Is Your Inability To Say No Holding You Hostage To Your Calendar?

“Only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter” — Greg McKeown

For many of us, turning down a request or invitation can be extremely difficult. One small word can trigger emotions in us like guilt and shame. Ultimately, we are scared that someone won’t like us or reject us because we said no.

The reality is you need to maintain healthy boundaries. You cannot possibly say “yes” to every request and invitation that comes your way, and if you try to do that, you’ll only burn yourself out. If you haven’t already…

Time management is boundary management. The way to stay focused on your goals and what matters most is developing the art of saying no. Ditch your default of people pleasing and be the master of your calendar.

Inevitably, there are going to be those times when there is an urgent request, or a crisis and you will need to drop everything to make it happen. But let those instances be the exceptions and not the norm.

Consider why you are really giving away your yes so easily:

· Are you comfortable saying no when appropriate?

· Do you avoid conflict to the extent that you fill your work and life with other people’s urgencies that keep you from things that are more important?

If this is you, here are some tools to navigate the art of saying no:

Manage expectations

“Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” — Bob Carter

When someone asks you to do something, do you hear yourself saying ‘No problem, I’ll get it done by tomorrow’. Even though you know you have very little capacity in your calendar as it is.

It’s human nature to want to please others and there is a fear of damaging your reputation if you say no. If someone asks you to assist with a document or task, instead of your default reaction committing to it the next day or even the same day — rather ask:

‘What is the latest deadline you need this? My calendar is swamped until Tuesday, would Wednesday morning work for you?’.

You will find that they will probably agree to it unless there is a genuinely urgent need for it sooner. But again, let that be the exception and not the norm.

You don’t want to compromise quality for quantity in your eager need to please others. You are remembered for your latest contribution, not something you did well a few weeks ago.

What if it’s my boss?

“One key to successful relationships is learning to say no without guilt, so that you can say yes without resentment.” Bill Crawford

It’s all well to say no to your colleagues but what happens when it is your boss or someone more senior than you who makes the request?

You can respond by saying ‘here are the key priorities I am working on right now. If I take this on, then something needs to give. Where would you prefer I focus — what is most important for you?’.

In this way, there is zero guilt. You have expressed your situation clearly and now the ball is in their court on how you should proceed. You are being responsible in terms of ensuring top quality and delivery.

After all, it is your reputation on the line if you don’t deliver to a high standard.

The yes sandwich

“Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” Josh Billings

Often, it is not the fact that you said no but perhaps the way you said it.

My co-author Nadia Bilchik and I published ‘Own Your Space: The Toolkit for the Working Woman’ in 2016 where we spoke about the ‘Yes Sandwich’. This is an approach that allows you to turn down a request in a way that softens the blow and helps the other person not to take your ‘no’ so personally.

It has 3 layers:

Layer 1: Begin by positively acknowledging the other person’s intent.

Layer 2: This is where you graciously say no.

Layer 3: Offer an alternative (this is optional)

Let’s say you are invited to attend a webinar, online networking event or social chat after hours, you could say:

  1. ‘Thank you so much for the invitation and for thinking of me.’
  2. ‘Unfortunately, this is my family time, or I have made another commitment already’.
  3. ‘Please think of me for the next one as I would love to support you.’

In this way, the person doesn’t feel hurt or offended and you have left space for them to approach you again without feeling put out or personally attacked.

Protect your downtime

“The oldest, shortest words — ‘yes’ and ‘no’ — are those which require the most thought.” Pythagoras

Saying no is not just about protecting your weekday calendar but setting boundaries on your recovery time too. When you are faced with a request like attending a family lunch or an online game of trivia, ask yourself these questions before you respond:

· Am I saying no out of fear or guilt? If so, it is probably a no.

· Does this energize me or drain me?

· What am I giving up by saying yes?

· Does this excite me?

The ultimate question to ask yourself comes from author, Derek Sivers:

“Is this a “HELL YEAH!” or a no?

When you are deciding what to do, anything that doesn’t completely excite you should automatically default to a no. Derek says,

“When you say no to most things, you leave room in your life to really throw yourself completely into that rare thing that makes you say, “HELL YEAH!” We’re all busy. We’ve all taken on too much. Saying yes to less is the way out”.

Don’t fall into the trap of giving away a yes because your calendar is empty at the time of the request, even 6 months from now.

How many times have you agreed to attend an event because you figured you have nothing on so you may as well? But fast forward to the date in question and you are cursing yourself you agreed to it.

Create a mental buffer

“Sometimes no is the kindest word.” Vironika Tugaleva

If saying yes to requests rolls off your tongue a bit too easily in the moment, then have this default ready:

‘Let me check my calendar and I’ll get back to you’.

It gives you some breathing room to pause and check your priorities and capacity. Once you have decided what will work for you, then get back to them with the time frames that ensure your work and mental wellbeing won’t get compromised.


“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically — to say no to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” Stephen Covey

The reality is that saying No is always going to feel like a challenge unless you have a yes big enough to keep you focused.

Remember, when you say yes to someone else, you are inadvertently saying no to what matters most to you. Ask yourself:

· What do I really value?

· What matters to me?

· What am I committed to?

The results you have in your life now and what you are committed to. If you are in shape, you are committed to your health.

You need to know what matters to you because when those decision moments come on whether to say yes or no, you can choose the value that you already know matters most.

When you start second guessing yourself and feel the need to justify your response, remember Ann Lamott’s wise words:

“No is a complete sentence”.

Here’s to owning your no,

Warm wishes


Call to Action

Ready to own your days and not feel like they are owning you?

I’ve created an ultimate guide to Show Up To Yourself: In Life & Business. If you follow this daily, you can build new habits — and actually sustain them; schedule yourself into your calendar, guilt free; and manage your inner critic, free of anxiety and fear.

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Lori Milner

Lori Milner

Author. TEDx Speaker. Trainer. Coach. Mother of two. Passionate about personal growth and creating work/life harmony.