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Think You Can't Say No?

Think You Can’t Say No? Yes, Yes You Can.

You’d think such a short word would be easy to say, but saying no is hard! If you can’t say no, or if you’re not very good at saying it, or you can say it but you absolutely HATE it, you need to read this short post all the way to the end.

I like being the guy who says, “Sure, I’ll help!” I love providing great service to people, and I really don’t like to let people down. So I used to say yes…a lot. Every open moment on my calendar basically became first come/first served. Wanna grab coffee? SURE! Need a volunteer at Church? I’m your guy! A coach for soccer? I don’t know the first thing about soccer, but why not!

And, oh yeah, I also had a business and a family that both wanted my attention, too.

Along the way I discovered something about myself: I need a lot of down/free time in order to maintain high levels of creativity, energy, and focus. I was not born with an unlimited supply of these items and when my calendar is packed full, they get (and stay) depleted quickly.

I suspect you were not born with unlimited amounts of creativity, energy, and focus either.

You Must Learn How To Say No

You don’t just have to learn how to say no, you have to learn how to say no with confidence. It’s the #1 way to control the flow of your life. It’s like having a magic doorway that YOU control, and it only grants entry to the people, tasks, events, and opportunities that are truly the best use of your time.

Last week I shared how to double your free time to do more of the things you really want to do. I also promised I’d share my thoughts this week on how to say no. So here you go:


1. Block your calendar.
Look at your upcoming week or month and block every spare minute on your calendar. This is counter-intuitive because you’re thinking, “That time is really open.” But it’s not. Until someone takes it, ALL of it belongs to you.

If you do this — and you believe that you OWN all of your open time — when someone asks for some of it, you’ll think more carefully about it. Now you’ll be giving up YOUR time instead of just booking time on an empty calendar.

You can plan specific things to work on during your time or you can just block it with no label whatsoever. Entirely up to you and how you work best.


2. Consult your calendar first, every time.

If you have blocked your time effectively, your calendar becomes your protector. When your time is already spoken for, you can honestly and confidently say “I don’t have time right now”. You might also find yourself taking on less — which is NOT a bad thing — because you’ll start to realize how little time you really have to be amazing at what you do. And you’ll start getting better and better at protecting your time from things that distract you from that.


3. Know what your Kind, Confident No sounds like.

The only way to know what your Kind, Confident No sounds like is to a) craft it and, b) practice it.

If you’re always prepared, you won’t default to saying yes when someone requests your time. You also won’t say “maybe”, which is really just a delayed no 99% of the time.

Time is the only excuse you need. Don’t waste time creating any other story. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the time to do that right now” works in every situation. If you feel like that’s too cold, you can throw in “But have a great time” or “I wish you the best” or “I’ll do the next one” (but only if you mean it).

Many requests you can turn down via email, but you will also have to say no face-to-face sometimes, which is way harder. It is extremely helpful if you’ve heard yourself say it out loud several times. Practice speaking your no until you can say it with confidence and kindness. I find the car is a great place to practice saying things out loud. It’s also a great place to sing Zach Brown Band songs at the top of your lungs.



By the way, the ONLY thing people ever request of you is your time. It doesn’t matter if they’re asking for a report, a product, a meeting, a quick phone call, a volunteer, a service, etc. You may be delivering these “things” to them, but what they’ve taken from you is your time. Every time. And you don’t get it back.

I hope these last two posts help you gain back some your precious time (and creativity and energy and focus). Let me know if they’ve helped, ok?

And if you’ve got a solid way of saying no with confidence, drop it into the comments below. We can all use more examples and inspiration.


8 replies
  1. Heather Hitchcock
    Heather Hitchcock says:

    The timing of this blog post is ridiculous…and divine. I’d love to know how you and others say “no” to personal inquiries, or even negotiate compromises, with close friends or family. That’s where we see our time drained. Those “no’s” are much harder because there’s greater risk, obligation and expectation in saying no. I can say no at work and in ministry, but when it comes to friends and family, or even personal needs from folks in our church congregation, it feels like “no” or a compromise isn’t an option. Suggestions?

