a jerk.
A friend asked me to go out with a group of women for drinks last week, and right away, my mind started listing all the reasons why I should say yes: a fun venue, a chance to spend time with other creatives — and the fact that she invited me made me feel included and cool. Never mind the fact that I had been traveling the past three days. Oh, and I felt really tired, missed my husband, and I had a deadline at work to meet. The obvious answer: stay home, silly. So with great difficulty, I said no. And I felt bummed. And then worried about whether or not my friend would be annoyed or disappointed or never invite me anywhere again.
This is not new. Every single time I say no to someone or something, there’s a part of me that cringes with a knee-jerk reaction. Wait! I think. I can do it, I’ll make it work, I want you to be happy with me, I want you think I’m a good person. Sound familiar?
Yet, if I flip this situation, and think about the times I’ve asked someone to do something, and they decline (for whatever reason), do I automatically think less of them? Not to be redundant, but no! Not at all! I respect people who own their boundaries. When you know what’s important to you and what’s not, you can make choices with integrity. Saying no is a sign of maturity; it means you have a plan, a vision, and an opinion for how you want to spend your time. You’re doing what’s best for you. Besides, once you start viewing a “no” as a response to the request itself, not the person, some of the anxiety over hurting other people’s feelings will fade. (And if someone is genuinely being pissy about your “no,” they’re the jerk.)
Another tip: practice how you say no. Even though “no” is a complete sentence, you may want to experiment with “Sorry, I can’t make that work,” or “Actually, I don’t go out during the week!” You can still be helpful (“Actually, Sara would be perfectly suited to help you with this. Did you try her?”), gracious (“I’m overbooked right now due to some other priorities, but thanks for thinking of me.”), and open-ended (“Let me think about it! I’ll get back to you soon.”). Different responses will fit various situations, so try some phrases out and see what resonates.
3. Your goals matter most.
I received an email the other day from a former sorority sister who asked if I could help her write web copy for her business. The job itself seemed straightforward, and within seconds, I was about to reply, “Sure!”
Then I stopped myself. Yes, I could technically do this work. A part of me definitely wanted to try to make time for this gig, for the experience, the extra money, and the satisfaction of being helpful to someone I like. And it wouldn’t even take that much time. But I said no, because none of those things were good enough reasons to say yes. I’m a full-time working mom, with a house and a dog and a husband and friends and family — if I’m going to take on more, it’s gotta be for the right reasons, reasons that matter to me. Although I’d love to help a friend with her business, my writing priorities are centered around other projects that take up time and energy.
It is beyond difficult to put your goals first, I know. It feels selfish and weird and oddly black-and-white. However, if you’re always offering yourself up as a resource to others, then you cannot concentrate on your own contributions, growth, or creativity. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should never help other people or collaborate. It just means if you’ve got a choice between yes and no, take a moment to consider whether or not that thing on the table will bring you a step closer to your priorities and goals. If it doesn’t, say no.
4. You don’t need a reason.
Saying no when I have a reason — my kid is sick, my parents are visiting this weekend, I have an early morning meeting tomorrow, we’re saving for a big trip — is one thing. Saying no because I want to stay home, eat leftover pasta, watch two seasons of Younger and go to sleep at 8:30 p.m. just feels lame. And when I’m stuck between the two, I go above and beyond to explain my reasoning for saying no — I offer a justification in the hopes (I guess?) of convincing the other person that I’m not bailing on them, I just can’t… [insert unnecessary rambling].
You know what, though? I don’t need a reason. I can just say no. Same goes for you. Being in control of your schedule and choices feels great, and that balance looks different for everyone. Being honest about what you need on a given day is a form of self-care, and it’ll help you avoid burnout.
5. “No” paves the way for “yes.”
Actually, it’s more like “HELL YEAH.” A couple years ago, entrepreneur Derek Sivers wrote a now-viral blog post about this concept, which basically has one rule: if your response to anything is less than “hell yeah!” then your answer should be no. The nice thing is that you generally know when you should say “no” versus “yes,” because it involves a gut feeling, a sense of intuition.
That’s why this rule is helpful — it’s a reminder to make intentional choices to free up your time, energy, and attention for what feels meaningful to you. The biggest benefit to saying no more often is that it frees you up to say yes to what really matters.