Efficiency 101: The Power of “No”


It’s a little bitty word.  Just two letters.  But it has the power to set you free.

We are conditioned in our society that “No” is impolite.  We are supposed to agree to things because it’s rude not to.  It’s considered somehow wrong to set boundaries.

Well just like it’s healthy to set boundaries for small children, it’s healthy to set boundaries against others for ourselves. It’s considered selfish, and selfishness has been demonized in our society with puritanical roots.

Well I’m here to tell you that psychologically, extreme selfLESSness is just as damaging as extreme selfishness.  There is nothing wrong with saying “No.”  There is nothing wrong with taking our own needs into account first.  We so often over-extend ourselves because we are afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or offending.  This does nothing but irritate us and put us in a position to be used by others (often the misuse is not intentional on the part of whoever is asking us whatever, but there’s still the potential).

So we’re going to practice.

“Can you head up the bake sale fund raiser committee?”


“Can you organize the blankety blank?”


Ring.  Ring.  Ring.  Will you answer the phone right now even though you’re cooking dinner?


Beep.  Beep.  Will you deal with this text right this second, even though it’s disrespectful to the person you’re having supper with/the checker at the grocery store/the professor teaching your class/any other human being you ought to be paying attention to who is in your physical presence? (ok this is a serious pet peeve of mine)


Will you [insert time consuming task you really don’t want to do that will suck away your writing time]?


You don’t have to snarl it, you don’t have to be rude or ugly about it.  But you do have to develop the strength to say it.  Be firm in your convictions and guard that writing time (or your time for anything else, for that matter) jealously.

8 thoughts on “Efficiency 101: The Power of “No”

  1. Kait, I appreciate what you’ve said here and wholeheartedly agree. I’ll even add something. People will make you feel like you’re being a jerk when you say no. The thing to remember is this: if you’re not snarling “no,” it’s really okay to say it.

  2. Amen, Sister! I have a tremendously hard time saying no. I think southern women have the hardest time with it because we are so “polite”. Even in the writing world, I’ve said yes when I should have said no. I’m really too nice for my own good sometimes, but I feel guilty when I don’t help someone. Another southern woman thing…guilt. LOL. But you are so right! We HAVE to learn to say no. If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will take care of us?

    1. Huh! You should try Canadians! When I first moved here from Australia seven years ago, I found myself asking a question three times – at least – to make sure that I got the real answer, not the polite one. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but are we – I’m now a citizen – polite or what!

  3. What a great post. I have a hard time ignoring the phone when I’m busy, especially if I know who’s calling. I feel guilty for standing them up. And if a kid comes to the house selling some fundraiser? Yeah, I have to not answer the door, and then I feel bad about that.

  4. I agree. It is hard to learn to say no, and sometimes there is guilt associated with it, but I have tried to learn to push past that guilt and get on with my own life. We can live our lives pleasing others.

  5. The hardest folks to say “no” to are those who help you – like my RWA chapter. I have to remind myself that by being Treasurer (for over 6 years!), I’m already giving back enough – it’s someone else’s turn! Family is even tougher – fortunately, they’re learning to respect my writing time, so that’s getting easier.

  6. Great post Kait. A lot of the time people ask you to do something thinking it’s a rhetorical question. When you say no they usually don’t know how to respond. It’s most disarming when you’ve almost always said yes in the past and then you reverse direction and almost always say no. I’ve had to do this at work with some of the people that report to me that aren’t on site. They have depended on me in the past to “work the corporate system” for them because they’re not there. The first few times I said no, they didn’t know how to react. Then I explain that I’ve done it in the past but they have to be able to get this done without me. Interesting silence on the other end of the line the first few times you do this. But now they only get me involved when absolutely necessary. I have much more time to do MY work now. Thanks for a great post

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