Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Westchester / Putnam / Dutchess New York

The Power of Saying No: (so you can say yes to what really matters)

Mar 28, 2015 04:26PM ● By Marilee Burrell

Time is finite.  We cannot manage time, only decide how we choose to spend it.  We can optimize our time by creatively managing our activities and energy - but only if we make conscious choices.

Women, especially, are often raised to be agreeable, to be caretakers and “make-it-all-better” problem-solvers. The downside is that we often have difficulty saying no to coworkers, clients, friends or family—or even to ourselves.  

Yet if we keep saying yes, our time bank goes into overdraft, and the consequences are severe, including sleep deprivation, lateness, sloppy work and incompletions. To be successful and remain sane, it is critical to learn to say no, both to others and to ourselves. 

Everything we agree to do means there’s something we can’t accomplish due to our limited time bank. So invest your time wisely, budgeting for work, family, friends, relaxation and self-care. 

Put your commitments on your calendar—don’t say yes if you can’t say when. This also makes it easier to see why you need to say no.

Since we are programmed to say yes—it’s almost a reflexive response—we need strategies to support saying no, and we need to practice them before we need them.

Remember, every time we agree to something, we are taking away the time and energy to do something else. Sadly, the things we lose are often those that are most important to us, like self-care, hobbies or free time.

Saying no can be difficult. Here are three big reasons:

  • New projects capture our interest (especially if they take us away from something boring).
  • We think, I should be able to do that, too (the big-eyes syndrome). 
  • We want to keep the harmony, help out or please others.

So one strategy is not to say yes or no immediately. Instead, say, “That sounds terrific. Let me think about it and get back to you after lunch” (or tomorrow or next week). This strategy also works when the idea you are considering is yours, and the person you are getting back to is you!

This strategy doesn’t force you to say no (which can be confrontational or difficult for so many people). It gives positive feedback (if appropriate) yet delays commitment, so there’s time to think it through before committing, without the pressure or the adrenalin rush brought on by a new, exciting idea.

Use the time before you respond to think about your real interests—your values, needs and time commitments—with the understanding that if you add this new request to your time bank, you’ll have to make a withdrawal somewhere else. Then make your decision.

You may still decide to say yes, but if the answer is no, you will feel less stress and more sure that you’ve made the right decision. You’ll know exactly why you need to say no, and you can communicate that reason in a positive way. You might even modify the request or say yes to something else. (“I’d really like to go to the movies tonight, but I’m exhausted. What are you doing Sunday?”)

Doing less, but doing it better, is more fulfilling than doing more but never feeling like you have things under control. Your goal is to make choices that support living the life you love.

So, what is one thing you will say no to this week?

Time Well Spent

Every 24 hours, 1,440 credits are deposited in your personal time bank. These are the minutes of your life. How you spend those credits is up to you, but each day the balance reverts to zero. Ask yourself these questions:

How wisely do I invest my daily allotment of credits? 

Do I respect and treasure these irreplaceable moments of my life?

Am I using them as I want, or as other people dictate?

Susan Lasky is a productivity coach, ADD/ADHD/EF strategist and professional organizer. She will be speaking on this topic at the National Association of Professional Organizers conference in Los Angeles in April. Those interested in attending a local workshop on “The Power of Saying No” should contact her at 914.373.4787 or [email protected] For more info, visit


Free Digital Magazine Subscription


Create Your 2022 Wellness Dream Team


Online Resource Directory
2022 Natural Living Directory



Local Author Interviews