How to Say No

I’m feeling pretty stretched thin at the moment. A lot of balls up in the air, and a few feel close to dropping, which is something I never like. It’s made me reflect on the importance of saying no to some things. My default position often feels like it’s “Yes.” I want to be able to do the things people ask me to do, and sometimes I say yes without even really thinking things through completely.

The problem, of course, is that people rarely ask me to do anything at the last minute. I have no problem saying no to something when I literally have no time to do it and it needs doing right then. I acknowledge it’s beyond my capability, and I encourage them to go find someone else to do it. No guilt. No hard feelings. I just couldn’t do it, end of story.

But when they ask me to do something down the road, it always feels like I’ll have more time then than I do now. So why not say yes? Why not agree to help them out? Present-Day Bryce is always angry at Past-Day Bryce for committing him to do things, and yet Present-Day Bryce always seems to be ready to commit Future-Day Bryce to just about anything under the sun. I’ve been on this earth over 40 years now. You’d think I’d have figured out by now that Past-Day, Present-Day, and Future-Day Bryce are all (spoiler!) actually the same person, but I haven’t, it seems.

So I’m working on doing a better job of saying no, even to seemingly little things. Any commitment I make is a commitment I need to pay attention to and complete. It’s another item on the To Do list. Yes, some of them are small, but they all do add up, and the overall effect can be overwhelming. Somehow, I need to get better at identifying requests that can be turned down. Ideally, larger requests, since jettisoning a few small requests does little for my overall sanity.

The biggest problem, I suppose, is that I have a hard time saying no when I look at my schedule and can think of a way to cram in whatever I’m being asked to do. I *could* do that thing, so how can I reasonably say no to doing it? But saying yes is contagious. People start knowing you’re a person who won’t just say yes, but then actually go through and do the thing you said yes to, and that’s not a trait shared by everyone. When people hear you’ve got it, more and more people start coming up to you to ask you to do things . . .

So: No. “I’m beyond capacity right now, and I’m having to turn things down until I get my backlog better in order. I’m sorry.” If I can just remind myself to say that when I’m asked to do things from here on out (and they’re things that aren’t an absolute necessity), maybe one day Present-Day Bryce will have as much time as Past-Day Bryce always seems to assume Future-Day Bryce will have.

How do you say no to things, and how do you decide what can be turned down and what’s mission critical?


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