Learn How To Say “No” And Become More Productive

It may seem counterintuitive, but learning to turn down an offer is one of the most important skills you’ll master in the early days of your career.

We all want to impress or please the people around us, whether that’s our family, friends, bosses, or co-workers. So, for many of us, the fear of letting these people down can make the simple act of saying “no” a big struggle. This means that before you can say “no”, you’ve gone and said “yes” to overtime, “yes” to that catch up brunch, “yes” to a few small favours, “yes” to drinks on Saturday, and maybe even “yes” to a first date.

“From a young age we receive metaphorical gold stars for being amenable and accommodating,” explains Kelly Exeter, Australian author and host of Let It Be, a podcast that explores what it means to “do less and be more”.

There’s a strong positive feedback loop in place where people given to over-committing receive a lovely little dopamine hit every time they say ‘yes’ to someone and see a smile light up their face,” Kelly says.

The problem is, when we say yes to everything, our jam-packed calendars leave little to no time for self care, which can lead pretty quickly to stress, anxiety and eventually burnout. With a modern workplace culture, where many of us feel pressure to work extra hours, and that YOLO/FOMO mindset which is compounded by social media, it’s easier than ever now to reach this point.

“Decluttering our homes is all the rage at the moment,” says Kelly. “We need to start a new trend – decluttering our minds. Learning to say “no” more often allows us to free up space in our brains where we can just ‘be’. This makes us happier, more creative, calmer and allows us to be more intentional about how we do things.”

When it comes to our jobs, this can help us produce higher quality, interesting and innovative work. And, while we definitely wouldn’t recommend saying no to everything your boss asks, learning how to declutter your social life and extra-curricular life will help you master the skill of intentional decision making. This will help you resist any urges to take on unpaid overtime in an attempt to impress.

But for us natural-born people pleasers, the word “no” doesn’t just roll off the tongue. Here are some strategies you can use help you curb your “yes” habit:

#1 “Let me get back to you”

This sentence is your golden ticket for calm, considered decision making. It gives you the space and time to go home, check your calendar, and consider whether whatever somebody is asking of you is something you really want to do.

#2 Make up your mind

Most of us reach a point of decision fatigue before we even roll into the office in the morning. The added pressure of somebody’s expectations makes the decision making process even more difficult.

Psychologist Helen Booth says that if you are feeling stressed, burnt out or anxious, you should consider prioritising your personal values to help you decide what you commit to. Helen recommends asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Who are the most important people in your life and do your time commitments reflect being the best version of yourself in those relationships? 
  2. What activities bring passion and/or relaxation to your life, the ones that make you feel alive? 
  3. What are the activities that need to happen to help you live the rest of your life? 

#3 Respond honestly

If you’re saying no to something because you don’t have the time, energy or desire to do it, it’s OK to be honest. Explain politely, but be firm, and most people will understand.

#4 Remember your manners

If somebody wants to spend time with you or thinks you’ve got the right skills to carry out a job, make sure to thank them for their offer.

Saying ‘sorry’ for turning down an offer is also polite, but going overboard with the apologies will make you seem like a pushover and opens up a door for manipulation.  Remember, polite, but firm.

#5 Sometimes a little white lie is OK

You’re sick, you have other plans, your car broke down, the dog ate your homework. If somebody is insisting/persisting, sometimes it’s easier on all parties to tell a cheeky fib. Just be sure you won’t get caught out.

That being said, we wouldn’t recommend making a habit of lying to your boss or colleagues. Perhaps keep this one in store for those Saturday night drinks on evenings you’ve been dreaming of dodging for Thai takeaway on the couch.

When you’re burnt out even the experiences and opportunities that should be good can become a burden. If this sounds like you, it might be time you bring a bit more ‘no’ into your lexicon in order to make your life more positive.

If you’re having trouble deciding what you can fit into your life, maybe the 10-10-10 method of decision making could help you out.

Camille is a freelance writer, reader, thinker and good-timer who hails from Wollongong. In her spare time she enjoys sunshine, saltwater, recycling and correcting your grammar.