Staying organized means recognizing that time is your most valuable resource. Protecting your time is the surest way to be productive, happy and successful. A great way to protect your time is to master the art of saying no so you have the time and energy to say YES to what’s most important. 

If you have trouble saying no, you’re not alone. A lot of us struggle with it and I think I know why. As children, my siblings and I were prohibited from saying no to our parents because it was disobedient and disrespectful. Saying no to Mom or Dad was simply. Not. Permitted. Period.

If you grew up in a fairly strict household like I did where the word no was verboten, should it be any surprise that as an adult, you have a difficult time saying it? It makes perfect sense. If you don’t learn a skill as a child, how can you be expected to be able to use it as an adult? You can’t. You have to learn it, just as you would laundry, cooking or cleaning.

As much as I’m all for kids being taught obedience and respect for their parents and authority, I do believe it’s appropriate time to help children learn to set boundaries using the word NO. Surely you want your kids to know how to say NO when they face peer pressure in adolescence, right?

Here are five ways to say it without feeling guilty.

“Thank you for asking, but I really can’t.”

This is the simplest way to gracefully bow out of something you don’t want to or just can’t do. You acknowledge the person for asking, but you maintain your boundary politely without explaining why. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. No is enough.

“I know you want my help with X and I’m happy to do it, however I won’t be able to until/unless…”

This method is effective – even at work — because you’re not saying no forever, you’re saying no right now, and conditionally. By communicating the conditions that need to be present before you can commit, you’re creating timing, a scenario, situation or environment where saying yes becomes possible for you.

“I really can’t commit to that right now, but have you thought about…”

This method is effective because you’re offering a solution however that solution doesn’t involve you. So you’re attempting to help by collaborating but you escape the commitment of saying yes.

“I’m really not the best fit…”

If you run a small business, this is a great way to say no to potential new client work that sends up a red flag. If your gut says a potential new client will be high maintenance, won’t pay on time, or is offering you work that’s outside your scope of expertise, you do them a service by saying no because you’re just not a good fit. A bonus for the other party is to refer them to someone you believe would be a better fit.

“It’s against my policy…”

This is my favorite one when responding to requests that I have no interest in whatsoever, such as new business opportunities. When someone asks me to take a look at their direct marketing business opportunity, I always whip out my policy. My response is, “I’m flattered you think I’d be great at that, however I have a policy to never split my focus. I’ve done it before with bad results so now I just won’t do it.” Hey it’s not my fault. Blame my policy.

Pick out your favorite tactics and practice them in small ways at first to get accustomed to saying no. If, after a few weeks, you still have a hard time saying no, remember this: When you say YES when you really mean NO, you set yourself up to be over-committed, resentful, exhausted and you can’t give the best of yourself.

Choose carefully where you spend your time and you’ll be happier, more successful, and most important you’ll keep your personal integrity intact.

Monica Ricci is an Atlanta-based Certified Professional Organizer®, Productivity Expert, speaker & author who founded Catalyst Organizing in 1998.  A leader in her field, and winner of the NAPO Founders’ Award, Monica is passionate about teaching people to create simple, joyful, powerful lives.