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Can’t Keep Up? How To Get More Done By Saying No

saying noIt starts out with a missed family dinner because you have to complete an important project for one of your customers.

You think, “It’s no big deal –  I will make it up to them when the project is finished.” You make a quick phone call to explain, and get on with your project.

The next week you have to call Danny to explain to him why you can’t play golf on Saturday. He will understand because he’s also a small business owner, he get’s it, the customer has to come first.

Soon this becomes a pattern and you do the same thing week after week. You give up the things that are most important to you for the sake of your business. Soon you don’t have time for your family, friends, and hobbies.

Is this what your life feels like?

There has to be a better way…

Is Your Business Sucking The Life Out Of You?

We all understand that growing a business takes time. In most cases, it takes a lot of time. If you let it, it will take all of your time. It will take time from your family, friends, and – in some cases – destroy your health and your relationships.

We tend to think that if we can’t get it all done, our business will fail. And if we fail this time, we might not get another chance.

This fear of failure leads us to take on more projects than we can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time.

It causes us to sacrifice sleep, exercise, and time with the people that we love. We end up over-committed, overworked, and overwhelmed.

Are You Over-Committed?

As small business owners, we constantly overestimate what we can accomplish in a day. We set big goals for our business and work hard to achieve them. As entrepreneurs, we have a hard time saying no to any interesting and potentially profitable opportunity.

We also live in a culture where it is expected that we will answer nearly every question with a “Yes.” All of the marketing messages that we see are focused on getting us to say “Yes.” We even ask most of our questions in a way that is designed to get us to say yes: “Would you like to have coffee?” “Can you complete this project by Monday?” “Do you have time to meet next week?”

Because of our cultural background it can be very difficult to say anything but yes – often leaving us over-committed, overworked, and overwhelmed as a result.

But, we have to realize that we only have 168 hours in a week. We have to stop lying to ourselves and admit that we can’t do it all. We must become more disciplined and productive.

Learn How To Say No!

At some point, we all need to realize that we can't say yes to every opportunity.Click To Tweet Attempting to do so can put the things that matter most to us at risk. We can’t do it all, and saying yes to one opportunity will often mean that you must say no to something else.

Therefore, we need to choose our opportunities wisely. We need to say yes only to the opportunities that will make the largest positive impact on our business. The way to do this is by learning to say no to the opportunities that we don’t have time for, or those that will not make a significant impact on our business.

We need to evaluate all of our opportunities in terms of the overall return to our business, and focus our time on the opportunities that produce the greatest return.

So, How do You Say No?

The following three responses will help you eliminate some of the opportunities that causing you to be over committed, overworked, and overwhelmed without offending anyone.

  1. “I’m sorry, but this opportunity is not a good fit for my business.” This response is a polite way of communicating that this opportunity just isn’t right for you or your business. It most cases, people will accept this response and move on.
  2. “Let me think about this and I will get back to you.” This response gives you the opportunity to check your calendar, and the option to carefully evaluate the business value of the opportunity.  It allows you to respond after you have carefully considered all of your options, and not in the moment when you might feel pressured to make a decision.
  3. “I can’t do this, but I can …” This is a response that you can use if you are truly interested in the opportunity, and just don’t have the time right now. You should let them know when you can get to this, or what part of the opportunity you can commit to now.

I Said No, Now What?

Saying no will help you restore a sense of balance, and help you add some margin to your busy life.Click To Tweet If you are not familiar with the concept of margin, you can think of is like the white space around the page in a book. The margin, or white space, makes the page easier to read.

When you apply this concept to your life, you will find that creating space in life gives you a change to breath. Creating margin by saying no is a conscious decision that allows us to live below our limits.

How Can I Use The Margin That I Created By Saying “No?”

  • Saying “No” Provides You More Time For What Matters Most – Only you can determine what matters most to you. It might be your family.  It might be your friends. It might even a hobby. Saying no creates the margin that you need to invest time in the things that matter most to you.
  • Saying “No” Allows You To Prioritize Your Work – Saying no to some opportunities, even if they are very good opportunities, creates the margin that you need to focus on your best opportunities.
  • Saying “No” Reduces Your Stress – Saying “yes” often leads to us becoming over-committed, overworked, and overwhelmed.  This can be a major cause of stress.  Saying no allows us to add some margin to our life, reducing the chance that chronic stress will damage our health.
  • Saying No Frees Up Time For Other Opportunities – Have you ever had to say no to a great opportunity because you were already over -committed? Most of us have. Saying “no” creates the margin that we need to take advantage of these opportunities.

Are You Ready for an Easier Way?

