Why I Say No to Meeting People for Coffee

If you struggle with balancing your time and wondering when and how to meet people for lunch or coffee, read on. Sometimes (and a lot of the time, actually) I have to say no–and here’s part of the reason why.

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Ever say yes to something and wish you hadn’t? Or get stuck in a situation where you’re not sure how to say no to something? Or better yet, get asked for money and you don’t know how to say no? I have a hard time saying no (an impossible time, sometimes, because I want to say yes to everything), so recently I said no to meeting someone for coffee and it was the right call. I had to use a phrase I rarely say (okay, now I say it more often):

“No, I won’t meet you for coffee.”

Those words were really hard to say. For some reason, saying no feels like an impossibility for me.

Usually I say no only if I can’t–if I’m on a plane or in another state, for instance. If I’ve maxed out my credit card cycle for the month, so I can’t donate for another two weeks. Things like that.

But is this a good behavior pattern to adopt? It’s certainly proved wonderful in my life–but I know there are times when saying no is prudent. When you need to say no because there are other priorities. When meeting for 5-6 various in-person interactions during the week totals as much as 20 hours per week, and 20 hours per week of transit, travel, follow-up and coordination time could be better spent writing a book or finishing projects for my clients–I have to prioritize. And while I love you; if I meet with you, I won’t write my book.

And that dang book won’t write itself.

(Trust me, I’ve tried that route).

But how do you say no? How do you know when not to meet with someone, or when donating or giving money is going to put you in more trouble than help someone else? Granted, I just raised $29,000 for charity and asked a LOT of people to help me out–so the world works on a big cycle of people saying yes. I’m not going to dispute that. And for every person that said yes, there were hundreds of people who said no–and that’s also absolutely fine. It’s the way the world works. So, when can I say no?

I talk a lot with people older than I am, and they mention that they only learned later in life how much they value their own quirks and life preferences. Being at home. Staying out late. Spending time with their friends. Read any end-of-life list and you won’t see someone say,

“Boy, I wish I had said yes to more appointments and meetings.”

Me? I love writing. I love reading. I absolutely adore being home, by myself, with my computer, rationalizing and thinking and mulling over ideas and pieces. Picture Tina Fey in 30 Rock delighting over organization. That’s me and books and my open screen made for all my words to spill onto.

It takes me time–a lot of time–to put these ideas together. I typically need uninterrupted space, for hours, to really sort things out and put them together and string words into phrases and meanings. On a lot of days I get up really early just to do this and I often stay up late or find time on Friday or Saturday night to write posts because I want and crave the space for my ideas.

So meeting daily for 10AM meetings or 7PM meetings is not ideal for me. (In fact, and more on this in another post, I try to schedule all of my meetings on what I call “Meeting Thursdays,” so I can enjoy most of my other days sans-meetings).

And I start to wonder how people with more demands on their time do it, because I’m not a big shot by any means (and never will be)–and yet I get a lot of requests for coffee, meetings, one-on-one events, and space on my calendar, as I’m certain so many working and busy people do. It’s more than I can handle, in fact, and I’ll have to say no to them if I want to get any work on my personal projects done.

I did the math, and I realized that if I were to meet with every person for coffee each week, I’d give up 10-20 hours a week of time, or 80 hours a month, and for someone who’s been saying she wants to write a book for several years now, I’ve got to stop and ask myself–

Is meeting for this coffee worth more to you than doing the writing you want to do?

And while yes, I would love to meet you for coffee, and I’m overjoyed at the prospect of spending time with so many lovely people, I know that in order to get the projects done that I want to get done, I sometimes have to say no.

I have to say no.

Same goes for subscriptions, memberships, and many other things. And I used to feel bad–sort of–about saying No. I felt like I ought to say yes, take the opportunity, do it. It might have some opportunity! I might be missing something! Classic FOMO.

How do you say no, kindly? There are two key phrases that really help–try these out:

For time:

“I wish I could join you. However, I need to carve out space for myself this week and I don’t have time to meet you.”

Shorter still:

“I can’t. I need to carve out space for myself this week.”

And for clients wanting the ubiquitous “pick your brain” option (see Laura Roeder’s excellent post on this)–

“If it’s a quick question, send it over and I’ll answer it quickly! If it’s a longer query, while I’d love to chat,  right now my lunch hours are reserved for clients. Here’s my current rate–let me know if you’d like to book a lunch session.”

And for money:

“It’s not in my budget.”

It’s your decision to say yes or no. And in a world with an abundance of yes, sometimes I need to select the “no” answer.

Need more help in this area? Marie Forleo has a list of go-to scripts that have helped me immensely. Enjoy!

With love, and a kind “no,” to preserve my sanity in the in-between times.

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Also published on Medium.

5 Responses to Why I Say No to Meeting People for Coffee

  1. Dawn says:

    Love this, and it came at a perfect time, as I’m trying to carve out some time to…finish a book… It’s not that I don’t want to take a trip, visit, do…it’s that in overdoing, we serve no one… Love this reminder.

  2. Great read, Sarah — one that I bet resonates with so many more people than we’d probably imagine. I know it does with me, as I’m asked frequently for interviews, help with our theme support and so on.

    What amazes me in situations like this is the sense of entitlement that people have. They don’t seem to understand why they are being told “no”, and at times throw a fit when they hear those words.

    Society often makes me feel like I need to be busy ALL THE TIME, and if I’m not, then somehow I’m failing. But the reality is, most of us need down time. Time where we can escape the hustle and bustle of our work, social media and even sometimes our friends and family.

    Believe it or not, at the core — YOU are the most important person in your life. Make time. :-)

  3. Cash Edwards says:

    As a publicist i have to protect my artists by saying no to some of the requests they get for interviews and appearances for exactly this time reason. If they accepted every request then they’d have no time to practice and create… Since reviews are more difficult to get than previews I usually ask them to review the show which they can’t do and so they say no to me, while in reality I’m saying no the artist doesn’t really have time this time around.

  4. […] I say no to many of the requests for coffee and lunch dates that come my way—although not always—largely when I’m not sure if I can be useful or if I already know that I need to dedicate that limited time to my existing projects and processes. […]

  5. […] when voting in a democracy; I show up to work on time; I’ve made a life list and learned how to say no; I understand the value of saving for a rainy day, and I am, to every five-year-old, a boring […]