5 Tips for Saying No and Taking Back Your Time

5 Tips for Saying No and Taking Back Your Time

5 Tips for Saying No and Taking Back Your Time

If you have trouble turning people down and wish you knew how to say “no,” try giving these steps a try.

Do you ever feel as though your days are spent getting things done for other people? Your project is due on the boss’ desk. You need buy brownie mix for the bake sale. It’s softball season, so don’t forget to wash your husband’s uniform. Your neighbor needs you to watch her dog while she’s away for two weeks. Bible study is tomorrow and you’re supposed to lead, but you haven’t had a minute to prepare. Oh look! There’s an e-mail from your daughter’s teacher, asking if you’d be a parent volunteer for the upcoming field trip.

Does the thought of saying “no” sound like a relief (or a luxury)? Maybe you think it would be nice… but you just can’t do it. People depend on you! Your friends would be hurt. It would look bad.

I’m here to tell you that saying “no” can be a good thing. Saying “no” is a way to set boundaries — and having boundaries is part of a healthy lifestyle. If you have trouble turning people down and wish you knew how to say “no,” try giving these steps a try:

1. Pray about it

I’ve noticed something about myself: I often forget to ask for God’s direction until I’m super overwhelmed. Face-palm! I need to go to God first — before I ask for advice from my usual go-to people. James 1:5 tells us that if we need wisdom, all we need to do is ask the Lord!

It’s much easier to turn down opportunities when you feel led to do so by the Lord. (Guess what? God doesn’t expect you to do everything. He desires us to create space for rest.) As you wait for His answer, go through the following thought processes. Ask God to speak to your heart about what He desires from you.

Remind yourself: I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in my decision-making.

2. Adjust your mindset

I think women especially struggle with turning people down. We are helpers by nature — after all, God created Eve to be a helper for Adam. It feels selfish to say “no.” But the truth is, saying “no” is a way to practice humility and honesty — to admit you can’t do it all.

Believing a baby shower, small group lesson, work meeting, etc., will be unsuccessful if YOU aren’t the one to plan it is prideful thinking. People who are natural leaders or perfectionists can really struggle with this mindset because they thrive on pulling projects together successfully. It’s hard for them to step aside and let someone else take over an important role.

Tell yourself: by saying “no” I’m allowing someone else to say “yes.”

3. Identify why you struggle to say “no”

What are the reasons you have trouble saying “no” to people? Do you feel selfish, rude or guilty? Do you worry a project will fall apart if you don’t take over? Do you fear a relationship will be negatively affected? Do you wonder if you’re being a bad person (or Christian)? Do you worry about missing out on something exciting? Give yourself some time to reflect on your thought processes.

When you say “yes” to everything, something in your life is bound to suffer. You may thrive on being busy for a while, but eventually the stress may cause you to feel overwhelmed and emotionally spent. Maybe your relationships with your husband and kids start to suffer, because your evenings are too filled up with commitments that you don’t have the time to read bedtime stories, put laundry away or snuggle up on the couch and watch Netflix. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you met a friend for coffee, or the last time you were free enough to be involved in a Bible study.

Ask yourself: what might suffer if I say “yes?” Am I willing to let that relationship/thing suffer for a time, or will I regret it?

4. Establish priorities

Establishing a priority list will provide you with a clear picture of the areas in your life that you need to protect and the areas in your life that have flexibility or “free time.” You can begin to make a plan for what commitments you’re willing to say “yes” to, as well as prepare for what you know you don’t have time for.

I’ve already seen how making my own list of priorities has helped me to accept or decline requests. For example, my husband and I have an agreement that we will accept social opportunities as long as we have a couple of days each week set aside for time together. It’s rare that we have jam-packed weeks, but when we do I don’t feel any guilt in saying, “sorry, I need to have some quality time with my husband!” (In fact, explaining your priorities is a way to encourage similar priorities in other people’s lives. You should never feel guilty about protecting your time with your spouse and/or children.)

Ask yourself: what would honor and reflect my priorities more, saying “yes” or “no” this request?

5. Allow yourself a “no” season

Sometimes your plans will be affected by a current season in life, such as your daughter’s crazy soccer schedule or your husband’s deployment. It might help you to think about what you can and can’t do to get through that season. Give yourself the freedom to say, “I can’t do that right now, but ask me again in a few months.”

In the past nine months I’ve chosen to say “no” to several social events where newborns would be present. I’m grieving the loss of two babies and knew it was best for my emotional well being to keep myself from a painful situation. It was hard to miss out on those events! Saying “no” didn’t feel good, but protecting my heart was the right decision. I can see how paying attention to my needs and allowing myself a break from social responsibilities has benefitted me. After a long season of saying “no,” I’ve slowly begun accepting invitations to parties and get-togethers with my friends and their new babies. It’s still hard, but it’s also wonderful to catch up with people I haven’t seen in some time!

Remind yourself: Saying “no” now will allow me to say “yes” in the future.

I hope these steps leave you feeling encouraged and armed with ideas. What will you do with the time you gain once you begin to turn down commitments that aren’t in line with your priorities? 

Laura's headshotLaura Rennie lives in Maryland with her hilarious husband and constantly shedding dog. She loves reading, writing and playing word games. Her greatest desire is to share Jesus through her words and actions as she learns how to be a better wife, daughter, sister and friend.