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Tasks – Saying NO to Non-Essentials

How do we focus on what is important and learn to say no to non-essential tasks? We all have an ever-growing to-do list looming at the beginning of each new day.  Sometimes the items on that list are leftovers that didn’t quite get finished the day before.  It’s hard to stay afloat with just our own professional and personal obligations.  When we pile on more and more tasks that aren’t essential it becomes nearly impossible to be successful.  Sometimes saying no can be hard.  More often than not we want to say yes whether it’s because we have something to gain or because it just makes us feel good.  But saying yes isn’t always going to be beneficial in the long run.  It can cause you to miss deadlines, be taken advantage of, or cause unwanted stress.

Start with a Plan for your Tasks

You won’t know when to say no if you don’t know what you have going on.  It’s important to have a current agenda of all the tasks that you need to complete.  Start with a daily or weekly schedule and a list of long-term goals.  Knowing how full your schedule is will help you make the right decisions on what to add.  Once you know what commitments you have it’s important to not only evaluate the importance of your tasks but to also prioritize both your short-term and long-term goals so that you stay on track.  When making a decision to add something ask yourself if it is essential to something on your goal list.  If it isn’t then your answer should be no.


There is usually a source where non-essential tasks tend to originate.  It may be family, friends, co-workers, or just our own bad habits.  An easy way to avoid the urge to take on these tasks is to head them off before they arise.  We tend to keep our struggles to ourselves or give generic answers when others inquire about how things are going.  Let people know when you are busy, that you have a lot on your plate, and share the things that you are working on.  If you seem available, then others will assume that you have more time than they do and they won’t feel bad about asking for help.  You may also need to give yourself a nudge every now and then.  If you find that you are getting behind or aren’t progressing towards your goals, then it may be a good time to review your schedule and goals.  This will remind you of what you need to accomplish and what you are working towards.

Choose Your Words Wisely

One of the reasons you may be unsuccessful at saying no is that you just aren’t doing it right.  Make sure that your words match the outcome that you want.  If you apologize while saying no, leave the no sounding more like a maybe, or give the impression that you want to say yes then it’s likely that you either won’t get your message across or it won’t be long before you’ll be asked again.  Avoid phrases such as “I’m so sorry but I don’t think I can”, “I really wish I could”, and “Not right now” and replace them with firm statements that are not open to interpretation.  A direct “no” or “I can’t” should do the trick.

Looking for more great tips? Check out our other blogs here!

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