The Trouble with Saying 'No'

Evolving Architect / 'The Trouble with Saying No'
The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.
— Warren Buffett

I think you'd agree that most of us typically want to do a good job and to do our jobs well. But sometimes we take on a bit more than we should in order to impress or reinforce confidence from others.


When interesting opportunities come about, we can't help but take notice. We feel like jumping at the chance to participate. Unfortunately, we also begin to lose interest, at least partly, in what we were just doing because the promise of what could be is not as gratifying as what already is.

Think of how a dog views the world. It's outside, minding its own business, when who comes along, dancing above in the protected treetops? It's none other than a squirrel.

Man's best friend doesn't ignore the squirrel. Oh, no. That just won't do for our canine pal. There is a fire inside that pulls at every emotion the dog has, resulting in a scene that may appear fairly crazy to someone walking by. Barking, jumping, and flailing in the air.


Simple. It's different and exciting.

Now think of yourself in the dog's position. The squirrel is the next cool thing you could take on. It's the most interesting thing your mind sees because it's not thinking about everything else in context.


For every squirrel we find, there are a hundred other things that we have to consider. Each time we add a new challenge, a new 'opportunity,' the less focus we can actually dedicate to each endeavor.

In the long term, you'll end up watering down the effort that you can give to each project. You may be able to take on more and more, but your output will always be less and less. Not to mention each task you add will make everything else take longer because there's only so much time in the day to do it all.

But we don't want to say 'No.' It's difficult. It's uncomfortable. We don't want to let people down or disappoint them. If you've just started a new position and you're still getting the lay of the land at the office, you probably don't want to immediately be tagged as the one who always says, 'No.'

Now, you don't want to be a 'Yes Man' (or Woman) either. The key is finding the balance that works for you and then making everyone around you aware of your intentions.


If someone approaches you with a cool, fun opportunity, but you know that you're booked solid for the foreseeable future, just say it. You know you want to. 'No' will save you from aggravation and turmoil. It will allow you to dedicate the time you have to a few key projects at a time.

Consider the other side as well. Saying 'No' at the start to something you know isn't possible is just as beneficial to the person asking. Because you're straightforward, that person will respect that you didn't waste their time and that you understand your limits. Everyone wins.

Don't get me wrong, saying 'Yes' can feel good in the moment. I've been guilty of saying 'Yes' more times than I can count. If you have the desire, time, and ability to say 'Yes,' maybe you should. But since you may be like me, taking on more than you'd like to admit, this next time saying 'No' could feel just as good.

If you do choose to say 'No,' don't worry. It's ok, everyone will live.

Thanks for being awesome!



Make a list of your Top 5 Current Priorities. The next time someone needs help with a project, consider saying 'No' if it doesn't fit with your list. Having the list ahead of the next request will help guide your decision and give you an excuse if you really need it.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please pass it on to someone you know. It would mean a lot to me.

This post has been adapted from the original entry from the member-exclusive Evolution Weekly on July 3, 2016. Sign up today and get entries like this sent directly to your inbox!

Michael LaValley

Buffalo, NY