Say No to People Making Demands on Your Time

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Are you over-scheduled and over-stressed? With today’s busy schedules, you’re not alone. One important way to pare down your schedule is to get good at saying no to new commitments. So why can the simple act of not taking on more than you can handle be so hard?

Maybe you've had people be upset with you when you've said no. Maybe you feel guilty because you really want to help others. Maybe you feel guilty because you really want to help others, but you say yes so much to them that you're on the verge of burnout—and this will make you less healthy and less helpful.

Whether you say "yes" instead of no out of guilt, inner conflict, or a misguided notion that you can "do it all," learning to say no to more requests can be one of the biggest favors you can do yourself and those you love. There's absolutely nothing wrong with saying no when you need to (and simply not having the energy to do everything you're asked, or wanting to prioritize self-care counts as an instance when you need to say no), it helps reduce stress levels and gives you time for what’s really important. Here's how to say no with less stress and guilt—it really can be this simple.

Just Say “I’m Sorry—I Can't Do This Right Now"

That's right, sometimes it helps to stall until you have a chance to fully look at how saying "yes" to this new commitment may affect your life and the lives of those who already depend on you. Use a sympathetic, but firm tone. If pressured as to why, reply that it doesn’t fit into your schedule, and change the subject. Most reasonable people will accept this as an answer, so if someone keeps pressuring you, they’re being rude.

It’s OK to just repeat, “I’m sorry, but this just doesn’t fit with my schedule," and change the subject, or even walk away if you have to.

Give Yourself Time

If you’re uncomfortable being so firm or are dealing with pushy people, it’s OK to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” This gives you a chance to review your schedule, as well as your feelings about saying "yes" to another commitment, do a cost-benefit analysis, and then get back to them with a yes or no. Most importantly, this tactic helps you avoid letting yourself be pressured into overscheduling your life and taking on too much stress.

Say Yes to Something Else

If you would really like to do what they’re requesting, but don’t have the time (or are having trouble accepting that you don’t), it’s fine to say, “I can’t do this, but I can…” and mention a lesser commitment that you can make. This way you’ll still be partially involved, but it will be on your own terms.

When Saying "No"

Be firm—not defensive or overly apologetic—and polite. This gives the signal that you are sympathetic, but will not easily change your mind if pressured.

Be clear. If you decide to tell the person you’ll get back to them, be matter-of-fact and not too promising. If you lead people to believe you’ll likely say "yes" later, they’ll be more disappointed with a later "no."

No excuses necessary. If asked for an explanation, remember that you really don’t owe anyone one. “It doesn’t fit with my schedule,” is perfectly acceptable.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that there are only so many hours in the day. This means that whatever you choose to take on limits your ability to do other things. So even if you somehow can fit a new commitment into your schedule, if it’s not more important than what you would have to give up to do it (including time for relaxation and self-care), you really don’t have the time in your schedule.

Discover and research strategies for finding time if you're too busy. It's also important to learn to set boundaries in general.

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