Five Strategies That Make It Easier to Say “No”

This is a guest post by Jill Savage, the CEO of Hearts at Home, an organization that encourages and equips moms. She is the author of five books and the co-author of two including her most recent release with her husband, Living With Less So Your Family Has More. A mom of five, Jill is also active on Facebook and Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Many leaders I know struggle with over-commitment. Dozens of great opportunities come our way, but there’s no way to do them all—or at least do them all well.

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Most of us long for balance in our life and margin in our days. We don’t like the feeling of being over committed, but we find ourselves there more often than we like. This is because any organization, church, or community group we choose to be involved in most likely has a shortage of good leaders. Once a leader becomes involved in the group, it’s only a matter of time before the requests to take a leadership role start rolling in.

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The truth is, when we say yes to too many activities and responsibilities, we are, in essence, saying no to the people or priorities that mean so much to us. After too many years of over-commitment, I’ve found the key to keeping balance and margin in my life as a leader comes down to one small two-letter word: No.

It’s a small word that packs a lot of power in our lives if we’ll learn how to use it with consistency and grace. I know, however, that it’s not a very easy word for most leaders to say.

I’ve found five “saying no” strategies that have helped me become more comfortable setting boundaries and protecting my most precious priorities:

  1. Never say yes on the spot. When you are asked to do something, tell them you will need to think about it for at least 24 hours. This gives you time to truly evaluate the wisdom of adding something to your schedule.
  2. Don’t feel like you need to give a long list of excuses. If you evaluate the opportunity and your answer is no, simply respond with, “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but this won’t work for me at this time.” No further explanation is needed.
  3. Commit to no more than one major and one minor volunteer responsibility at a time. A major responsibility requires weekly preparation and a more substantial time commitment such as teaching a Sunday school class, or coaching your child’s baseball team. A minor commitment has little time commitment and little on-going responsibility like working in the church nursery once a month or providing snacks for the baseball team a couple of times during the season. With major/minor guidelines set, if you say yes to a new opportunity it will require you to say no to a current commitment.
  4. Keep in mind you do not have to say yes just because you are capable. If you’re a leader, you are a very capable person. Several years ago someone shared with me a simple question to ask myself when considering getting involved in something: I’m capable, but am I called? In other words I can do this, but is it what God made me for? Is it my passion?
  5. Hit the delete button when guilt sneaks in. Remember that you alone know what is best for you and your family. The person offering the opportunity doesn’t understand that. Stand firm and be confident in knowing that boundaries are essential to your emotional and relational health.

Saying no lets us say yes to the most important things in life like spending time with our spouse, playing with our kids, and making time for our friends.

And that’s what life is really all about, isn’t it?

Question: What strategies do you use for saying “no”? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Peter P

    I wish you’d written this BEFORE I had a mental/emotional breakdown!

    It’s a great post but probably most shy little chickens like me who say yes to feel wanted will read this and have a heart attack at the thought of using any of your suggestions (like I did)!

    • Jill Savage

      Put on your courage, Peter! You can do it!

      And if you haven’t read through the other comments, I encourage you to do so. I think it would give you some good perspective and balance out the fear a bit.

      • Peter P

        Thank you, Jill.

        I’ll get to reading them today!

  • theconfidentmom

    What a great way to choose where we need to spend our time. As a mom – I know that finding the balance with my time is very difficult, but when I truly allow for God to speak to me and I evaluate my true priorities BEFORE blurting a “yes” out, it works much better for everyone, most importantly my family. They come way before my PTA or church volunteering and even my business. Thanks for the reminder, it is always good.

  • Theresa

    Love it! I love step 3. That is a great gauge for me that I had never heard before. Thanks!

  • GailJo

    A handy way to say “no” to more work from a boss or leader is to to politely say “I can do this for you but what would you like me to take off my plate to free up the time to do this?” It helps them understand that your time is limited and you’re not just saying no to be annoying. I particular find this helpful in volunteer work.

  • Brian Hinkley

    In addition to never saying yes on the spot to thinking it over twenty-four hours and not to be confused with a giving a list of excuses. I often state that I need to talk things over with my wife.

    • Jill Savage

      Good strategy, Brian!

  • Susancoleman824

    When I want to say “yes” too much, I do a self check. Most of the time I discover I’m stretching myself to compensate for feeling inferior in another area. Also, I picture myself whining to my family about how busy I am. That usually does the trick!

  • Angela White =^)

    Hmmm… I really agree with what Jill is saying here. Many times our inability to say no also springs from an insecurity toward the person who’s asking us to say yes. Keeping our priorities (and our security) in tact will banish that guilt/pressure load. However, I don’t agree with #3. Instead, I think taking the time to pray about each commitment before saying yes or no, and seeing what God has to say about it would be better in many situations. Having a flat “One major, one minor” policy can keep us away from other things God is asking us to participate in. I operate under the thought that, if God gives me peace about taking something on (If it’s a GOD thing, not just a GOOD thing), he will expand my plate to encompass it in a healthy way. I’ve seen this come true repeatedly through the years. We’re busy, but not in an unhealthy way.

    • JenM

      I agree. I’m reading this 3 years later. I have my hands full with 2 things God called me to. My husband reminds me, you can’t put 10 lbs of flour in a 5 lb bag.

      Just a few weeks ago I had determined that I couldn’t take anything else on for the next several months. But the very next day, God said YES to a ministry opportunity I had been praying about. So YES it is. But fortunately this won’t be very time consuming, and one of the other projects will be over in another month.

  • Some Wise Guy

    I think #1 is my biggest area of growth. Whenever someone asks me for a favor or to volunteer I feel like I have to give an answer right away even if the request is weeks or months in the future. Being married has helped because I have to check with my wife (a.k.a. the Social Director) before making any schedule commitments.

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  • Jeff Randleman

    Wow. So much here that I need to learn. Being one of two staff members at a small rural church, it’s really hard to say no sometimes. People just don’t realize that the minister (s) can’t always do everything, nor should they. Tht’s a hard mentallity to break.

    Thanks for the input. This really helps to encourage me to select the best above the good, or worse. Thanks!

  • Jeff Randleman

    Wow. So much here that I need to learn. Being one of two staff members at a small rural church, it’s really hard to say no sometimes. People just don’t realize that the minister (s) can’t always do everything, nor should they. Tht’s a hard mentallity to break.

    Thanks for the input. This really helps to encourage me to select the best above the good, or worse. Thanks!

  • Don Palmer

    If you are intentional about keeping your eyes open for needs to serve it is so easy to consume all the margin available and then some. The fourth point really stuck me. Is a 3/4 effort by me really for this new possibility in front of me?

    The people and efforts care about and wish to serve deserve the full measure. When the margin is small, I have to say no or re-prioritize.

  • K.C. Pro

    I’ve already made a mental list of people who need to read this.
    Thank you for addressing the need to give excuses. I find that is hard for me to say “no” without an excuse, but it only makes me look and feel ridiculous.

  • April Rowen

    This was so encouraging! I myself have been struggling in this area and working on a ‘No’ Post.

    I especially like Number 5: “Hit the delete button when guilt sets in.” I tend to hit the re-wind button and feel guiltier and guiltier with every re-play. Thank you for this post!

  • Anonymous

    I really needed this. I love #3. I need to keep this in mind. I’ve been saying “no” a lot and feeling guilty. Geoff’s comment also is a great reminder that Jesus didn’t do everything for everyone.

    • Jill Savage


      Yes, when we look at Jesus’ life, we really can follow his example. He didn’t meet every need around him. He went to bed at night knowing that everything wasn’t “finished.” Wow…that is freeing if we can grasp it!

  • Sebastien Wiertz


    Nice post !

    I also treated the subject in a post titled ” The power to say no ! ”

    I would love to hear your comments

  • karen

    My favorite strategy for saying “no” comes from Queen of the Castle, who distinguished between the Urgent and the Important; they’re not always the same! Often, when I’m tempted to say “yes,” I’ll take a moment to ask if the request is urgent or important. Usually, my kids’ requests for a bath towel are urgent, but not worthy of me dropping the spatula and leaving the pancakes to burn. Sounds simple, but I had never realized that often, I was saying yes to things that were urgent, but not necessarily most important at that moment. Of course, not everything we have to do must be important, but this distinction has also helped. :) Thanks for the great article!

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  • Bsewing

    Each day look over your commitments – children’s activities, spouse’s activities, church activities, personal activities. Then set the day, week or month as a “NO” day, “NO” week, or “NO” month depending on what is already on the commitment calendar and the length of time each will take. Before I’m even asked I know that my answer was “NO” and no further explanation is needed. If pressed for an explanation – “Today is a NO day (week or month), so I can spend more time with my family. You can ask me again next week (month) and I might be able to say yes.”

  • Daniel Becerra

    I love your point on “You don’t have to say yes just because you are capable”. It reminds me of Jim Collins’ point of “don’t miss out on the great just because you can do the good”

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  • Phyllis Tarbox

    As a Christian Counselor I applaud this blog. Too often I see people not praying first for God’s direction and it leads to frustration, resentment and bitterness. Learning to say no, takes perserverance because the people around you are not used to the new boundaries you will be settting. Chances are you will ruffle some feathers!
    Always take the time to pray first, and follow Gods peace. Fear and Guilt are not from God.

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  • Mtz6741

    I was asked to do something, because I’m capable, and I do not want to do it! Thank you for your article, it has helped me!:)

  • Sherryclark77

    I try to remember that my saying yes to an opportunity when I know I shouldn’t, could actually standing in the way of the growth into leadership that God s working in someone else.