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How to Say No to Improve Time Management

Updated on July 11, 2015
LeanMan profile image

I am a trainer and consultant in lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, quality management, and business management.

Over Worked and Under Stress?

We all need to work on our time management skills, a simple way to free up more time is to learn to say "NO". Whether it is in your work life or your personal life are you failing to manage your time efficiently by taking on too many additional little jobs?

Time management is not just about organizing your day to ensure that you use your time efficiently, it is also about ensuring that you only take on work that you really need to do and not trying to do unimportant non-urgent items whilst more important, more urgent, items go unattended to.

The big problem for many people is that they really find it very difficult to just say no! They can't use that small two letter word, or if they do they are soon persuaded to change their minds through guilt. So how do we say no?

How to decide when to say no

Importance / Urgency Matrix
Importance / Urgency Matrix | Source

What should you say no to?

There are some things that you should just say no to, like the unreliable "friend" wanting to borrow money and promising to pay it back in the next 10 years or so, or your boy racer son who wants to borrow your Mercedes as he crashed his car trying to do handbrake turns in the local supermarket car park. These are obvious times when to say no, but other requests are not always to cut and dried.

We need to know how to look at tasks and define both their urgency and their importance. Firstly let us consider the importance, if you are overworked and really have no time then take a very selfish view regarding importance, if it is not important to you, let someone else do it!

Urgency; again take a selfish view when your time is precious to you, if it is not urgent to you, even if you are going to do it, delay it!

Only if something is urgent and important to you should you consider doing it now! Otherwise delay it, delegate it, or just say no!

See the diagram above to illustrate this principle.

Time Management by Saying No

Manage your time by saying NO
Manage your time by saying NO | Source

How to Say No.

Sometimes it is sufficient to just be blunt and say "NO", however most people do not feel comfortable doing this and do not wish to offend the person asking, especially if that person is a superior at work or a close friend. So at times we need to use a little empathy but firmness when we say no.

Whatever the situation you must remain firm and do not allow yourself to be swayed (unless your boss threatens you with termination!), be polite, do not be over apologetic, but a "I'm sorry but" is a fine way to start.

If the person is rude enough to keep on asking then tell them you will get back to them so as to escape from the situation, but make sure that you come back to them later with your no!

Improve Time Management by saying NO

Phrases to use when saying NO

To help you in your quest to master the art of "no", here are some simple phrases that can be tailored to fit a number of different situations. Remember to be polite but firm, most people will accept a gentle no without argument. But also remember not to say no if you really have no reason to, especially in your work, you do not want to gain a reputation as someone that tries to avoid work at all costs.

Say NO When Too Busy

When you really are too busy and do not have time to do what you should do then you need to be polite and give reasons as to why you do not have the time the following phrases do not indicate that you will never help in the future but they make it clear that you do not have time at the moment.

  • "I am in the middle of something else at the moment.."
  • "I don't have any space in my Calendar."
  • "I am not taking on anything new at the moment."
  • "I have another commitment at present."
  • "I can't split my attention over other tasks."
  • "Something else has come up that I have to deal with."

Say NO When Asked to do Something Wrong?

If someone asks you to do something that goes against your moral values or is quite frankly not legal then you should be polite but honest rather than compromise yourself.

"I am not comfortable with that."

How to decline a task you are not qualified for

If someone asks you to do a task or favor for which you are not qualified and you know that you do not have the skill to complete then should decline the request, better to say no than spend even more time struggling to do something that you can't do.

  • "I am not the best qualified person to do the job."
  • "I have no experience."
  • "I would rather say no than do a poor job."
  • "This is not my area of strength."

Get someone to do their own work!

Where the person is asking you to do the task due to their own doubts over their abilities then you need to reassure them and suggest to them that they do indeed have all of the skills and abilities to complete whatever they need doing all by themselves.

"I know that you can do a really great job."

Free up time by looking out for yourself

It is also fine to be selfish, after all we cannot spend all of our time just pandering after everyone else, we have to choose for ourselves what is most important in our lives, whether that is our family, our work or even ourselves.

  • "I need to have some time for myself."
  • "I need to concentrate on my family at the moment."
  • "I need to concentrate on my work at the moment."

Improve time management by helping less

If you would really like to help, but just do not have the time then there are a number of options, you can suggest someone else better able to help or offer to help in a reduced scope.

  • "I can't help with all of that, but I could do ...."
  • "Not at the moment, but maybe I can help later."
  • "I can't at the moment, but I think I may be able to suggest someone else who might be able to help."

Just Say NO!

At the end of the day however you can just say "NO!"

Add More Value

Say No To Add Value Where You Really Need To
Say No To Add Value Where You Really Need To | Source

Not Saying NO!

You all know someone that you can turn to that just never says no, or maybe an employee of yours that can't say NO even if they want to. No matter how busy they are they still can't say no to you and you load that work onto them so that you can blame them when it does not get done!

This is one of the reasons why many of us spend our days doing so much that we really should not be doing. Surprisingly we typically only spend 5% of our time doing things that add value to the customer. The rest of our time we spend chasing other people for information that is late (because they were unable to prioritize their time and say no) and many other issues.

Learning to say "NO" really is a great way to free up time and to prevent problems further down the road when you find that you either fail to deliver that task or another more important task.

A little quiz to test your resolve.

A friend asks for a favour, one that you are capable of doing, but you promised yourself some "you" time; do you;

See results

Learn to Say NO


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    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      I KNOW-how damned anal can a company be?

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 7 years ago from At the Gemba

      Name Tag... very important!!! You would have thought that she could have just made an excuse at work for the day.. dog ate my name tag of something.. I hate even more the pointless requests - but you are right it is so hard to say no when it is your own family

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Just this morning my daughter-in-law phoned me-I was dead asleep at the time-to fetch her name tag from her home and take it to her at work. ARGGH. I did it.

      Family is touchy. But one day I will get a grip and learn this thing you speak of. And I'm older-53-than Precious up there!!

      Great advice. :(

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 7 years ago from At the Gemba

      Thanks for commenting Precious, I think you are right, most of us are brought up in that way, always saying yes to everything and unable to say no

    • profile image

      Precious Williams 7 years ago

      I enjoyed your hub. I'm absolutely hopeless at saying no. I blame my parents who brought me up to put other people first. You'd have thought at nearly fifty - I would have got over it by now!

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 7 years ago from At the Gemba

      Thanks for your comments Katiem, I am a sucker when people ask for help, I really struggle at times to say no.. But I am getting better..

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      I'd rather learn to do more with less, evolve and have time for myself, this is the only real way to be creative and useful, real me time! Just say NO to things you don't want to do or feel a waste of your precious natural resource TIME! :) Great Read!

    • LeanMan profile image

      Tony 7 years ago from At the Gemba

      My ex-wife and her friend used to sit in front of a mirror and practice saying no!!

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      It is hard to say no - in most cases I agree - in the case you offered I I took the first option though :)