Learn to Say NO!

by John Soares on February 20, 2014

Learning to say NO is a key principle of time management.

Every day we are bombarded with requests large and small: from loved ones; from friends and neighbors; from potential clients, from co-workers, bosses, and employees; and from people we hardly know or don’t know at all.

Frequently you should say Yes.

But you must also learn when to say No, and then actually say No.

Learn to say NO!

Courtesy sboneham

Why Should You Say No?

Because you have your own priorities, your own deadlines, your own life. While minding important responsibilities — like those to your family, for instance — you must also keep time for what makes you happy and what excites you.

And Time Is What Saying No Is About

Say No and you have more time for everything that is important to you.

Say Yes and you have less time, and you may also feel dragged down psychologically from having one more task on your to-do list, plus some guilt for not standing up for what you want. And more stress.

So you must value yourself and your time and your goals, and always keep your needs in mind whenever someone asks you to do something.

6 Tips For Saying No

  1. Don’t just say the single word No, which will seem rude to many people.
  2. Be polite but firm.
  3. Don’t be overly apologetic. You can say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t do this because…” and leave it at that.
  4. Tell people that you have all the work or commitments you can handle right now.
  5. Tell people you need enough personal time for yourself.
  6. Prevent requests you’ll need to decline by telling people that your schedule is full for the next day, week, or month.

And 4 tips specifically for self-employed people — say No to:

  1. Projects that don’t pay what you want.
  2. Projects you dread doing.
  3. People that are unpleasant to work with.
  4. Projects you don’t have time for.

My biggest problem has been that last one: saying Yes to projects I don’t have time for. It’s hard for me to turn down work that pays well or that I think will help me build a relationship with an important client. I’ve almost always met the deadlines, but sometimes at the price of long work days, little time off, and increased stress.


1. Practice saying No. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. If necessary, take some time when you are alone and practice saying No in different typical scenarios.

2. Think about a recent time you should have said No, but didn’t. How did you feel, both during the request and when you were complying with the request? What would you have done with your time if you had said No?

Your Take?

Do you need to say No more? What will you now say No to?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kathryn Lang February 20, 2014 at 7:27 AM

Be careful with the “reason” behind your no – people will try to talk around your reasons. I tell those learning to use the word to only use no. It takes practice – ESPECIALLY for those in the South that were taught that “maybe” or “I’ll try” is the right way to say no. :)

Thanks for the reminder.
Kathryn Lang recently posted…Everyone Knows Something – and YOU Know More than You Realize


2 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 9:35 AM

It definitely takes practice, and some people are more persistent about trying to reverse our “no.”
John Soares recently posted…8 Time Management Techniques for Successful Writers


3 Anne Wayman February 20, 2014 at 9:28 AM

I’m with Kathryn – I rarely give much reason for my ‘no.’ Sometimes I’m fairly blunt – “no, I don’t want to do that.” followed by silence and no excuses if they push – others it’s “I’m sorry, I can’t work that in right now” shaking my head no.

And sometimes a simple, pleasantly but firmly said “no” is all that’s requires… ‘no’ after all is a complete sentence… think I wrote a blog post about that.


4 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 9:36 AM

I get asked several times a week to do things I don’t or can’t do. I’m always firm but polite.
John Soares recently posted…Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination With My Kindle Ebook


5 Gene Burnett February 20, 2014 at 10:02 AM

I agree John, being able to say No is a really valuable ability to have. In fact one translation of one of the lines in the Tao Te Tching is “The sage has his Yes and his No.”
I’ve observed that when people have a hard time saying No, it’s often because they feel confused or intimidated or unable to muster the psychological firmness necessary in the moment. When I’ve had friends with this issue, I’ve counseled them to memorize this phrase: “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” True, it’s not a No, but it’s not a Yes either. Then, with some space and perspective a clearer No ( or perhaps even an honest Yes ) can emerge and be communicated.
I also recommend, if you’re uncomfortable with saying a direct No to someone, or you’re wary of engaging in an extended conversation or debate about your No, to do it in letter or email form. That way you can really think it out and say exactly what you want to say. Also, the other person has to read it without the opportunity to interrupt and/or argue with you.
But in general I find it most important that both my Yes and my No, be honest and unforced. I find that taking the time, if possible, to get to that honest unforced response, is worth it. Not only do I arrive at a clear honest answer, but having searched my self somewhat to find it, I know myself better and perhaps the next self search will take less time.
An honest unforced No is, I’ve found, much more useful and valuable than a shrill or over aggressive one. The honest No, just comes out, does its job and I’m free to move on. The more forced or frantic No, may do its job, but I’m usually left with a bunch of unprocessed emotion and mixed thoughts and feelings, all of which linger and take up energy and mind space for perhaps hours to come. So I’ve found it really helpful to get as clear as I can about my No’s before I deliver them, even if it takes a bit of time.


6 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Gene, this is excellent advice.

