As Steve Jobs once said, ‘it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.’

Not knowing how to say ‘no’ can be one of the biggest obstacles in terms of personal productivity.

I would argue that this happens to all of us, to a greater or lesser extent.

Most of us choose, at times, to put the needs and wants of other people above our own. This is usually done for the right reasons-to help someone else, to enrich the lives of others and to get a ‘kick’ out of seeing something we have done make other people happy.

There is nothing wrong with this scenario. In fact there is a lot right with it. We should be thinking of others, focussing on being kind and fostering a sense of ‘community spirit’ and family but when we reach a point where we are subconsciously leaving ourselves too tired or too short on time to take care of our own wellbeing then we have to re consider how often we say ‘yes’.

Similarly, if we agree to going somewhere or doing something but find that we are left feeling anxious or scared at the prospect of following through we need to re consider what we take on in the first place.

All of us are capable of agreeing to something then realising we are unable to follow through for a variety of reasons.

This ‘over commitment’; is not good for our wellbeing. It leaves us stressed, tired, anxious and un-fulfilled. Our self esteem suffers as a result.

Some of us are naturally ‘people pleasers’. This group of people are more at risk of running into problems with saying ‘no’ than others.

A people pleaser may be one of the nicest and most helpful people you know. They are often seen as the person who ‘never says no’, who you can count on for a favour. They get their own work done, help others with their work, make all the plans and are always there for family and friends.

Sounds like a great way to be in principle but these people are often so busy that they don’t find time for themselves. They don’t make time to shop or prepare food so eat or snack on the go. They don’t make time to exercise, meet friends or just have some quiet time to relax. Instead they absorb the stress of others.

Others have experienced really negative feedback when they have said no in the past and are now anxious of the same thing happening again. Perhaps they have a fear of rejection or want to be liked and fear being left out if they decline an invitation when they are already committed elsewhere.

Sometimes, we simply respect the person who is asking us for help and feel that they just don’t deserve a ‘no’ for an answer. This is a tricky one, but there are ways of conveying your respect while not always saying ‘yes’.

Fear of confrontation is another factor. Most people actively try to avoid confrontation and many worry that saying ‘no’ will have a negative impact on relationships both in their personal lives and at work. Sometimes offering up an alternative of what you could do instead may help here, if that’s a route you would be more comfortable to take.

We often feel guilty after saying ‘no.’ We see it as a failure on our part to not be able to take on every task. We need to turn this around and look at saying no as a way of demonstrating that we are aware of our own needs and are capable of knowing our limits. Otherwise we are doing a disservice to both ourselves and the person we are trying to help in the first place.

Missed opportunity. We fear that if we say no this time, we won’t be asked next time. What is we miss out on a great opportunity next time because we have said ‘no’ and the next person asked has said ‘yes?’.

Whatever the reason behind saying ‘yes’ too often, we need to consider setting some boundaries on our time so we don’t risk ending up in a situation where we have too many things to do, most of which have no real value for us.

Importantly, we may miss an opportunity to do something meaningful to ourselves because we have committed to many other things that may have no positive impact on our lives.

In my experience, when I say ‘yes’ to others, too often the people who end up hearing ‘no’ from me are my family. My husband and kids then get very little of my time and I’m left feeling sad, left out and guilty.

My friends are often the next on the list to suffer when, in reality these are the people I want to be spending time with, rather than juggling a hundred other tasks.

The next thing that falls by the way side is my time at the gym. I end up feeling overworked, tired, sore and grumpy and, ironically and far less productive and achieve far less than I would have done had I not over committed.

Saying ‘no’ does not mean we do not want to be involved or to help, it simply means we are aware of our own limits.

At the end of the day, the reason we say ‘yes’ so often is that we want to be able to help people out, to care for others and to contribute to society. To be able to do this, we must first take care of ourselves.

Even if you are a parent or carer and have someone, or many people, completely dependent on you, you, you CANNOT look after them to the best of your ability if you are not prioritising your own health and wellbeing.

If you are saying ‘yes’ to lots of tasks at work or to looking after elderly parents/kids/pets or other similar things but at the expense of having to say ‘no’ to meeting friends, going for a walk or having any time to yourself then, again reconsider if you should perhaps be politely declining.

If you are sure you have time in your week to be active, to do something to reduce stress, to do something enjoyable for you and to see friends and family and can still find room to do something else for someone, then by all means say ‘yes.’ If not, think carefully and find a nice way of declining for now.

Value your time. If you choose to commit your time to things you value and care about it will become apparent to others who will in turn respect you for saying ‘no’ when you need to.

If a relationship does deteriorate simply because you politely declined an invitation then it may be worth asking how sincere that relationship was in the first place. Your friends and family should understand when you are at your limits in terms of how much you can take on and respect the fact that you feel comfortable enough to tell them that.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t sure if you want to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ then just delay the decision and give yourself time to think it through rather than committing straight away.

If you decide to say no, do it politely but firmly. Don’t feel the need to make up excuses-you are the owner of your time.

Some ways to try to say ‘no’ nicely

The best way to learn to say ‘no’ is to practice!

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