In a culture that glorifies busyness and hustle, it’s not uncommon to avoid declining a request, at all costs. A strategic, intentional no, however, can actually be one of the most effective tools to boost your well-being and performance at work. For this month’s edition of The Productivity Box series, we are making the case to normalize saying no.
- Curb stress levels
- Create boundaries
- Improve communication
- Limit distractions
- Manage time efficiently
- Turn in high-quality deliverables
If you’re uncomfortable or afraid to say no at work, you risk being stretched too thin. This reduces productivity and results in subpar work. Ultimately, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed or even burned out.
Saying no is important, both on the job and in other areas of life. Let’s find out how a No! said at the right time can save your productivity.
What it means to say no
Turning down a request from a colleague doesn’t mean you’re being difficult or flat-out refusing the other person. It also doesn’t mean you’ll never be open to accept in the future. Rather, it means you’re choosing to prioritize other tasks and not over-filling your plate.
This clears your schedule of non-essential time fillers or distractions so you can concentrate on what needs your full attention. Ultimately, saying no frees you up to give a firm, resolute yes to the most important commitments and responsibilities. This also helps sustain your mental health and energy level in the process.
From my experience, people sometimes feel anxious about saying no. Simply remember that the more you take on, the more resentful you can become. Worse, the easier you’ll reach burnout levels. In time, this affects your results and work quality.
Being known as a collaborative team player is an asset at work. Yet too much willingness to collaborate can exert pressure to always be accessible to everyone, suggests Harvard Business Review. Finding the courage to say no is essential.
The benefits of saying no
There may be times when saying no isn’t an option. For example, when your team needs you to stop one project and switch to a different assignment with a quicker turnaround time. Sometimes, however, you do have a choice as to how you’ll respond. When a colleague asks for help writing a report that’s due tomorrow, yet you have your own due tasks. You can respect your deadlines and personal work-life balance and say no instead. Next time, they will ask for help in due time, coordinating with your availability.
You may feel guilty for this but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Your first obligation is to your own boundaries. Saying no to this colleague’s last-minute request gives you the space you need to decompress and refuel after hours. This helps you feel motivated, alert, energetic, and conscientious the next day, rather than drained and unproductive.
In general, being intentional about your responses gives you both the time and clarity. You’ll be able to focus on projects, goals, activities, relationships, and self-care rituals that fill your tank. You’ll feel less exhaustion, stress, and bitterness.
Reclaim a sense of personal agency over who and what deserves your attention at a particular moment. Over time, you’ll learn to reserve the word yes for opportunities that make sense and feel right.
How to practice saying no
If this is still challenging for you to do, remember that practice makes perfect. Reference this list of questions to help you navigate requests:
- Will this create value or will it distract me from something more valuable?
- Do I have the physical, mental, and emotional capacity for this or do I need to rest?
- Am I considering this to please someone else or because I’m actually interested?
- Am I considering this because I feel a sense of guilt or FOMO (fear of missing out)?
- Am I considering this because I do not want to be thought of as uncooperative?
- Does this person consistently ask me for favors without any mutual reciprocation?
- Does another commitment require my attention more urgently at this moment?
- Will taking this on means I have to say no to something else I care about?
- If certain aspects of this request were to change, would that make me accept it easier?
Now parse out what your answer should be.
The ultimate productivity hack
Saying no creates space for tasks that move you in the right direction—both on the job and in life. It allows you to clear more space for activities that matter while eliminating what doesn’t serve your goals and priorities.
And for those who still have a hard time saying it, simply remember this. No is a valid and acceptable answer. Saying no at the right time will boost your productivity, energy, and happiness in the long run.
Saying no is the ultimate productivity hack at work.