When my sons were younger, I was at the top of the volunteer list (translation: I was a sucker). Whenever someone called me to help with an event, class project or anything else to do with school, I said yes. I did the same thing with two professional associations I was in, and with clients I didn’t want to offend.

One day I had a revelation: I was spending more time volunteering my time and meeting unrealistic requests from clients, than growing my business. I’m all for helping others, but eventually you have to say no, more often than you say yes.

How many times have you said yes when you meant to and wanted to say no? There are only so many hours in a day, and if at some point you don’t say no, you’ll never get ahead (or get any sleep!).

Before you say yes to everything, consider a few questions.

What are you willing to give up?

When you say yes to one thing, often you’ll have to say no to something more enjoyable. Look at your schedule and determine if you really have time to tackle one more project. If you don’t have extra time be honest, be direct, and say no. Something I’ve finally started telling people is that I could say yes and do the job halfway, or say no and let someone do it right. Everyone chooses the second option.

Could you recommend someone else?

When there’s no more room left on your plate, let the person who’s asking you to do something for him or her know that you’re too busy to meet his or her request, then recommend someone else for the task. But keep in mind that whomever you recommend is a reflection on you. Don’t suggest someone unless you have first-hand knowledge of his or her capabilities and work ethic.

Will others be flexible?

If you know you won’t be able to meet your client’s deadline, discuss a more realistic date. If you can’t compromise, be diplomatic and turn down the project. Some clients will gladly wait for you to begin working on their project. They’d rather know up front that you can’t start a project right away, than find out later on that you need to delay your start date.

Will you be miserable after you say yes?

The saying “No good deed goes unpunished” still rings true. You can say yes to someone, yet cringe at the same time.  You’ll know that your yes should have been a no when you feel a tight knot in your stomach. Consider how you’ll feel after you commit to a project and let that feeling be your guide.

The bottom line is that it’s impossible to do everything and please everyone, plus all of us could use a few more hours in the day. Take back your time by doing one thing…saying no more often.

About the Author(s)

Lisa Kanarek

Lisa is founder of Working Naked, a website that helps small business learn various aspects of working from home through “how-to” articles, videos and product reviews. She is the author of five books and has been a guest on Good Morning America, CNN, CNBC, and Public Radio’s Marketplace.

Founder, Working Naked