Working on Computer with Coffee and Planner on Desk

How to Say No: A Five-Step Formula

Author Headshot - Reuben Hochstetler
Reuben Hochstetler
July 31, 2020

When our schedule begins to fill up, it can feel awfully overwhelming. At times, we can feel disorganized, as if we’re buried under an ever-growing pile of commitments. But there’s no reason to lose control of your schedule. Every time you receive a new request for your time it gives you another opportunity to re-evaluate to yourself what’s most important. 

Sometimes, it means having the courage to say, “No.” 

It can feel difficult to make a decision when posed with a “yes or no?” question. That’s why you should identify a personal process for determining how to consider these requests. Below is a five-step guide to how you should handle these types of asks — a formula to saying no. 

To walk through this, imagine you’ve been asked a yes or no question by someone looking for your time. It can be any type of request, including: 

  • A  task
  • A request to have dinner or coffee
  • A family get-together
  • An exploratory meeting about a new project
  • A casual meeting with an acquaintance

The request itself isn’t important. What’s important is how you evaluate it — and if you use this process, you can apply it to every single type of “yes or no” decision you’re faced with.

Smiling Woman with Open Planner and Coffee Sitting in Chair

Step 1: Consult your planner

The first thing you should do when asked for a yes or no? Look at your planner. This can be helpful in so many ways. If the requestor wants an appointment, you can see from your planner if you’re available in the time they requested. If you’re not, and a higher priority item is in that time frame, you can easily say no (more on how to prioritize below). 

If it’s not a request for an appointment at a specific time, but something a bit more fluid, you can look at your to-do list and schedule to see where it can fit in.

You’ll want your planner to contain an overview of all the projects and initiatives in your life so you can keep them organized and on track. It’s the first place you’ll want to turn once you’re faced with a decision. 

If you don’t have a planner — you should buy the Ultimate Weekly Planner! It’s difficult to juggle any requests if you don’t have the various components of your life written down somewhere. It makes it easier to manage your time and stress levels

Step 2: Identify what area of life this falls under

Is this a professional opportunity? A personal one? Are you catching up with a friend or meeting with your boss? Is it for entertainment or business purposes?

Before you make your decision, figure out how to categorize it. That will impact your decision later based on what’s most important in your life at the moment. 

Step 3: Determine where it falls in your priorities

As referenced above, your planner should contain a reference to your current list of priorities. This may not come in the form of an item-by-item to-do list (though you should have one of these somewhere), but more in the form of an overarching priority list you can review on a regular basis. This will help keep you focused on your goals, whether they’re personal or professional.

When you receive a request for a yes or no, determine where it falls on your list of priorities. Is the opportunity you’re being presented with a rare one? How does it align with your current goals and values? 

You’ll evaluate personal opportunities differently than professional ones. For example, if it’s a meeting with a friend you see often, that wouldn’t be as urgent as an interview for a job you’ve always wanted. Conversely, a friend you haven’t seen in 20 years may take precedence over an easily rescheduled lunch with a coworker you meet with every week. 

Step 4: How will it enrich your life? 

Once you’ve properly determined how to prioritize the request, ask yourself: “How will this enrich my life?” Is it a potential freelancing opportunity? Are you getting a chance to connect (or re-connect) with a friend or loved one? How does it “fit” with your current direction? How will it affect you and your family? 

The great thing about asking yourself how each decision will enrich your life? It allows you to consistently evaluate your priorities.

Let’s say you pass up a chance to spend time with your family because of another commitment that leaves you feeling conflicted. This will allow you to do a bit of soul-searching on whether you’re focusing your energy in the right place. 

Step 5: Determine whether you’re doing it for you or someone else

The last question you should ask yourself is, “Who am I doing this for?” It’s not a bad thing if you’re doing it for someone else. For example, you may get asked to help out with a charity or church event which is a great way to spend your time. 

The problem arises when you’re spending too much of your time on commitments that don’t align with your goals and vision for the future.

Not all of you time and energy will be spent on your life goals and vision. Try to balance where you dedicate time.

How to improve on the “Five-Step No Formula”

The formula referenced above may vary for some, but generally, these are all questions you should consider for each decision you have to make. It can seem difficult to say no. But it’s important to learn how to do this. There are two key ways to improve when using the “Five-Step No Formula:”

  • Document your decision-making and your overall schedule and activities. This is where a planner is critical — it becomes difficult to evaluate your decisions when you don’t have a record of other activities you need to consider. 
  • Practice. Repeating this process consistently will help you get better at making decisions and at saying no when it’s the right answer. 

The first step is to use your weekly planner to lay out your schedule and use it to help decide if you should agree to take on this new request.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram