How to Be Successful (Part 3): Why It's Ok to Say No and Respect Your Own Time

how to be successful author samantha eklund

Saying no to the seemingly endless requests for your time is a popular idea right now on how to be successful.

It’s also a tip that strikes a lot of people the wrong way.

Here’s the premise: stop saying yes to everything that everyone asks you to do. Sounds cool at first blush, right? Until you get into the details; that’s when people start preening and cringing. Do you really need to be at every bake sale at your kids’ school? Do you really have to volunteer on this committee and that committee? Do you truly have to help that family member with that huge favor they asked of you?

The answer is no.

No, you don’t have to do everything you’re asked to do.

Look, if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re a dreamer. You’re someone who wants to go places. You’re smart. You’re resourceful. You’re a hard worker, and you produce results. People like that about you. Nay, they LOVE that about you! That’s why they ask for your help with these items. If they didn’t think you’d do a good job, they wouldn’t ask. So it’s actually quite flattering that you get asked to help with so many things. Kuddos!

However, that doesn’t mean you have to say yes to all of them. Remember, in our previous two episodes in this miniseries, we talked about knowing your strengths (i.e. the things people are probably asking you to volunteer for) and making time to take care of yourself. This piece of advice takes those one step further. If you’ve done all this work to figure out who you are and clear out your schedule so that you can relax, don’t fill it back up with stuff. If you want to be successful, you MUST protect the sliver of time that you’ve set aside for yourself.

You know how airlines tell us, “in case of emergency, put on your oxygen mask first”? It holds true here. If a plane loses cabin pressure and oxygen and you’re frantically trying to help someone put on their mask before you’ve put on yours, you’re going to pass out before you’re able to help either of you. Put your mask on, stabilize yourself, and then help the next person—yes, even if it’s your family. You’re not truly helping anyone if you’re giving them a frantic, oxygen-deprived version of yourself. It can feel selfish at first, but it’s totally worth it in the long run.

“All right,” you might be saying. “I’m on board. But how the heck do I say no, especially to my family?”

Kindly, and with compassion.

Some people advocate saying no and leaving it at that, which can be as simple as saying, “I can’t, but thank you so much for thinking of me!” This part can also be hard for many of us, because we might think it seems rude. When you look at it closer though, it’s not. If you offer up a long explanation about why you can’t, it starts to sounds like you’re making an excuse. It can also easily lead you down a longer conversation where you end up floundering to defend your choice and eventually caving and saying yes to the original request.

Whatever you do, don’t sound defensive and don’t give into guilt. A simple answer is best, but if it’s someone you’re close to, adding an extra few words or sentences to give a brief explanation can be beneficial. Again, your goal is simply to respect your own time and help others do the same, not to damage relationships.

Note: Obviously this isn’t about saying no to anything and everything that someone might ask for your help with.

I absolutely believe in community service, offering volunteer time, and being there for family when they need us. However, this is about requests that really aren’t critical to humanity but will add more stress to your already busy days and drain your mental energy.

In summary:

It is 100% not rude to respect your time and to ask others do the same. If someone asks for your help with something, recognize and appreciate the fact that they believe in you. Sincerely thank them for thinking of you, and if your schedule is already full and this task would add even more stress to your life, don’t feel bad for declining their offer. Do it with sincere compassion and respect, and keep your explanation concise and brief.

Action item:

Think of past situations where someone asked for your help with something you really didn’t have the time or mental capacity for but you said yes to it anyway. Did it honestly turn out well, or was it subpar experience for everyone involved? How might you have been able to decline the offer in a kind and concise way? Think through a few more examples, as the practice will help you navigate future situations.

Join the convo! ;-)

Remember to post a comment below to join the conversation, especially if you had any insightful moments or if you have any questions!