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Preserve Your Priorities by 
Knowing How to Say No 

By Jack Perry

Have you ever felt as if you were being pulled in a million different directions, with so many commitments that you’d never find enough time to accomplish them all? As you become more successful in life, your number of choices starts to grow exponentially, and you run the risk of nullifying your personal values and shuffling your daily priorities to accommodate the increase in your responsibility. This can quickly wear you out. If you find yourself in this situation, you really have no one to blame but yourself and your inability to simply say “no.”

Without discrimination, you can “yes” yourself into a “yes mess.” When this occurs, you feel overwhelmed, and you are not investing your precious time with commitment and a focus on results. Basically, you either can’t or don’t know how to say “no,” and this habit can sabotage your social life, business life, personal health, and family life.

If you want a better, more balanced life, you can use the following proven techniques to eliminate the “yes mess” in each of the following four areas.

1. Social Life: How many times have you dressed for a social event, looked in the mirror, and thought, “Gosh, I wish I’d said no”? If you feel like this all the time, then you’ve created a “yes mess” out of your social life. To get out of this, you must say no more frequently than you do today.

Start by making a few decisions. Decide who you want to spend your personal time with, and then decide the times you will devote to your particular social activities. Next, have the courage to stick to these decisions. If a person you don’t want to spend time with asks you to do something, or if the particular activity is not at the right time, say no. You don’t have to be rude about it. For example, if someone asks you to go to the opera, but you hate the opera, then tell the person your feelings. Just say, “I don’t really like the opera, but thanks for asking.”

Have the courage to be discriminatory about how you will spend your social time, rather than just taking whatever comes your way. Your social time will be more profitable and enjoyable, which will manifest itself throughout the rest of your life.

2. Business Life: If your calendar is jammed with so many priorities that you’ll never be able to finish everything and produce quality results, if you frequently change your appointments and don’t fulfill your commitments, or if you have a million half-finished tasks on your to do list, then your inability to say “no” has likely created a “yes mess” out of your business life. To overcome this situation, you need to keep, organize, and commit to a personal calendar.

As you plan your days, allow enough time for a quality performance in each of the endeavors you choose and say no to everything else, unless a true emergency comes along. For example, if someone asks if you have a minute and you’re in the middle of something else, then say that you’re busy. Try this: “Unless it is an emergency, can you wait until I finish this project up?” Take control of your personal calendar and let people know that their interruptions might cause a disruption in your schedule and affect your quality performance.

3. Health: When you haven’t used your gym membership in weeks, when your clothes fit a little too tightly, and when you aren’t the vibrant, energetic person you aim to be, then the “yes mess” might have infected your health. To fight this detrimental disease, establish health as your number one priority. Remember, without a healthy body you have no quality of life, and that applies to all areas of your life

To establish this priority, put your health plans on your calendar. Allow yourself time to exercise, eat properly, and meditate. Then as you are challenged to change your health plans, say no. Keep in mind, these challenges can come from internal and external forces. So if you don’t feel like going to the gym, say no to yourself. Also say no to external forces. If a co-worker announces the opportunity for a free lunch at a local restaurant, but you’ve already committed yourself to going to the gym during that time, then pass up the opportunity.

4. Family Life: If your carefully planned family outings are filled with more tension than fun and you feel the need to rush everyone through the activity, then, again, the “yes mess” may be responsible. Unfortunately, family time is often the first priority people sacrifice. Many busy professionals rationalize that by working extra hours and breaking family plans, they are actually helping their families in the long run. While exceptions always come up, this should never be the rule.

You need to plan and commit to family time, just like every other priority. So if a co-worker asks you to meet on a Saturday to get ahead on a big project, and you have plans with your family scheduled for that day, then you need to honor your prior commitment. Just say to your co-worker the following: “I’m going to the zoo (beach, park, mall, etc.) with my family that day, but this project is important to me. Can we do it another time?” This approach allows you to uphold your priority and reschedule the work meeting.

Avoiding the “Yes Mess” in the Future: When you don’t know how to say no, you’ll never know what you are missing in life. The key is to be honest about your previous engagements and don’t tell white lies. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a web of big lies.

If you habitually say yes to everything, then you can’t expect to break the habit in one fell swoop. Keep in mind, saying no doesn’t hurt. It just takes confidence and practice to overcome the “yes mess.”

If you let it, the “yes mess” can overtake your social life, business life, health, and family life. When you use these tips for upholding your chosen priorities and saying no when appropriate, then you can increase your productivity, reduce your stress, and balance everything you want to do in life.

Read other articles and learn more about Jack Perry.

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