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It’s hard to say no. We often feel a sense of obligation and don’t want to offend anyone, or maybe we just feel bad. We don’t want to disappoint people. While no can be a hard word to say, it’s the only tool we have for creating more time.

Yes fills time. No makes time.

But it’s not enough just to say no for the sake of saying no. We need to look at the deeper reasons for saying yes. When we say no to one thing, we essentially give ourselves the credits to say yes to something else.

It takes saying no to 99 things in order to be able to say yes to one thing.

There is an infinite number of things you could be doing and things you could be saying yes to, but there’s only one that you can actually be doing right now.

What Does Saying No Do for You?

You can’t be in two places at one time. If you’re overcommitting, you’re going to find yourself conflicted between multiple commitments that you’ve made because you’ll only be able to keep one.

This leads to dilution of your yes. Eventually, your yes begins to mean less. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me give you an example:

We all have a friend who rarely follows through. You invite him to a party at your house, he says he’s going to be there, and you know that in reality, there’s probably only a 20% chance of him actually following through on that promise.

That sucks. It sucks for you as the recipient of a weak yes and a half-hearted commitment and it also sucks for him because he’s now established a reputation for himself. He’s said yes to too many things until eventually his yes carried no weight. Yes fills time. No makes time.

Saying no is your tool for creating time.

Why We’re Afraid to Say No

Of course, we’re hesitant to say no because we don’t want to offend people. No feels like a negative word and we don’t want to be perceived as negative by other people. It’s easy to yes. It’s hard to say no.

We want people to feel happy with us. So we’ll say yes to people please. The problem is that other people have no consideration for how taxing that is for you.

It’s not others’ responsibility to know what you can take on—that’s your responsibility. Other people will rightfully assume that you made a calculated decision based on your energy and availability to say yes. We don’t say no because we don’t want to offend or disappoint people, but the reality is:

No matter what you do, you’re going to disappoint someone.

Do you want to disappoint other people, or do you want to disappoint the future version of yourself?

How to Say No

It feels difficult to say no because you feel like you’re supposed to say no for the sake of saying no. You have to reframe your no and give it purpose.

  • “Why am I saying no to this client?” So I can say yes to the ideal client.
  • “Why am I saying no to this good opportunity?” So I can say yes to this great opportunity or so I can spend time with my family.

I have to say no so that I can say yes. It’s worth mentioning that you also don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you’re saying no. Don’t give a reason! If you give a reason (especially a fake one), it will come back to bite you. If you provide a reason, then people will naturally try to reason with you.

Your no needs to be a firm no. It may be scary, but people will come to respect you more for it. Why? Because they know that your yes carries weight.

I get a lot of people inviting me to things. I say no to most of them. You could argue that makes them sad and less likely to invite me in the future, but my friends know that whenever I do say yes, I am 100% invested and I will be there on time and give them my full focus.

The Gut Check Test

When trying to decide when to say no, I like to use what I call the “Gut Check” test: imagine saying yes and immediately assess how you feel in your gut. Does it feel right or do you immediately wince?

Ask yourself if you’re spending enough time with your family or being a healthy person. If not, it’s not a good idea to commit to more things when you have more important priorities!

Saying no gives you credit to say yes and to have a yes that means something.

What Is Your Yes?

The takeaway from this is not just why to say no or how to say no, it’s about setting up your ability to say yes. Start with the important things first and then work backwards:

  • What do you want to say yes to?
  • What do you need to say no to first in order to be able to say yes?
  • How much do you care about the quality of your yes?
  • What do you want to say yes to that you’re not able to say yes to right now?
  • What is that worth saying no to?