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How to start saying "no" to best manage your time

Aristotle's successor, Theophrastus, said "time is the most valuable thing a man can spend." While most of us can full-heartedly agree, we don't always act like it. Whether it’s a best friend’s birthday party, the company’s annual holiday bash, a neighbor’s retirement shindig or a Zoom wedding shower, one thing is certain: people are requesting more time than we can possibly give. And while it’s wonderful to be included (who doesn’t love free food, booze and gossip?), determining which invitations to accept and decline can cause undue stress and anxiety.

As you stare down mounting responsibilities and demands on your time, one word will become your best friend. Start practicing now.

“Janice, can you make it to Ellie’s drive-by birthday party* this Saturday at eleven? We’re giving her a new bicycle and Tania’s baking a chocolate Elsa cake!”

Hmmm, let’s see. Saturday you have to get your dad up, bathed, dressed and fed in time for his nine a.m. in-home nurse’s visit. Your nineteen-year-old’s car is in the shop and he needs to use yours to get to work by noon. You wanted to try that new on-demand Pilates class but that’s probably shot to hell anyway given your dad’s increasing needs. If you left the house right after the nurse’s appointment your daughter could keep an eye on your dad and you could be back just in time for her to drive to work…

NO. Say it with me now. NO. Shout it if you have to! No-no-no-no-NO!

Feeling a little like Destiny’s Child here? Great! As long as you aren’t feeling stressed. We’ve got a job to do here, pushing out behavior change. Contrary to what society teaches us, you don’t have to be there for everyone at every time simply because they ask. Time is a finite resource and should be managed wisely.

Shouting “no” at somebody may have unintended consequences. So let’s look at how to constructively turn down a request, whether in your work or personal life.

Apply a Filter

Consider yourself, your goals, and your family every time a new opportunity presents itself. Before saying yes, ask yourself: Will this opportunity take me a step closer to achieving my goals in my family, work or dreams? If the answer is no, say no to that opportunity.

How to Say No

A few tips to get you started:

A display of gratitude for the request coupled with a legitimate excuse can go a long way in your rejection statement. “I really appreciate you thinking of me, but I've just got too much on my plate right now” or “Thank you so much for the invitation. I would love to do it/serve/get involved, but I just can't right now. I hope you will think of me again” or, simply, “I'm just not able to do this right now, but thanks so much.”

You may also choose to say yes to something else, in which you say “I can’t do this, but I can…” and mention a lesser commitment that you can make.

In the end, the key is to find what works for you. Be firm. Be clear. And remember there are no excuses necessary. “It doesn’t fit with my schedule” if perfectly acceptable. Now get out there and take control of your life!

(*Some posts were written during the COVID-19 epidemic in which gatherings are a little….different. A ‘drive-by’ party entails a parade of friends and family honking, waving and dropping off gifts for a birthday party, shower, retirement, or other purpose, sometimes with balloons, ribbons or other paraphernalia hanging from the car. This circus is meant to replace in-person gatherings at which the virus can be spread more easily.)

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