How can you say no and not feel guilty. Most of the time we try to do this by apologising, perhaps a little too much, and giving a long explanation of everything else you have to do. This puts the person immediately into a defensive mode, making them to worry they can’t do it without help, or feel bad for having asked you as you are so busy. Try these steps.

Saying No - nicely

Here’s a reality check that most time management advice ignores: sometimes you just have too much to do.

Even if you followed my other 11 tips in managing your productivity and attention you will come to a time when there is just have too much to do. You can’t take on another task without it sinking to the bottom of a never ending list, and probably failing to deliver on it. So what now? It‘s time to say no to those extra tasks and concentrate on getting your core responsibilities and priorities done. But to do this you will have to be able to say no – nicely.

It is hard to say no
Some people find it really hard to say no, like a lady who was in a workshop I ran on attention management. At the start of the session, we did the usual introduction round of names and I asked the participants to make a comment about what their specific issue was around managing their time. The first participant introduced himself and said the issue he was struggling with was finding time to write his novel while working full time. This lady jumped in and started giving suggestions on how he could to solve his problem. Then the same thing happened after each of the other introductions. Finally it was her turn, and not surprisingly, her issue was she was always being pulled away from her responsibilities by her colleagues asking her to solve their problems. By being too helpful and too eager to give advice she was ending up with more and more work, on every project and in every office committee. She just couldn’t say no.

Saying no – nicely
How can you say no and not feel guilty. Most of the time we try to do this by apologising, perhaps a little too much, and giving a long explanation of everything else you have to do. This puts the person immediately into a defensive mode, making them to worry they can’t do it without help, or feel bad for having asked you as you are so busy.
Instead try this

  1. Start with a comment that you are happy they asked eg I appreciate that you asked me to be on the office remodelling committee
  2. Explain what your other major priority is in a positive way eg but I’m really excited about being on the project team for the new CRM system and seeing how it impacts improving the customer experience and that is really is a priority at the moment.
  3. Then you can be apologetic. eg I’m sorry but I can’t take on another commitment and do it justice
  4. Then try to help with an alternative suggestion of who could help or what you could offer instead. eg I know that Ben is really interested in contributing to the office space and you know he studied architecture.

In this video I give an example of how you can say no nicely. Try it, and with some practice it will help you to eliminate some of the things you are doing because you can’t say no.

I’m not suggesting that you become the office grouch by being so unapproachable and unhelpful that you are avoided by all your colleagues. But if you always put your colleagues’ requests before your job responsibilities and own need for relaxation, then you will eventually burnout. It is flattering to be the one who is always asked – you feel clever, important, indispensable. It’s great to share your knowledge and help out. But sometimes you need to resist helping too much. Perhaps a little advice or guidance may be that is needed. Or perhaps it is time to say no.