how to say no

“It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” – Steve Jobs

Saying “no” isn’t natural. We’re taught from a young age not to say “no” or we’ll get pushed. We’re raised to please people if we want to get love and connection. We even feel anxious at the perceived ramifications if we say “no.”

If I don’t accept every invite, they’ll stop inviting me.

If I don’t say yes to this promotion, it’ll halt my career growth.

We’re primed throughout life to say “yes.”

But the only way to grow and realize your goals is by saying “no.”

Why Say “No”

how to say noPeople say “yes” because it helps build interpersonal relationships. The idea is that the more you help someone, the more they’ll like you. However, you also want to found your relationships on respect. You need to respect yourself and your time in order for you to, in turn, respect others and be happy.

If you’re constantly saying “yes” to others’ requests, you spread yourself thin. There’s no more time to say “yes” to what you really want.

As you start to lose a sense of yourself and your goals, you start to lose relationships in tandem. You aren’t happy because you aren’t focusing enough on yourself; and when you aren’t happy, you can’t make others happy either.

You need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.

Ultimately, saying “yes” can damage your relationships.

The “No” Of Work-Life Balance

Saying “no” is crucial to your productivity, health, and happiness. It helps you to have the courage to prioritize your life in the way you want to.

You might say “no” to temptation so you can maintain your health goals.

You might say “no” to distractions so you can be more productive.

You might say “no” to taking on a friend’s work shift so you can have more time with your family.

work-life-balanceSaying “no” can help keep your life balanced. It allows you to remove the distractions that detract from your ideal work-life balance. Often saying “yes” too much at work can damage your home life and vice versa.

While work-life balance looks different for each person, one aspect remains consistent: we all have 24 hours in a day. Succumbing to consistent distractions and requests will eat away at those hours until you have none left for yourself.

At its foundation, saying “no” is about managing your time and prioritizing your focus.

When you say “no” to something, you’re saying “yes” to something else that matters more to you.

It’s okay to focus on your health, wellness, and productivity. Saying “no” isn’t selfish. You’re honoring others by first honoring yourself.

When you have the power to say “no,” you’ll gain greater control of your life.

When Should You Say “No”

work life balanceDon’t say “no” for the sake of it. Set standards, goals, and priorities. Say “yes” to that focus, and say “no” to whatever activities or distractions take away from those standards.

Consider how you value your time. Sometimes you may not want to do something but agreeing to it would benefit the greater good. For example, saying “yes” to taking on a new project could benefit the team, grow your sales, and make you a stronger leader.

But what if that new project would detract from another key project you’re working on? Saying “no” might be in everyone’s best interests. If you took on the second project, you could be spread too thin—which wouldn’t be beneficial for either project.

Remember that oftentimes saying “no” isn’t an actual use of the word “no.” Rather, it’s a means of prioritizing.

Self-scheduling with Forge is a great way to say “yes” to the life you want. You have the freedom to choose the hours you want to work—while saying “no” to those shifts that don’t fit into your work-life balance.

How To Say “No”

I Don’t

A study by the Journal of Consumer Research looked at the difference between the language “I can’t” versus “I don’t.” The students who said, “I can’t eat chocolate” chose chocolate over granola 61% of the time. Students who said, “I don’t eat chocolate” chose chocolate over granola only 36% of the time.

This was repeated with a group of women who set health and wellness goals. The women who were most likely to follow through with their goals were the ones who told themselves “I don’t” (I don’t miss workouts; I don’t eat junk food).

The word choice that you use frames how you make decisions. “I can’t” is a reminder of your limitations. It’s an externally-imposed restriction that takes away your personal agency. “I don’t” shows that you have control and power over breaking your bad habits. You are empowered to follow through.

how to say no

When you want to say “no,” stick to the phrase: “I don’t.”

I don’t go on Facebook during work.

I don’t snooze my alarm.

I don’t miss my child’s soccer game.

The Stakes

What’s at stake with this decision? What are the opportunities if you say “yes”? What are the opportunities if you say “no”? If you say “yes,” what are you saying “no” to? What is the best use of your time?

Ultimately, how will this choice impact your priorities?

Remember that saying “no” doesn’t have to be selfish. Instead, you’re focusing on your goals in a way that will create greater personal honor and respect—which in turn spread out to those around you.

To-Do List

Build a to-do list. Stick to it. This will keep you organized and help you realize where you are most committed.

We recommend aligning your to-do list with your daily intentions. What are your goals for the day? What do you value? Which distractions would pull you away from those values?

Stay firm with your to-do list. Know your boundaries and your standards. It gets easier to say “no” when you have your priorities and values engrained in your system.

Sandwich Technique

Use the sandwich technique when saying “no.” This will help you maintain your boundaries without damaging your relationship with the other person.

work life balanceFirst, make a positive statement. “I appreciate you considering me as the leader for this new project.”

Second, politely decline with a reason. Discuss how you’re rejection of the offer will benefit everyone. “I’m not sure I have the time or capacity to take on another project when I’m already working on this other strategy. I don’t want to spread myself too thin and not provide the necessary support to the team.” Don’t be overly apologetic here; be sincere and focus on the reasoning.

Third, make another positive statement, like advice or encouragement. This shows that you care even though you’re prioritizing something else. “Thanks again for thinking of me. Maybe you could create a team-based project where each person is the leader of a specific task to help delegate some of the key features of the project.”

Remember: say “no” with grace. Being a “yes” man is just a fear of conflict or rejection. You’re afraid that if you say “no,” you’ll hurt your relationships or miss out on an opportunity. But if you say “no” with positivity and encouragement, you leave the door open for future invitations and requests.


Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” will be uncomfortable at first because you’re going against typical societal norms. But the more you do it, the easier it will become. And people will start to learn that you’ll still say “yes” when it’s important.

The Bottom Line

Helping others starts by helping yourself. Prioritize your work-life balance and set clear standards. Otherwise, you’ll end up overcommitting and overextending yourself past the point of what you can realistically deliver.

Knowing the difference between saying “yes” and saying “no” will ensure you build the life and happiness you want.

Take scheduling for example. Your manager asks you to fill in for someone. If you’re free, pick up the shift! If you already have 10 commitments that day, it’s not a good idea to try to squeeze in those hours. You need to find a balance.

That’s why Forge works so well for people who desire a strong work-life balance. It allows you to choose when, where, and how you work—so saying “yes” is always in your control.

Sign up for a FREE team membership now to start building your own schedule and going after the work-life balance you deserve!