Saying “No”: Prioritizing and Finding Balance

Sometimes the word “No” is one of the most difficult words to say. We like being involved in things, helping people out, and we hate to disappoint other people. But if we can’t say no, we often over commit ourselves and end up doing a poor job with these commitments. There are only so many hours in the day, and we can only give so much of ourselves before feeling burned-out.


Don’t get me wrong. “Yes” is an important word. It’s good to say yes to doing the things we love and helping others. We need to make sure we get our priorities straight and actually have time for all these yeses.

What I find helpful when figuring out my priorities is making a list.



I write down all current commitments and things I want to do or think I should do. I think about how much extra time I currently have before taking on a new project/adventure/responsibility. If this new endeavor is something I really want or feel called to do, I have to cut something else out that is currently on the list taking up that spot of time.

For example, over this last month, things got kind of busy with celebrations and family/friend commitments. Summertime is always like this. I already found myself spread too thin this last week. I reconfigured my priority list so that I could balance what I want and need to do. I’m putting off some projects and said no to extra trips because these things can wait. Now I can spend more quality time with family and friends doing fun things this summer instead of driving myself crazy trying to do it all.

Polite ways to say no.

Here are a few examples:

“I’m busy this morning, but can we meet for coffee on Saturday?”

“My plate’s pretty full right now. Can I get back to you next Thursday, when I have a better handle on my schedule, to set up a time for a camping trip?”

Only suggest doing something another time if you truly mean it. Don’t lead people to believe you are interested in what they are asking you to do if you really have no intention of ever doing it.

“Thanks for thinking of me. Fishing’s not really my thing. I appreciate the offer, and I hope you have a fun time!”

“Thank you for inviting me to your birthday party. Unfortunately, I’m busy that day. I hope you have a great time!” (Then maybe send a card or gift if you feel it’s appropriate.)

“I’m not volunteering for the church donut fundraiser this year. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I bet there’s another parishioner who can step up this time.”

If a boss or coworker asks you to do something extra you don’t have time for, briefly tell him/her why you can’t. I say “briefly” because people don’t need a long explanation of why you can’t or don’t want to do something. Then work out an alternative plan such as asking someone else to do the task or fitting it into your schedule for the following week/month/year.

Feelings of guilt

There are often feelings of guilt associated with saying no. I hate letting other people down. I also don’t want to shut the door on a good offer or friendship. But then I have to remember that I am only human. I can’t please everyone. My time is limited, and I can only do my best.

I often have to remind myself that, yes, my best is good enough. And yours is, too!

So, if you’re stressed out and overwhelmed with what is going on in your life, or if you’re thinking about taking on a new commitment, make a priority list and make sure everything fits. Learn to say no, politely. It gets easier with practice, and you’ll become more confident with it the more you do it.


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