Whenever I speak on this subject I always get a positive response from the audience. We all know that we get pulled into more things than we can possibly do, and most of the time it’s because we just can’t say “no.” And especially as Christians, we feel the obligation to be nice all the time, so we really hate to turn people down. But the bottom line is that until we start staying no to some things, we’ll never have time to pursue the really important things. We never want to be a jerk about it, so if you suffer from the inability to turn people down, here’s some things to say:
1) “Let me check my schedule first.” This implies you have other things on your plate (which you do), and keeps you from answering on the spot. Take some time, check your calendar and to-do list, think about your priorities and get back to them later. In many cases, by that time, they’ll find somebody else.
2) “That’s not a priority for me right now.” Yes, you DO have other priorities, and they matter. It’s always good to remind people what you’re focused on in your life and career, and in many cases, what they want you to do isn’t on that list.
3) “I’d love to, but I’m in the middle of another project. Maybe next time.” This positions you as being open to the possibility, but you just can’t do it now.
4) “I’m (insert traveling, writing, closing a deal, prepping a project, etc) right now, and it will be awhile before I have enough time to make that happen.” This is very true for most of us. We’re busy, and it’s a real imposition to ask us to read your script, evaluate your project or let you “pick my brain.”
Notice that none of these answers are meant to offend. They all tell the truth about your situation and allow you the breathing room to focus on the projects you feel matter. Certainly we want to be gracious and help when we can, but in those moments when someone crosses the line, these are good responses.
The real truth here is that we need to stop automatically responding to what other people think is urgent, and start focusing to what we think is important.