How to Say No: 6 Ways to Protect Your Time and Stop Being So Darn Busy

Mar 30, 2015 - Joe Matar
Why are we so busy all the time? I’m convinced it’s because we want to be — and want to complain about it, too. The more busy you are, the more important you feel. But by worshipping busy-ness, you’re avoiding the things that actually need to get done. You fill the day with the distraction of being overcommitted. When you idolize being busy, you use quantity instead of quality to measure your self-worth. When you get sucked into the habit of being busy -- and can’t figure out how to say no -- you’re really saying that being busy makes you feel one of these three ways:
  1. Important. Your mini-ego trip is wrapped up in your busyness. You want people to know that you have lots of important things to do.
  2. Included. You have a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out), so you schedule everything so you don’t miss a moment of anything.
  3. Productive. The more things you add into your schedule, the more productive you are, right? Wrong.
Being busy does not mean you are necessarily being productive. It may mean that you just don’t know how to say “no.” But let’s face it, saying “no” is hard. You maybe feel like you’re being pulled in 10 different directions at all times and you just can’t muster up the courage to turn anyone down. But it’s time to ask: Does this event/activity/project add value to your life? Do you even want to do it? Or are you just saying “yes” because you feel obligated or trapped? In the past, I’ve felt overwhelmed by my busy schedule. I felt like every invitation was an obligation. If I said “no,” they’d be devastated, I’d be a horrible friend or employee, and their entire life would be ruined. Have you ever said “yes” to something just because you felt this way too? It's pretty narcissistic of us all to think that people and events will be ruined if we aren’t in attendance. The truth: you control your time, and only you can purposefully decide what needs to be in your schedule, and what you should pass on. But learning to say “no” can be pretty difficult until we learn to respect our own boundaries.

Six easy ways to say “no”:

  1. Blame it on the budget: “Unfortunately, that doesn’t fit into my budget this month, but I appreciate the invitation!”
  2. Blame it on your schedule: “That sounds like something I would love, but I’m already so overcommitted. Thank you for thinking of me though!”
  3. Blame it on priorities: “That seems like a very interesting project, but I really don’t have the bandwidth to take anything else on this quarter. I like to make sure I can give my best to everything. Keep me updated on your progress!”
  4. Blame it on family: “Oh, we’d really enjoy that event, but that’s our family night, and we never skip that!”
  5. Blame it on exhaustion: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am going to keep that night open. I am usually exhausted on (night of the week) and need to just relax and recharge.”
  6. Just say no. You don’t need to give an explanation of why something doesn’t serve you well.
Your time is finite. Every time you say “yes” to something, you’re saying “no” to something else. You can’t do it all if you want to do anything well. The truth is, there is no such thing as time management. But self management and activity management put you in control of what you do and when you do it.

How can you avoid the busy trap?

Track your time: Do an audit of where you’re actually spending your time, you might be surprised at where your time is even going throughout the day. You can use tools like Harvest to track your time spent in activities or iDoneThis to help you understand what you actually accomplished each day! Find joy in the present: When you’re constantly in the FOMO mode, you’re never really present in any moment. Instead of scheduling more, be in each moment more fully. This creates joy, not busy-ness. Learn to play: Many people are unaware of this, but busy-ness is one way that fear manifests itself. You’re afraid to slow down, afraid that if you rest we’ll be seen as lazy — and if you’re lazy you aren’t achieving. It’s time to let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth and allow yourself to explore what really matters. (Click here to tweet this quote.) Learning to play again will re-energize you to do more quality work. Not even sure anymore what it’s like to play? For example, I took up coloring again. It revives my soul and has nothing to do with achieving or being busy to look important. It’s just pure play. Create priorities: Odds are, if you’re running around doing 10 million things, you haven’t clearly defined your priorities. Priorities change over time so it’s important to check in every 90 days or so to make sure your activities reflect your priorities. If you’re doing tons things that aren’t in line with your defined priorities, it’s time to make a change! It’s time to be intentional and make sure you’re using our time with the right people in the right ways. Get your life back: be empowered to say “no” when you need to say “yes” to something else! Adrienne Dorison is a Dream Catalyst & Strategist who helps unfulfilled women ditch their day jobs and create soul-based businesses.