Getting older gets a bad rap. There are some awesome things about aging. The most notable for me has been becoming more confident in myself. This confidence was the result of realizing that I’m pretty much grown at this point and unlikely to change drastically. I thought: “Ok, this is it. This is who I am. You get what you get, people. Like it or leave it.

With the confidence of age I’ve developed the ability to say “no.” I used to do a lot of things out of fear, guilt, the need to feel helpful, and obligation. I flipped the off switch when I turned 40 and just started saying “no.” It’s been wonderful! This quote helped inspire that attitude change:

Saying “no” is an important skill—one that’s most difficult when you are young in an industry and you are afraid you’ll be skipped over for future opportunities if you don’t agree to do the things you’re asked.

The problem is that saying “yes” doesn’t just mean that you end up doing a lot of things you hate. It also means that you stretch yourself to thin and can’t do your best work. As one of my favorite David Allen quotes tells us:

Here are seven ways to say “no without jeopardizing relationships or your professional future:

1. “No.”

Just saying “no” really is the easiest way. It’s difficult to get the word out initially, but people should respect it when you say it. You also aren’t qualifying your “no,” which often leads people to think they can negotiate you to a “yes.”

Just say “no.” You don’t owe an explanation as to why.

2. “That doesn’t fit… “

Saying something doesn’t fit in with your current goals or your organization’s ongoing projects is a great way to say “no.” You also can save a relationship by recommending a person or a service that can fulfill the need.

3. “Sorry, I’m unavailable.”

Saying your unavailable is different than saying you “don’t have time.” Most people say they “don’t have time” to do something when they just don’t want to. It’s an excuse and other people know it. Saying you’re “unavailable” could mean you have a variety of things planned (including time for yourself). You don’t have to qualify the answer with what you’re doing.

productivity quotes

4. Send a gift

Here’s my dirty little secret… I don’t like weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, birthday parties, or basically any other organized forced social occasion that requires cake and punch. I say “no” to almost all such events. I make up for it by always sending a good gift.

5. “Thank you for thinking of me, but no.”

Most people mean it as a compliment when they ask you to do something. It means they trust you to perform the task well. A Ph.D. professor once advised us to take these requests as the compliments they are, but still say no. She said to say: “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but no.” The response shows that you’re flattered, but you don’t plan to complete the task.

6. “You’ve got this!”

Empower someone to complete a task themselves if they ask you to do it instead. Perhaps answer a question or two about what they’re trying to do, then give them affirmation that you know they can do it. Be a cheerleader instead of a fixer.

7. “I can’t.”

Sometimes people ask you to do things that aren’t allowed in your organization or compromise your integrity. You tend to feel less badly about saying “no” in these situations. However, if you need help, just say “I can’t because that’s against our company’s policy.” or “I’m sorry. I can’t.

Saying “no” isn’t always easy. It’s a habit most of us have to develop. Just remember, each time you say no to something, you’re saying “yes” to something more valuable to you. There’s no shame is putting what’s important to you first.