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      Imagine this: you’re in Italy for 6 months. You have access to email, but that’s it. You don’t have access to a phone, the internet, or even a post office. Just email.

      Now imagine one of your close friends, family, or church members asks you for something while you’re there. What would you say to them?

      If it was me, I would say, “Based on where I am and my limited ability right now, I can’t help personally. However, let me give you a list of resources that might be able to help you in my absence.”

      If you get common requests for your time, you could prepare a list of alternative sources/solutions for that request ahead of time so you can respond quickly and with confidence, knowing you’re helping in the best way you can at the moment.

      Here’s something many people don’t want to hear: People treat you the way you train them to treat you. If you always jump when someone says jump, guess what they’re always going to say? It sounds harsh, but it’s true. It’s not mean or rude or selfish to say no to protect YOU and YOUR TIME, so you can continue to be your best self.

      Yes, even with friends and family.

  2. Paula
    Paula says:

    Years ago, I said “yes” to every social invitation I received, resulting in too many calories, too much wine, and not enough sleep. I was afraid to say “no” for fear of never being invited out again. I forced myself to start saying “no thank you” to invitations, and while I don’t receive as many, I still receive them and I can pick and choose those I accept. My fear was unfounded and I’m getting more sleep!

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      Thanks, Paula!

      Isn’t that the case with most fears? 😉

      Out of curiosity, do you find yourself now initiating more invitations with people YOU select?

  3. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Mark, this has been one of your most helpful recommendations to date – I have been using it since you first taught it in a webinar. I used to say “yes” to absolutely everything – both personally and professionally. Now, I look at my calendar as blocked, especially when it comes to “free” time; otherwise known as weekends. I view it as, my weekend is “me” time, to share with whomever I choose, to refresh, and to recharge, and I always have “plans” – even if that “plan” is to do nothing. Or to do laundry. Or to binge-watch Netflix or Amazon. Or to read that magazine that has been sitting there for months, untouched. (Or to clean the dust bunnies gathering atop it.) Or to sit outside in an attempt to read, and literally sit there, just staring at the trees and taking a breath to appreciate the world for a change. It’s a plan. So that when someone asks for time, and I don’t feel like it for whatever reason, even if I am able to make it, I can simply reply, “Sorry, I/we have plans.” And like you mentioned – you can add something like – “…but have a blast and we’ll have to catch up soon!” I still struggle with guilt on occasion, but am getting much better at it. More “me” time creates a better “me” to share with all of the people I do love sharing my time with. Thanks!

    • Mark
      Mark says:


      That is so fantastic to hear! More people need to realize that having time blocked for yourself qualifies as “Having plans”.

      So…what do YOU binge watch on Netflix? Since I gave up The Walking Dead and House of Cards I need a new obsession, ha ha!

  4. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    On Netflix, I am about 1/3 of the way through “Breaking Bad,” which I love. I also like lots of the documentaries on there, on all different subjects – and cannot wait for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” Season 2, which premieres this Friday. Hilarious. On Amazon, my faves include “Mozart in the Jungle” and “Catastrophe.” I’ve been meaning to get to “Walking Dead” and “House of Cards” myself. (Queued up and waiting to see if my boyfriend wants me to wait for him.) And if you haven’t yet seen “Sons of Anarchy,” add that to your queue. Shakespeare on bikes, just like they say. That’s why I love streaming – even if you’re late to the party, you can still catch all the greats. And with so much content out there right now, it’s impossible not to be late to some parties. Just watch out for spoiler alerts. i.e., of course by now, I know how “Breaking Bad” ends – but I still can’t wait to see how it gets there.

    • Mark
      Mark says:

      I gave up Walking Dead & House of Cards because they made me feel “icky” when I watched them. I did the same thing with Sons of Anarchy a few years ago. I just couldn’t stand how stressed and exhausted I felt after each episode. That show was amazing, though, I have to admit. So well done. My daughter & I watch Kimmy Schmidt together. We have the same stupid sense of humor.


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