The Power of NO

We are busy. We have lists of things we want to do. Most people move through the lists ticking off one item after another.  But how many know when to say NO!

How often do you stop and ask yourself what am I doing this item for? Do you think to yourself, why am I doing this?

These two questions are key to getting the most from your productivity.


How Does asking “Why” and “What” Help Me

These two questions are key to understanding what your work means to you. Are you doing work because it is there? Does the work you do make things better for you? Are you benefitting from the work, or doing it because your boss expects it of you?

Today we are likely to say “yes” to lots of requests for our time and energy. People expect us to say “yes”. This leads to overloading ourselves with work. As the list of work grows we find ourselves rushing to complete work. This results in missing steps and key points, and our outcomes are of low quality.

We never stop to think about it. Society expects us to agree to every request.

This needs to change. We need to start to say “no”.


The Power Of NO

For every assignment you should ask yourself these two questions:

  • What am I doing this work for?
  • Why am I doing this work?

If you can not answer these in a positive way then are you the right person for the piece of work?

Your boss asks you to produce a report on Friday.  Asking these two questions highlights issues that may impact your existing workload.

If you are already busy then asking the “what” question highlights the impact on your existing work. Can you now say “no”?

You look at the report required and find that it is not within your current area. Someone else would have more relevant information. This is the “why”. Can you now say “no”?


How To Say NO

In this post I make it appear an easy thing to say “no”. It is not. Your boss may have other reasons for assigning the work to you. They may want you to do it, and you need to accept this.

What you need to do is frame your response.

  • Explain why you are saying “no”
  • Try and suggest who would be a better match for the work.
  • Be clear, polite and firm
  • Keep your response short. There is no need for a speech. The relevant facts and suggestions presented in bullet point form are usually enough.

Over time, as people see you doing this, they will start to respect your input. They will come to understand the value of thinking about each assignment. You will find they will come to you less. They know you are able to pick out the important work and to deliver the business results.

You will also find this leads to an improvement in the quality of your work. Quality reduces when we spread ourselves too thin. We end up not looking at the details enough. We skimp on the information we are processing.


Impact Of Not Saying NO

An often used “quick fix” for overload is to skip validation steps. We do not take the time to proofread our work. Instead of validating data against many sources we take the first one we find as the truth. We take the “quick and dirty” instead of the “smart and thorough”.

The impacts of this can bring disaster to a business.

  • Contracts that contain mistakes can mean the difference between profit and loss
  • An incorrect number in a financial forecast leads to incorrect outcomes. This can result in businesses operating at a loss
  • A business proposal with spelling mistakes will lower the confidence of clients. This leads to clients not proceeding to contract.


What If I Can’t Say NO

There will be times when you can’t say “no”. There may be no-one else who can do the work. It may be something for which you have specialist knowledge. It could be an assignment your boss wants you to do so you can grow your knowledge in a new area.

What do you do then?

This is where you would step back for a few minutes and assess what is on your to-do list. For each item ask yourself:

  • What is the impact if this is not done on time?
  • Is there someone else I can enlist to help me with this?
  • Can I delegate it to another person?
  • Can I request a delay in the deadline for this work?

The idea is to be polite and firm when you request the space you need to complete the new assignment.

Once again you need to make sure you are brief.

Make sure you are going with a solution to the issue.

Telling your boss “I can’t do this” will not go down well.

If you say “I’ve looked at my work. I would like to delay the deadline for project X from Friday until Tuesday. This will allow me to complete the new work. It will also deliver project X with the high quality you expect.”

This likely to get you a more kindly and positive reply.



We all struggle with our workloads. The more we take on the harder it gets.

Often being the person who says “yes” to everything will get you labelled as the office “sucker”. You will end up getting all the work no-one else wants to do.

Learn to say “no” to work that does not provide a positive answer to the following questions:

  • What am I doing this work for?
  • Why am I doing this work?

This provides you with a consistent filter for new work requests.

People will start to see you as someone who knows their time is valuable.

You know what is important, and what you can delay.

You understand the importance of delivering quality. Quality is often the first casualty in overload. The lack of quality leads to damage to a business and its reputation.


If you need someone to help you to say NO, then please contact Garry at, or visit our website


For information on how Next Actions can help your business, please complete the enquiry form below.

Also published on Medium.