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:
“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.”
“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.—
Also published on Medium.