Mastering the Quick No


The difference between successful people and really successful people

is that really successful people say no to almost everything.


                                                                      Warren Buffett


CHICAGO – Saying no is probably the most useful skill that you can develop if you want to be productive and successful in business and in life. The skill of saying no is not a weakness.  It is a valuable tool of the professional who respects herself, her time and the time of others. 


Saying no means intentionally turning down tasks, activities and demands from others that stop you from focusing on and completing your own goals. Real productivity is more than just an accumulation of completed activities that you can check off your to-do list. It’s about the discipline and effort needed to stop being held hostage by the numerous distractions that bombard us daily.


Giving a quick, respectful “no” to unsolicited asks and opportunities means you value your time and the time of others. It says that you can identify and communicate what is important to you and separate it from the many distractions that fight for your attention. It honors the responsibilities that you have already accepted and the people to whom you have made commitments. Most importantly, it ultimately makes any “yes” you give in the future more valuable and meaningful to both you and the receiver.


Here are some specific steps to help you keep your focus when evaluating the asks and opportunities:


  1. Keep track of your “yes” and “no” responses in your phone or calendar -  It will provide you with a visual reminder of how much of your time is available to accept new responsibilities. Every “no” that you see opens up time for a potential “yes” that may be more closely aligned with keeping your professional or personal focus.

  2. Own your “no” – How you say “no” is important.  Be direct and diplomatic. Say no with clarity and respect for the ask. Don’t give a soft answer to keep someone happy.

  3. Practice mindfulness – Don’t get swept away by another person’s stress or the emotion of the moment when you are asked for an immediate response.  Ask for time you need to evaluate the ask so you can focus clearly on the opportunity. Time gives you the option to make sure it is something that you want to do.  If time isn’t available, a quick no is usually your best option.

  4. Make a decision – Good leaders are evaluated by their ability to make difficult decisions. The decisions that leaders make are not always popular, but they are usually necessary to preserve focus on goals. The ability to say no to opportunities that don’t fit conveys to others that you are an effective decision maker and are focused on your goals.


Being too busy means that you are not good enough at saying no. Saying no is a skill that you can refine every day.  Like any skill worth having, it takes time to develop the confidence and discipline to use it effectively. 



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