My proven strategy for saying “NO”


My Proven Strategy For Saying -no- (3)

Having a child with a disability and another with life threatening food allergies plus an active 10 year old boy gives me lots of really great excuses for saying no to extra stuff.

Even with these built in reasons for not overloading myself I have a remarkable habit of finding myself committed to more than I can handle.

What can I say- it’s a gift.

*I’m not talking about work things or must do activities to keep everyone fed and happy.  I’m referring to those extra things- PTO assignments, overtime, heading up that committee at church, or taking care of your friend’s kid full time.

I have a unique way of deciding if I can handle a new project or task.

I’ll say yes right away only if Spencer (my 17 year old son with autism) is doing really really bad.  

This means he is likely having trouble in one or more of these areas: aggression, hyper activity, escaping the house, property destruction or lack of sleep.

Seems backwards right?    Hear me out.

1st write your version of that paragraph- your worst case scenario.

  •  Maybe you are a full time student and your semester is shaping up to be a big course load, an internship, and a night job.  It’s short term, but is overwhelming!
  • Maybe you are a mom of a newborn and rarely get 3 hours of sleep all in a row let alone 8.  It seems like it will last forever, but you’ve heard it does get better eventually.
  • Maybe you are an accountant who is facing tax time or a landscaper in the spring and summer- busy seasons for sure, but they don’t last forever right?

We all go through busy phases.  Mine tend to run along with Spencer’s ups and downs and are less predictable, but we all have them.

I know I need to be better at saying no so I can let go of the drama of saying yes to everything.  You know it brings drama!  Unfortunately it’s usually with the lovely people I live with and not with the people I said yes to.  They don’t deserve a stressed out, sleep deprived mom.

Let Go of

Here’s the key:

If you think you can handle the new task or project when things are super busy and you feel overwhelmed with most of your life- you can more than likely handle it when things are going well.

The hope is that you will never again find yourself in the “what was I thinking” drama because you said YES in a happy go lucky time in your life when everything is feeling lovely and calm and you actually conquered the laundry pile.

So, don’t say yes to babysit your neighbors 1 year old full time when your newborn is on day 3 of sleeping through the night.  Instead say- Can I have a few days to think it over? Decide if it’s a good idea a few days later when your in your PJ’s at 3 in the afternoon after yet another sleepless night.  🙂

I have 3 exceptions to this rule:

  1.  If one of my kids needs something from me that will take a good chunk of time- I’m thinking of the many school projects my daughter has, my son’s baseball season, or preparing for IEP’s or 504 plans.  Those are just a fact of life and sometimes make things super busy.
  2. If my parents need me- I am blessed with 3 parents still living- my dad and my husbands sweet parents.  If they are going through something serious we try to help.
  3. If I pray about it and feel that even with my circumstances I need to do this.

If I do pray about it and feel I should take it on- I make it clear to the person in charge that I am going on faith that things will work out and that I’ll need lots of support to make this a success.

Often times I will still take the few days to think it over because I need to analyze the details of the project to see where potential issues might crop up.

Be honest and up front with the person you are committing to.  It’s much better than feeling like you are letting someone down by backing out later.



If you do feel it is necessary to say no- please don’t feel obligated to list off all the reasons why.  You have the right to say no for any reason!  I catch myself listing off the reasons I can’t possibly take your project on when you really don’t care- you just need to move on to the next candidate.

No Thanks

When my oldest was a baby I had a major light bulb moment.  I asked a friend to go do something with me and she said “No thanks.  I’m not going to do that right now.”

I was floored!

I didn’t know you could say that to someone!  I wasn’t offended, just surprised. What a great example she was of someone who knew how she wanted to spend her time.  No laundry list of “to do’s” from this woman.  She knew what she could do and what would put her over the edge.

Here are some softer options- I’ve never been able to follow in my friend’s footsteps:

Sorry- That’s not going to work for me right now.

I have too much on my plate.

I don’t think I’m the best choice.

I can’t give you the amount of time the project needs.

I’m honored to be asked, but I don’t feel like I can commit right now. Please check back with me in a month or so.   (this one is my “go to”)

I just took a big project on and can’t do any more.  I hope you find someone!

Thanks so much for thinking of me.  Can I think about it for a few days?  Just to make sure I have the time to dedicate to this?

Wow!  I know how important this project is for you- thank you for considering me!  I’ll discuss it with my family and get back with you in a few days.

When I get back with them if the answer has to be no I usually say – Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to help out this time.  Good luck in your search!  It’s such a great project I have no worries you’ll find someone great.

How do you decide if it’s time to say no?

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3 thoughts on “My proven strategy for saying “NO”

  1. Sarah

    I have a hard time saying no, but being a working mom with a husband in school, my days are really full. However, most of the requests that I get can be scheduled for a future time. So that’s generally what I do.

    1. Dereth Post author

      It makes a lot of sense to schedule helping in the future. Would that conversation sound like this?

      – can you help me with ______? Yes, I could help you with that Thursday afternoon for about an hour.

      It seems it would give people time to find someone else if the time frame isn’t good for them. Great suggestion!

      1. Sarah

        Actually, yes, that’s almost exactly how that conversation goes! 🙂 I think part of why people don’t get offended by being scheduled out is that I generally really want to help and the scheduling thing is not just an excuse.


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