How to Say No Effectively

A colleague of mine came up to me at the conclusion of a seminar I gave recently. 

She asked me about time. Time management. How to do it. How to save time. All of that.

Have you ever met someone that is really busy and productive and is just trucking along all the time? And you sit there and wonder how do they do it?

The secret, and this is what I told my colleague, is in saying no.

May your 'No' actually be a 'Yes'

May your 'No' actually be a 'Yes'

But what does that even mean, amirite?

I realized I should have elaborated more. So, I'm doing that in this post.



You can't start accepting or rejecting opportunities until you understand why you are doing either in the first place. The very first thing you need to do is to understand what you are saying yes to.

I mean this: what are your goals right now? What are your personal goals? What are your professional goals? If an opportunity comes along that supports those goals, you say yes. If an opportunity comes along that does not support or only kind of supports those goals, then you say no

If you come from a tradition of yoga, then this would be a good time to figure out your dharma which is a fancy word for 'purpose'. If you don't come from a tradition of yoga, I'll briefly explain through an example: if you are a family doctor, your purpose is probably not just 'to be a family doctor.' Your purpose might be 'to improve the lives of others through individual care.' Your purpose is keeping people healthy so they can walk out of your office better prepared to live their own lives. That is purpose. It's the broader, yet somehow also specific, meaning. Now, this family doctor could also be a social worker and serve the same purpose, or be any number of other professions, right? 

Know what you are setting out to do, even if only vaguely, and structure everything around that. Does this opportunity you are being offered support your overall purpose? Yes? Then do it. No? Then say no. That opportunity may better serve someone else anyway. In fact, maybe you can suggest someone else that might be better suited.


Inside every NO is a YES

Inside every NO is a YES

If you know your purpose or overall goal, then every time you sayyesornoto something, you are saying yes or noto your goals.

If your goal is to write more this year and get something published, then say yes to opportunities that support that. It's that simple. If you don't see a connection clearly, chances are no is the way to go.

Say yes to your goals by saying no


If someone brings an opportunity to you, wow. Be grateful for that. Someone thought of you and your skills and they need you. That's big stuff right there. 

When you say no, something like this might work:

Wow, thank you for even asking me. I am actually interested, but I can't help. I'm focusing heavily on writing for publication right now and am putting all my time and effort into that. I actually have a student that might be a perfect fit for this though and I think you should ask her. Can I give you her contact information? Do you have a piece of paper handy?

Here's the breakdown of a good no:

  • Be grateful. You are lucky as hell to get an opportunity.
  • Say no. Clearly.
  • Give a reason for the no. Giving a reason means the person won't think you just don't like them.
  • Suggest a better fit. If you can suggest someone else, give that contact information over right then and there. Do not say you'll email it later. Do not ask for them to email you to remind you to get them contact information. This is about saying no cleanly. When you drag it out, you are leaving a loose thread hanging. A loose thread that is attached to time, for you and for them, that will disappear amidst emails and calls trying to trade something menial like a third party's contact information.
  • Be clean with the no. (See above) Don't leave loose ends.


Saying no is totally pointless if you don't have an actual structure in place to work towards your goals with all that time you're gaining. I use a Year-Month-Week approach to planning. Here's an example for how someone might do this. Our example is someone who wants to focus on writing and getting published. 

Over the course of the next year, I want to have 6 articles submitted to publications (and hopefully some published!). I want to send a mailer out to colleagues showing my skills and what I've accomplished and ask for their help and referrals. I want to have an active blog.

In January, February, March, May, July and September I will submit an article to a publication. In August, I will prepare a draft of the mailer I want to send out to colleagues. I will also begin collecting mailing addresses. In October, I will hire a designer to design the mailer and I will wrap up collecting mailing addresses. In November, I will get it printed. In December, I will send it out and follow up. I will write 2 blog posts per month, even if they are only one paragraph each. 

Every Sunday, I will plan out my writing time for the next week and quickly check in with my overall goals. I will write on Sundays and Wednesdays, even if only a journal entry.


  1. You are making positive progress towards your goals. If you have not made progress, something is off. Either your planning system needs to be tweaked or perhaps that thing you're working towards might not actually be your ideal fit.
  2. You are happier. If you compare your pre-no days to your post-no days, and things are better and you are happier—it's working. Keep at it.

Saying no is healthy and no reason to feel guilty. One of the greatest lessons I've learned in my life comes from yoga philosophy. You can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself.  Just like, you can't teach people material unless you understand the material yourself. So take the time you need to care for yourself, your purpose and your goals. 

Let your NO's stand on the shoulders of YESSES!

Let your NO's stand on the shoulders of YESSES!

It's OK to 'do you' first. Just be mindful of your overall goals in life (personally and professionally) and be sure you are serving broader interests beyond just yourself and you'll be fine.

If you have any tips, I want to hear them. Especially if you've ever tried something and it failed, please share that too!