If you’re feeling stressed because you have too much to do, chances are good you’re trying to stretch yourself too thin. Would it help you to know you’re in good company? As a professional organizer, I see it time and time again with clients and friends alike. It is called over-commitment—attempting to cram more onto your to-do list than one human could possibly get done. To simplify your life and regain control of your schedule, a realistic time management plan is a must. But there’s just one problem: gaining control of your time means you have to say no. For many of us, saying no is about as much fun as a root canal! It’s unnatural and painful. But, just like our friend the root canal, sometimes it is absolutely necessary.

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

If saying no makes you feel guilty, then you’re less likely to do it. But since saying no is a must, it’s time to arm yourself with some strategies. Here are 7 techniques to help you say no without feeling guilty.

1. Recognize that your time and priorities are valuable.

Being clear about what is truly important to you is the first step to saying no without feeling guilty. When you know what you want out of life, you’ll be more deliberate about how you spend your time. It will be easier to see when obligations, tasks and responsibilities fit into your ideal life plan, and when they don’t. This knowledge empowers you to say yes first to the people and things in line with your values, and no guilt-free to the things that are not.

2. Say no for now.

An easy way to say no without feeling guilty is to say “no for now.” Here’s when to use this approach. If an opportunity comes along that you truly want to be involved in but your plate is already full, try an approach like this: “I would be happy to help with this in a month, after I have wrapped up some of my other projects.” This answer demonstrates that you truly are interested in the new opportunity, but are simply a good time manager. As an added bonus, you don’t actually have to say the word “no.” So this approach is completely guilt-free.

3. Sleep on it.

Sometimes our impulse is to say yes to something right away, simply so we can avoid the guilty feelings that come with say no. Make it a habit to delay your yeses or in other words, sleep on it. Step away from the situation, consult your calendar, and discuss the opportunity with family members or a friend. This approach will allow you to make a rational decision, instead of an emotional one. Whether your ultimate answer is yes or no, you can give your decision without feeling guilty because your decision is thought out and intentional.

4. Say yes to something smaller.

A terrific way to say no without feeling guilty is to say yes to a smaller piece of the original opportunity. For example, when you aren’t able to take the lead in organizing your child’s classroom party, brainstorm other ways to contribute. Could you help prepare something beforehand? Is there another person you can recommend to champion the project, and then support them in the effort? By doing this, you can say no without guilt, still be involved in the fun, and avoid taking on more than you can chew. A win-win-win.  ;)

5. Be honest.

If an opportunity is simply more than you can handle at this moment, be honest about it. Think of it this way…having someone on a project who is unable to fulfill the duties is a bad situation for everyone involved. Whether it’s due to lack of time, not having the right skill set, or being too far out of your comfort zone, recognizing that you are not the right person for the job and communicating this honestly saves all parties from frustration and regret. Plus, it shows you recognize the importance of what’s being asked and respect the other person’s desire for a successful outcome.

6. Show your gratitude.

If you’ve been on the asking end of things, you know it can be just as uncomfortable to hear no as it is to say it. Soften your yeses with a show of gratitude. A sincere “thank you for asking me to do this” goes a long way in softening a no. It shows the person on the receiving end that you appreciate them and the opportunity, but it just isn’t a good fit for you.

7. Rehearse your script.

Having some friendly ways to say no graciously will help you muster the courage to decline offers without feeling guilty. Here are some different phrases to consider and practice. Find the one or two responses that feel genuine to you.

  • This is really outside my comfort zone/skill level/area of expertise, but thank you for asking me.
  • I’m not the best person to help on this. Why don’t you try ____?
  • This is a bit more than I can take on at the moment. Is there another way I can help with this project in a smaller capacity?
  • Thank you, but that doesn’t fit in my schedule right now.
  • I’m sorry, but this doesn’t fit my priorities right now.
  • No, I’m not available, but I’m flattered that you asked me.
  • Thank you for the offer, but I’ll have to pass this time.
  • This new project sounds great, but I have been very focused on the project you assigned last week. Which one is a higher priority to you?
  • Thank you for asking me. Can I give you my answer by Friday?

Remember, saying no is a really important part of reigning in control over your time and to-do list. But with these seven strategies in hand, you can say no and say goodbye to the guilt of doing so. What types of things do you have the hardest time saying no to? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.


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Aby Garvey is a creative organizing expert and simplify 101’s founder. She has created 14 online organizing classes, which she has been teaching since 2007, helping thousands of people around the world get organized. Aby loves to help people create positive change in their lives through her online classes and organizing eBooks.

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