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Know how to say no!

by Miki Saxon

A terrific CEO I work with has a handle on everything he’s supposed to do—except how to say “no.” The result is that he’s starting to annoy clients, employees and family. He’s not alone, employees at all levels, stay-at-home moms, kids, everybody seems to be having that problem and lots of people are writing about it, so I thought I’d add my two cents.


First, create a SAY NO template

  • Draw a circle on paper or make a pie chart on the computer representing one day.
  • Make it large enough to have 24 segments each divided into fourths representing the hours in a day broken down into 15 minute segments.
  • Block out your minimum sleep requirements.
  • Make seven copies each labeled with a day of the week.
  • Block out any other constants on the appropriate days (exercise, classes, family, etc.).

Next, use the SAY NO template

  • It is imperative to print out 52 weekly templates (enough for the year), because digital versions do not work!
  • Mark off the time requirements for all appointments, meetings, projects, etc. to which you’ve already committed
  • Never agree to do something until you’ve looked at the appropriate day(s) and considered the time required for a task (don’t under-estimate, writing a white paper takes more time than writing a proposal) and the deadlines involved.
  • When you do say yes immediately mark out the necessary time.
  • When there is no time available for the meeting/project/whatever you’ll know that you need to either remove something else or say no!

The reason the printouts are necessary is that the circle’s primary purpose isn’t scheduling, it’s to avoid over-scheduling and to learn to say NO.

I’ve found that this approach works far better than either paper planners or PDAs because it’s so visual. Also, unlike the others, the circle is finite, as are the number of segments within it, so it’s much harder to mark off more time than exists—kind of like trying to serve nine people from a pie with eight pieces. Sure, you can change allotted times, but that doesn’t include changing the constants in the template because

  • sleep time raises productivity;
  • it’s well-documented that exercise reduces stress and improves energy; and
  • reducing family/relationship time causes unhappiness for everybody involved.

Urgent and/or unplanned stuff always comes up, so why block out all available time when you know you’ll have to eliminate something—say no!

I know, it sounds simplistic, but every person I’ve had try it says that as long as they do it honestly, it works! The payoff is excellent because you’ll

  • have more energy,
  • better relationships,
  • be more productive, and best
  • fewer people upset because you didn’t do what you said you would do when you said you would do it

Oh, and like a crossword puzzle, you may want to start off using a pencil.

Tomorrow: finding time to think, dream and innovate.

3 Responses to “Know how to say no!”
  1. Hannah Says:


    Talent is what you possess; genius is what possesses you…

  2. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] Some background. When I first started working with him he was underwater, both at work and at home. It didn’t take long to figure out that most of those problems could be alleviated by using my “say no” technique, which he did with great success (he’d never before found one that worked for him). We went on to work on really interesting stuff and build a productive relationship. Every now and then he slips back into the bad old habits—as we all slip—but we’d catch it and he’d get back on track. […]

  3. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] First some background: I’ve known Scott Allen for several years; a few of months ago I asked him if he would serve on my Board and he said yes. I was thrilled because we’re launching a new product Q3 and having formal access to Scott’s expertise would help assure its success. A couple of weeks later I received a very apologetic email from Scott explaining that, in fact, that he wouldn’t be able to serve; he was severely over-committed already and the situation was having serious effects on his health, as well as stressing out his family. I replied that I understood, that nothing was more important than his health and family, and that he should try my approach to saying no, because I knew that it worked. […]

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