How to Say No to Overwhelming Requests and Reclaim your Time, Energy and Happiness

March 24, 2018

It’s true that women today have too much to do and not enough time to do it. Our time and energy are limited and there are countless people asking for a piece of it. Could you make a dessert for the teacher appreciation breakfast at Kings Road School? Would you teach Sunday School at St. Peter’s? Are you coming to my housewarming? And it’s not like you don’t have your own work to do: dinner needs made and you have 12 loads of laundry ahead of you. Even more, you are Mom and Dad this week because your husband is traveling. Are your hands sweaty yet? These are all causes worthy of your time and you want to help, but you’ve already committed to three other important things today. Keep reading to learn how to use my easy template for deciding when to say yes, when to say no and how to say no without guilt.

Say No to Being a Doormat

When we say “yes” to every request, sure we allay our guilt, feel good about contributing to our community, and feel needed. We believe that if we say no we are letting people down, we won’t be was important to the group or even that we are hurting others. However, the cost is we end up feeling depleted, resentful and by the end of the day we’re grumpy and yelling at those we love most. Ultimately when we say yes to everything, we end up saying no to ourselves and what we value most.

What’s the big deal anyway? You’ve been this way your whole life and managed well for yourself, right? It’s true that you learned to this in childhood from your family. Your family modeled what was acceptable and what was not and you were an excellent student. But you’re an adult now and using this strategy now comes with a heavy cost. The biggest downside of continuing this way is that you have little idea who you are. You are disappearing one yes at a time and this will inevitably leave you feeling empty and lost. Even worse, by doing this you base your self worth as a person on your giving. In order to satisfy the request monster, you end up in a constant state of striving, serving, working until you are spread thin to the point of burnout.

The secret truth is that saying “no” adds to your personal power. By having a clear sense of your priorities, you are free to accomplish essential tasks of your day and mindfully work to achieve your priorities.

Get More Time, Energy and Happiness

More Time: Saying no to a task that deflates your energy frees you up emotionally to invest in activities you enjoy. This includes time with people who respect and love you for who you are and not just what you do for them. Rather than losing your relationships, you make more time and space for the people who appreciate you and add value to your life.

More Energy: All this guilt and worry zaps your energy. The better you get at maintaining boundaries, the less guilt you feel. You no longer have to duck behind your shopping car to avoid people for fear they will ask you to do something you can’t say no to. You no longer have to worry about unwanted requests taking over your day.

More Happiness: When you learn how to say no, you are going to feel more happy because you won’t feel angry and resentful at others who take advantage of your giving nature. You will be more happy because you will know you are living from your priorities. You know what you need and you will be comfortable saying no to things that keep you from taking care of yourself.

Take Care of Others and Yourself

The first thing to do before moving forward is to have mindfully thought about the hierarchy of your priorities in life. What takes 1st, 2nd, 3rd place and beyond. This is a very personal thing and there aren’t right or wrong answers, just different ones. For example, maybe your spandex-loving friend Barbara’s list looks like this: 1st: a clean house; 2nd: self-care; 3rd: church; 4th kids.

This provides a structure for her to run the requests through and give a clear answer as to whether saying yes is in-line with her priorities. If instead we are talking about your friend Kathleen first priority is her children, followed by her husband, herself and her community. Kathleen doesn’t care about a clean house very much. You can see how that would lead to different choices.

I know this seems obvious, but when you say yes to everything, you are not really honoring your priorities and making proactive decisions. Instead, by not choosing, you made your priority hierarchy look like this: Say yes to everyone and please them. Say no to me.

So let’s look at the requests we started with, run them through Barbara, Kathleen and your current priority hierarchies.


  • NO – Could you make a dessert for Teacher Appreciation at Kings Road School?
  • YES – Would you teach Sunday School at St. Peter’s?
  • I will get back to you – Are you coming to my housewarming?
  • YES – Dinner needs to be made
  • YES – 12 loads of laundry


  • YES – Could you make a dessert for Teacher Appreciation at Kings Road School?
  • YES – Would you teach Sunday School at St. Peter’s?
  • YES – Are you coming to my housewarming?
  • NO – Dinner needs to be made: We’ll have frozen pizza or order out.
  • NO – 12 loads of laundry

Your Current Priority Hierarchy

  • YES – Could you make a dessert for Teacher Appreciation at Kings Road School?
  • YES – Would you teach Sunday School at St. Peter’s?
  • YES – Are you coming to my housewarming?
  • YES – Dinner needs to be made: We’ll have frozen pizza or order out.
  • YES – 12 loads of laundry
  • NO – To taking care of yourself or spending time with friends.

