Saying No to Invitations That Don’t Serve Your Goals

May 30, 2021

Today, I was working on a lesson for version 3 of my course Big-Picture Productivity. (I expect to open the course for enrollment in two or three weeks, by the way!) This particular lesson is on protecting your time.

It can be so difficult to stay on track, to keep doing what we know will help us achieve our goals.

Potential distractions can come in the moment, like a text message from our partner. They can also come at a higher level, like someone asking us to take on a new commitment, which would prevent us from spending as much time on pursuing our goals as we promised ourselves we would. I’m particularly interested in the latter type of distraction, because those can get us way off track.

When someone asks you to take on a new commitment, first evaluate whether it will suit your goals. That requires having clear goals, of course—which is why we spend so much time in the course on helping you clarify them.

Let’s say you decide that this potential commitment is a distraction. Will you feel comfortable saying “no” to whomever proposed it? This could mean telling your boss you don’t have time to take on that extra responsibility. It could mean telling a client that you’re already fully booked. Or telling someone at your local volunteer organization that you don’t want to spend more time there.

Many people struggle to say “no”. Maybe I have a bit of a superpower when it comes to saying no, given that I’m Dutch and all. We Dutch people are, after all, known for being terribly direct. Still, protecting your time doesn’t need to be painful. I like to do it in three steps:

  1. Thank the person for their invitation. Just say “thank you for thinking of me”. This is a positive way of responding. Do not apologize—you have nothing to be sorry for!
  2. Express your priorities. There’s a reason why you’re declining this person’s invitation, request, or offer: you set your priorities and this thing doesn’t make the cut. Again, focus on the positive. Don’t say, “that’s not a priority for me”, but instead say “I’m currently focusing on getting my side hustle off the ground” (or whatever does have your priority). You don’t have to explain yourself, but expressing your priority often helps.
  3. Explicitly decline the invitation. Don’t leave any ambiguity. Just say, “I’ll pass for now”. I like to say “for now” or something similar to make it clear that I’m not rejecting the person for all eternity. Of course, if someone isn’t treating you respectfully, you can be more forceful. But in many cases, “not right now” does the job.

It can be so liberating to say “no” to things that won’t help us achieve our goals.

So… what’s taking up a lot of your time that you wish you hadn’t committed to?

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