The Best Time Management Tool: Just Say No

What you don’t do determines what you can do.” - Tim Ferris


The Best Time Management Tool: Just Say No

One of the most important and simplest time management techniques is also one we don’t use enough. The secret? It is simply knowing and being brave enough to know when to say ’NO’.

People with poor time management skills tend to over extend themselves and accept projects that they don’t have the time to complete properly, which in turn leaves them overwhelmed. This is often because they don’t have a proper sense of the time they have available or how much time they need to allocate to the tasks they already have on the go. However, often it is also because they have not learnt when to say the magic word ’NO’.

In this blog, I will explore how saying ‘no’ will improve your productivity, time management and health. We will investigate why we are reluctant to say ‘no’. I will also give you powerful tips how to say ‘no’ without offending people.

Why is it so Hard to Say ‘No’?

So why is it so hard to say ‘no’? This is probably an overhang from our childhood, when we were told to be polite, do as we are told and follow the rules. Now, after all these years of conditioning, we still feel guilt when we don't comply with someone else's wishes. We might also be very worried about annoying a boss, losing a valuable client or upsetting a friend or irritating a relative.

As Jacqueline Whitmore, author and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach says in her article, Why 'No' is the Most Important Word You'll Ever Say, published on the influential Entrepreneur web site, people have a difficult time turning down others. Jacqueline Whitmore says, “Deep down inside we all want to be liked, so we worry that saying ‘no’ will change the way others view us.”

However, as you will soon understand, knowing when and how to say ‘no’ is an essential tool in your time management tool kit.

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Doctor Eleanor Akaho explains to me the dangers of burnout

 Why Always Saying Yes Equals Burnout

Saying ‘no’ is not selfish or rude, but it is empowering and essential for your time management, productivity, physical and mental health. Saying ‘yes’ to excessive amounts of work, extra meetings, family events and friends’ invitations may sound like the easy option but never saying no will also reduce your effectiveness.

After all, you are not going to produce your best bit of work or shine at that important event if you have got stressed and feel tired as a result of trying to squeeze in too much into your diary.

Plus, when we feel overwhelmed and have too much to do we often start to procrastinate. As I explain in my blog, Procrastination: A Brief Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating, in market research I conducted in 2020, procrastination was cited as the biggest time stealer. This is also something I see again and again through my coaching courses and talks on the topic of time management, goals and how to create a life by design. In this blog I give practical solutions to help you stop procrastinating, so you can improve your time management and productivity.

When we feel overwhelmed by work or events we also start to compromise on quality, cut corners, neglect our health or fail to allocate ‘me time’. Being busy is not an excuse. In fact if you’re busy it is even more important to look after your health and wellbeing. I have noticed talking to clients and when networking, that busy people, especially business owners and entrepreneurs, think they can save time by skimping on sleep, skipping meals, not taking breaks and not doing any exercise. 

However, as I explain in my recent blog Why Looking After Your Health Improves Your Productivity, neglecting your health and personal energy mismanagement are one of the ‘Four Thieves’ that can hold you up and rob you of your productivity. Trust me – I have been there. My scrimping on sleep (albeit unknowingly) and not eating properly left me with burnout! That is another reason why it is so important to learn to say ‘no’. Your health depends on it!

According to the article, Top 10 Ways To Say No And Save Time, published on the Forbes Business website, never saying no can also lead to exhaustion, stress and burnout. As I discuss in my blog Burnout – What it is, What the Warning Signs Are and How to Prevent it, the main work factors causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility.

Remarkably, according to the Health and Safety’s Executive’s Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain, 2019, 8 million working days lost in the UK due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2018 -19.

Learning to say ‘no’ when appropriate will enable you to manage your time better, not overwhelm yourself by taking too much on, be more productive and stay healthy. Most important, it will also avoid low productivity, ill health, burnout or experiencing the extremely negative impact these events would have on your time management and productivity.


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Tips for Saying ‘No’

Tip 1: Avoid an Instant Answer

When someone makes a new request, be sure to take the time to answer it carefully. You don't have to answer right away. Buy yourself time to think about the request by thanking them for the opportunity, request some time to think about it, and always propose a specific time to get back to them. Most people will understand this, and you'll be able to allocate time to weigh up how it will affect your workflow and schedule. This will allow you to weigh up the implications of saying yes. “Sounds good, let me just double check before I confirm” is a simple and polite response.

Tip 2: Listen Carefully and Ask Questions

When someone comes to you with a request then it is important that you listen carefully so you can work out what they are asking of you. The more information you have then the easier it will be to work out if you have the time, skills and opportunity to do it. Don’t hesitate to ask questions until you have a clear picture of what they are asking you to do.  After all, a simple-sounding request can often require a lot more valuable time and resources than you first imagined.

Tip3: Give Reasons for Saying No

If you do have to decline a request then you don't owe an explanation, but people will always receive it better and understand your reasons for saying ‘no’ if you give good valid reasons for having to decline their request.

“Sorry. I would love to, but I have looked, and my diary is already busy that day and I can’t fit another item on my calendar.”

“This sounds like a great opportunity, but at this time I have already arranged to take my daughter to the theatre.”

These simple statements will allow you take control of your time and politely, but firmly, say no.

Tip 4: Avoid Time-wasters

Have you ever worked with someone who wasted endless amounts of your time even on simple tasks or arranges meetings and always cancels them at the very last minute? People like this don’t value your time and learning how to say no to working with them will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Tip 5: Stand Firm

Always remember that a determined person may have already anticipated why you might decline their request.

They are likely to come back to you with responses like:

But we’re counting on you. There’s no one else . . .”

You’re better at this than anyone—and the job needs you!

Stay pleasant and positive but stand firm. Once you decided to say ‘no’ then you know it was the right decision and that now need to stand firm. After all, you have carefully listened to what was being requested of you, taken time decide if you can, if there is time in your diary and made an informed decision. Stand firm and stick to it.

Further Reading

Do you often spend too much time worrying about things you have no control over? Read my blog, How Covey’s Circle of Influence Can Make You More Productive, Learn how Stephen Covey’s Circles of Concern and Influence can be applied to makes better use of your time so you can become more focused & productive.


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This article is written by Alice Dartnell, life and success coach of Alice Dartnell Limited. Alice empowers busy professionals to be successful, transform their lives and achieve more by improving their confidence, mindset and time management.

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