It is really important to be able to clearly say No and feel comfortable with the process. It’s part of “being comfortable in your own skin” and accepting who you are and what you want.

I also like your process for clarifying No and Yes, both internally and with others.

Thanks for sharing your insight.
John Soares recently posted…19 Successful Freelance Writers Share Their Top Goals for 2014


7 Cathy Miller February 20, 2014 at 10:21 AM

Other than to my mother, 😉 I seldom have a problem saying No. I think some of that may be attributed to my age and life situations.

I no longer work weekends (except for the rare instances it’s my choice). I say no to reduced fees, unless there is a reduction in scope. I’ll admit it took me awhile to walk away from work that was under my fee (except for those that were far below) or projects I did not like to do. That, too, has become much easier. And I sleep so much better for it. :-)
Cathy Miller recently posted…Marketing Roles and Responsibilities Template


8 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 2:36 PM

Cathy, being able to say No help me sleep much better too!
John Soares recently posted…How Content Shock Hurts Freelance Writers


9 Don Wallace February 20, 2014 at 12:21 PM

The biggest single issue freelancers have to deal with is blatant and deliberate disrespect from some prospects, whether shown explicitly or as a more subtle, ongoing wearing down of our value and quality.

I recently said “no” to an individual that had reached out to me months ago, who dropped the ball then, after I had invited the person to discuss their needs again. I decided that enough was enough. When I told her that I was not interested, she related amazement, saying that she was “almost” ready to commit. I probably had 5+ hours of diddling invested with this time wasting, passive aggressive prospect that just went in circles. She seemed to have the attitude of a Leona Helmsley, or perhaps Thurston Howell III’s wife.

That leads to another important point – I have to respect my client, too.

Lack of respect is an absolute no-go.
Don Wallace recently posted…A Buyer’s Guide to Content Marketing


10 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 2:39 PM

Don, I’ve had a couple of clients like that and it’s definitely a drag. I think you made the right decision by saying no.
John Soares recently posted…The 8 Top Ways to Legally Lower Your 2013 Freelance Writer Tax Bill


11 Lori February 20, 2014 at 12:59 PM

John, you don’t tell me how to get over the guilt of not answering when my mom called this morning. :)

I have no problem saying no, and I have no problem saying so without giving apology, especially when it’s someone I don’t want to work with. I just say “I’m afraid my time is booked.” That’s usually enough. I’ve also turned them down when the pay isn’t acceptable. That’s usually dealt with by saying “No, I can’t do it for that rate.”


12 John Soares February 20, 2014 at 2:41 PM

Good for you Lori.

When the pay is low and I can’t get it to a high enough rate, I say “no thanks,” but please contact me when you have projects that pay better.
John Soares recently posted…8 Time Management Techniques for Successful Writers


13 Marcie February 21, 2014 at 5:53 AM

Now that I have a greater understanding of the VALUE of my time, NO is so easy. And I can do it with no excuses and no apologies. When I get requests for projects I don’t want, I just tell them I’m busy on other projects, which is not a lie.
Marcie recently posted…Profitable Freelance Writing Conversations


14 John Soares February 21, 2014 at 9:51 AM

Good for you Marcie!
John Soares recently posted…The 8 Top Ways to Legally Lower Your 2013 Freelance Writer Tax Bill


15 Christine February 21, 2014 at 6:26 PM

I just got a notification that there has been a new blog entry here.

I’m sorry, John, but I have to say no, I am not going to read it.

Just kidding. I was merely practicing.

Good article!
Christine recently posted…What Have They DONE To G-chat (revisited)


16 John Soares February 21, 2014 at 6:30 PM
17 James Frost February 23, 2014 at 4:50 AM

Very important thing you have mentioned in the article with great simplicity John.I loved the article.We all get requests from our families,friends,neighbors and sometimes from strangers also.YES to all means we are giving less priority to ourselves.I don’t mean that we should never say yes but we need to think about us before answering them.I also admire the way you mentioned not to say only NO but also give them the proper reason of saying so.The 6 tips of saying no is very precisely said from my point of view.
You also gave tips for self employed people to say NO :) & that makes be very happy.
John I appreciate you for sharing it with all of us
James Frost recently posted…Top 11 image editors for Android


18 Jeevan Jacob John February 24, 2014 at 9:45 PM

I have had trouble with this in the past, but I think I am improving on saying no (when appropriate, that is).

I would love to help everyone…but like you said, our time is limited and ultimately, our life is important to us, more than anything.

#4 used to be one of my major problems..but these days, I manage it by keeping those projects for a later date (like end of the year or something along those lines).

Hopefully, those will work out well, as planned.
Jeevan Jacob John recently posted…Why not create your own Images?


19 John Soares February 25, 2014 at 10:12 AM

I wish I could help everyone, but we all have to set boundaries if we’re to accomplish what we want and also lead full lives.
John Soares recently posted…How I Chose My Freelance Writing Niches


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