How to Say "No" to Maximize your "Yes"

Sep 11, 2019

"All managers and executive leaders need to head outside for our meeting today at 1pm. Bring a cup full of water to represent your work load."


It was somewhat vague, but that's the Gary we've all come to know and love. We marched outside with our glasses full of water, bantering back and forth trying to guess what this demonstration was all about.

"You each are holding a cup filled with water to represent your daily work load. I want you to drink how much of it you get done on any given day."

Light bulbs started to flicker in my mind as I saw where it was headed. I drank a pathetic sip from my glass to be funny.

"Receiving! You didn't finish your load today. That means more work for you tomorrow, and for Creative, Marketing and Erin.. Brandon, can you give everyone an extra glass please?" 

"Order Fulfillment! You didn't finish your load. Who's affected?"

A few of us sheepishly raised our hands.

"Okay, Brandon, will you hand an extra glass to Order Fulfillment, Customer Serivice, Marketing and Erin please?"

The demonstration was clear now. Our individual work loads directly affect the loads of other individuals and their departments. I quickly finished drinking my original cup and was promptly handed two more.

Struggling to manage three full cups of water, some began to spill out. 

"Oh! Erin! That's not water you're spilling, that's money! Brandon, how does that make our Financial department feel?"

It hit close to home. I was definitely feeling the weight of the demonstration now. He had made his point, but I had one I wanted to make too. I swiftly raised the first glass to my lips and chugged it. Then the second and the third. I put all the cups inside one another and smiled with satisfaction.

"Boom!" Everyone laughed.

Erin to the rescue.

"Erin, why did you drink all those glasses?"

My response took me by surprise. "To prove that I could."

I wanted to take it back as soon as the words escaped me. How enlightening. To prove that I could? Seriously? 

I'm sure after the demonstration was over no one gave it a second thought, but I couldn't shake it.

Granted, it was just water, but my mind spun out of control with all the things I've electively drunk just to "prove that I could", often at the expense of my health or my family.

How often are we doing things to prove to other people that we can rather than intentionally trying to lead and prioritize the things that matter most to us?

Have you ever been asked to do something that you didn't want or have time to do, but you agreed to do it anyways? Have you ever felt obligated or pressured or guilted into taking on things that you don't value or care about?

We want to be people pleasers. We want to make everybody happy. But is making everybody happy a proven recipe for success?

As we take the first 15 minutes of our morning to set our intention for the day, it should act as a guardrail to keep our actions in check throughout the day.

When we say yes to something, it ultimately means that we're saying no to something else. 

Without a clear understanding of what we're working towards, our intentions, priorities and direction of action, we may not be fully aware of the things we're choosing to give up.

This is why getting clear on our goals, intentions and priorities is so important. This way, when we get an invitation that comes that might distract us and doesn't align with our priorities or doesn't help us move the needle towards our goals, we can clearly identify that in saying yes to it, we are choosing to say no to something on our priority list.

Understanding this principle empowers us to say "no" without guilt. It empowers us to be more dedicated to our life and to our priorities whether that's our children, our spouse, ourselves, our business, whatever it happens to be, and say "yes" to those things that help us progress towards our goals.


  • Don't answer immediately. Take a step back to think. When our default is "yes", it often implies that we haven't given it much thought. Don't be so quick to respond. Instead, try, "Can I take some time to think about this?" And then when you go back, you can say genuinely, "I've thought carefully about this.."
  • Don't over-share. Our need to over explain ourselves comes from insecurity and desire for validation. Be your own validation to chase your dreams. A short and sweet explanation is all you need. Try, "Unfortunately I can't. If I were to say yes to this, it would come at the cost of saying no to something I cannot afford to say no to."
  • Establish and commit to a personal policy. Establish a personal policy for the month or season or year that you can refer to. Try, "I made a policy for myself to not over-extend by over-scheduling because it comes at the cost of saying no to something that I have made a personal commitment to prioritize, so unfortunately I can't say yes this time." 
As we put thought into our commitments, people will respect our own personal boundaries and we will free up our time to focus on what really matters most.

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