My favorite formula for saying no without feeling guilt

If you’ve sorted your priorities and considered if saying yes brings you joy, next you communicate your inner truth to the outside world. If your answer is yes. That was easy. Say yes, with a big smile and your heart wide open! When the answer is no, here’s where our work begins. I found it really helps to have a simple system like I’m showing you here to handle the hot seat of unwanted requests. My favorite system is to use what’s called the positive-negative-positive burger.

The request coming in is a compliment to you and you can receive it that way. Maybe you are known to be dependable, a good baker, flower arranger, fun to be around, etc. Start positive, “Thank you for asking”. Then comes the “negative”, which is to say no politely and finish positive: “Again, I appreciate you thinking of me. I hope you have an easy time finding someone else who can do that.” Keep reading because we will go more in-depth with concrete examples of how the positive-negative-positive burger can be used to help you safeguard your wants and desires.

Practical example 1: Using the burger to save your money for your own priorities

Imagine that your friend wants you to attend an evening fundraiser that is $150 a head. If you and your partner go, that’s $300 plus the extras you’d have to purchase once there. Frankly, you don’t care about this organization because you just don’t value rehoming injured mosquitoes and would rather spend that money elsewhere. Time for a burger!

It’s important to speak your truth so if you didn’t believe this was a worthy cause, you’d have to say something else that was true to you. Another example would be, “I know that mosquito re-homing is a priority for you and I appreciate your passion.” Are you getting the hang of this?

Practical example 2: Using the burger to save your Friday

Practical example 3: Using the burger to safeguard your friendships

A friend repeatedly sends messages soliciting you to purchase the skin cream she is selling. You don’t want to buy it and having a financial relationship with friends makes you queasy.

Practical Example 4: Using the Burger to Save Your Sanity.

You work as a graphic designer in a Summit, NJ creative agency. Your boss has the habit of piling on more projects than you can give attention to and keep your sanity. Last time you said yes to everything you were asked to do, you made mistakes, missed deadlines and ended up looking unprofessional. You don’t want that. It’s better to make a burger.

And you know what’s great about you saying no to unwanted requests? The world gets the gift of YOU. We’re selfish and we like you for who you are. If you keep saying yes when you don’t mean it, we don’t get to enjoy you. So what are you waiting for? Why not try a new way?

I’m not sure I can do it. Now what?

If you still feel anxious about saying no–even with a formula–I have a few more tools for you to consider. Sometimes it can be helpful if you mentally strip the connection between the person and the request. You aren’t saying “no” to your best friend as a person, you are saying “no” to the party that you would rather stick a fork in your eye than attend. They are two separate things. Maybe you hate crowds and you find you drink too much when you are out late. Another idea is to offer an alternative that would work better for you. “I’m sorry but I can’t attend the party, but I’d love to see you. Could we meet at Smart World Coffee for a chai?” That way, you show your investment in the relationship in a way that adds to your energy rather than depletes it.

Ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?”

Have you heard about the KonMari Method™ for decluttering? One central guideline is to consider your possessions one by one and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” In a way, what we are talking about here is decluttering your life from the things that deplete you and bring no joy. You won’t love everything you have to do (dog poop cleanup–yuck!) but there are lots of activities you find unpleasant that are optional. When you are making a decision about this, try to think about how you will feel while carrying out the task. Do you feel excitement or do you feel draggy. Really, if you are doing things out of obligation rather than joy, it isn’t doing others or yourself any good.

I’m still overwhelmed. I need help.

Even with these tools under your belt, A lot of women struggle with guilt, saying no and determining priorities. This makes sense because you learned this behavior as a child and you have lots of practice saying yes when it isn’t good for you. And making new habits requires conscious effort, practice and support of those who want the best for you.

Now, you might not be able to say no without guilt right away. It will take time to determine your priorities and practice using the positive-negative-positive burger, but it is entirely possible to be free of guilt, fear and exhaustion. You may choose to give yourself the support of a counselor who will listen, without judging you, and who gets it because she has been there. With a little guidance from Anna Bradshaw and the Feel Better Group you can identify your priority hierarchy, learn how to separate the person from the request, and say “yes” to your priorities with freedom and clarity.

If you are ready to:

  • move from survival to “thrival”
  • have the enthusiasm and energy to invest in the people and things that matter most to you
  • shed stress and responsibility clutter and feel calm and directed
  • say no without fear of the consequences
  • feel centered in where you stand in your relationships, instead of constantly worrying what others think and if they’re upset with you
  • have more time to do stuff you want to do, not stuff you think you have to do

Contact us to schedule an appointment today.

comments powered by Disqus