Dealing with people can sometimes be difficult, but remember you only have 168 hours in a week, and you control how you will invest them. You have the power to choose the opportunities that provide the most return for the time that you invest in them.

A few years ago, Danny conducted a survey. In this survey he found that 71% of people who were satisfied with their business success said “no” always or often. Of the people who were not satisfied with their success, 69% did not say “no” often or always.

So, learn to say no wisely because it has a direct impact on your success!Click To Tweet

Do you struggle with saying no? Drop me a comment and let me know the one way in which you’re going to start saying no to create the margin you need to focus on the things that matter most to you.

About Steve Spring

Steve Spring is the author of Live Your Life On Purpose, where he helps you restore balance and create some margin in your insanely busy life. A former management consultant, Steve loves coffee, sailing, and being near the ocean. Follow him on Twitter (@SpringSteve) and Facebook.

21 comments

    1. Thanks for your comment. I am glad that you found this post useful. Please check out the comments above for more suggested “no” answers from our readers. I hope that you will find them helpful too.

  1. Hey Steve,

    What a great post and very effective tips in order to help us being more productive and efficient in our businesses.

    Saying no to all opportunities which do not fit with your business plan makes you a real entrepreneur compared to an opportunity seeker.

    When you have a clear plan on where your business is going and what it needs to be successful, it is easier to say “no”. And you won’t feel bad about it at all.

    Thanks for such useful and true information Steve!

  2. Nice one, Steve! As far as messaging goes, I’m a fan of saying “I can’t make that a priority right now” or “I don’t think we’re a good fit.” It communicates to the asker that my “no” isn’t personal – it’s a matter of me staying focused on my mission and not doing anything that detracts from that.

    Incidentally, this is also a good strategy to adopt when it comes to choosing your first ideal customer avatar. You can serve lots of different kinds of people, but your marketing – especially when you’re first starting out – needs to be laser-focused on just one. 🙂 So we sometimes need to say “no” to fast money-making opportunities in order to build a consistent foundation for our business and marketing for the long haul.

    1. Eleanore, thanks for your comment! Also, thanks for your tips on my customer avatar. I am struggling with that situation right now. I selected an avatar, but most of my email subscribers don’t fit that profile. I need to either change my avatar, or refocus my marketing efforts. Thanks for reminding me that I need to do what is best for the long haul.

  3. Great post! Perfect timing! The more one moves forward with a business venture the more practice we get with saying “no”. We do not need to do EVERYTHING, that is what we have each other for!

    1. Thanks Melanie! We can’t focus on everything, so we need to focus on what is best for our business in long-term. You will be much more successful if you focus on what you do best, and let others help with everything else.

  4. I’ve often said “no” to projects that I have a negative reaction to, but need to maintain a relationship with the people asking, by saying “I’m sorry, but I have too much work to be able to take that on at this time.” (I live in a small town, so even if you don’t want to work with somebody, you need to maintain a good relationship.)

    Alternatively, I can say that the project isn’t a good fit, but have they thought of … to do the work.

    I find though that if I say “no” too often, the opportunities stop coming. That is my fear.

    1. Thanks for your comment Beverly! You offer some great suggestions here. It is important to maintain good relationships while saying no to projects that are not a good fit, or that we don’t have the time to do well. It is also a great idea to recommend someone else who can do the work that you are being asked to do. However, sometimes you might need to take on a short-term project in order to preserve a long-term business relationship. Saying yes or no to a project should be a business decision that is based on what is the best long-term decision for your business.

  5. Perfect timing – just this morning I was approached by a lady with a “business opportunity” -against which I had a strong negative feeling. I was able to say “No thank-you, I am not a great team player and I would not be an asset to your business”

    Truth be told I would rather build something I was in control of than do the same for someone else to reap any future benefits.

    I got a lovely email back thanking me for being so forthright – Whew!

    Mind you – my editor has pointed out since that I might not be a great team player but I am a fabulous leader … but I am guessing that was not what she was in the market for 🙂

          1. And to you – if you are American 🙂 Its not a holiday here …. but in 77 days we hope to be following you down the route to Independence too. Saor Alba!!

  6. I wrestle with the cause of my tendency–more like proclivity to overcommit. For me it comes down to time greediness and doing what I feel like rather than what I ought to do in many cases.

    Its twin seems to be as you described–thinking we can accomplish more than we can in a day. That comes from my ambition kicking in to overdrive and often attributable to my love of accomplishment.

    1. Thanks for your comment Deborah! I think that we all have the proclivity to over commit (or at least most of us do). I think that it is important to know what we can accomplish on a daily basis, and to be careful not to become over committed. Maintaining a sense of margin and balance is critical to our long-term success.

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