How to say “No” and increase your productivity

Kid Saying No

Kid Saying NoDo you wish you were less of a push-over? Do you find yourself agreeing to other people’s deadlines and then staying late to do your own stuff?

If so, it sounds like you could do with saying “No” a bit more often. In this post I’ll help you identify when to say “No”, and then give you some tips to help you actually say it.

But firstly – here’s why it’s good to say “No”…

Why it’s good to say “No”

All my career I’ve had feedback that I’m a “Yes man”. At first I thought this was great – I’m obviously helping everyone out and getting noticed for it. Then came the budget, month-end and divisional presentation to be delivered in one week. Guess what I did that week? Spent 12 hours in the office for 3 days straight.

Did I receive amazing feedback from this? Did I nail every piece of work? Did I manage to sleep that week? No, No and No.

I’d created the situation by saying “Yes” to people. It’s good to say “No” because then people are aware of what is possible. It’s also good to say “No” because you give yourself achievable deadlines. And it’s great to say “No” because people respect you more because of it. If you let people believe they can walk all over you then they will walk all over you.

When should you say “No”

This is all very well. Saying “No” to people is not that easy – and you’ve got to be careful to pick the right situations to say “No” in.

Be aware of your objectives and accountabilities – if a task contributes to these then it’s probably OK to say yes.

Be aware of importance of requestor – if the person can directly influence progression or your career then it’s a smart move to say yes.

So if a request does not help you achieve your objectives, and the person requesting is not important, then this is a good time to say “No”.

How to say “No”

First thing is a mindset change – it’s OK to say “No”. You deserve the right to decide how to split your time. So change from a “Yes” mindset to a “No” mindset. Make your default position a “No” position.

OK; mindset altered? Now follow these three steps when you next need to say “No”.

  1. Be honest – let them know why you can’t do it
  2. Be firm – if they appeal to you don’t change your mind
  3. Begone! Don’t get into a discussion, don’t offer any other solutions, and don’t dwell on the decision after they’ve gone

So let’s have a look at an example.
Paul: Oli can you run a report for me for tomorrow please?
Oli (being honest): Sorry Paul, I’ve got loads of other stuff on at the moment; I’m not going to be able to do that mate.
Paul: Oh… You see John’s demanding this right now – he says it’s really urgent – is there anyway you could help me out?
Oli (Being firm): I’d love to mate, but it’s not going to work with my current workload.
Paul: OK mate – thanks anyway…
Oli: Cheers mate.
Hopefully here you can see that it doesn’t take many words – you don’t need to be impolite – and you’re now back to your own priorities within 1 minute!


I hope this has been helpful – as someone who doesn’t like saying “No” this approach has helped me.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, why not have a look at some of my other posts? I’ve written one about procrastination and a few on priorities (five year plan and importance Vs urgency).

Please do share this with your social media buddies – there are some ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons underneath this post. The awesome shot of the kid screaming comes from Flickr user mdanys – check out her page on the previous link.

Author: Oliver Gearing

Oliver Gearing is a beatboxing, acoustic looping, 38 year old father of 3. Sounds like an electrocuted version of Elbow

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