If you’re like the few-years-ago me, you’ll add anything to your to-do list as long as it meets one of these criteria:
- It’s important (to my health, my marriage, keeping my job, the kids’ academic success, etc.)
- It’s something I want to do
- It’s something other people believe is important or one should want to do
You already see where I’m going with this, don’t you? It’s so glaringly silly yet we all do it.
As I work on perfecting the art of “leaning out”, I’ve been purposefully eliminating #3 from my criteria. My new default answer is “no” and something has to meet #1 or #2 for me to say “yes”. The result? I end up with extra space left over on my “list” (a.k.a. in my life). I play with my kids more, exercise more, I’ve even taken up piano!
I also learned that if there is “open space” on my list, I need to just leave it there. It’s tempting to try and squeeze more onto my list (into my life) by accepting some things that meet criteria #3, but at what cost?
Just because I could do something doesn’t mean I should…
The point of saying “no” isn’t to make room for some other damn obligation. Your list doesn’t have to always be full! The point of saying “no” is to end up with space leftover once you’ve done only the truly important things.
Change your default to “no” and make “yes” have to work for it… Don’t do things just because you think you’re supposed to or because you’re concerned others will judge you if you don’t do them. I know, this last part is a toughy, especially for those of us who are people-pleasers to our core. But if you use the simple criteria of #1 and #2 above, saying “no” actually becomes pretty easy.
Keep in mind, you have to get very clear and honest about what “makes the cut” for #1 and #2. And to complicate things further, everyone’s answer to #1 and #2 can be very different. What the perfect Pinterest mom down the street has on her list shouldn’t necessarily be on yours!
This all dawned on me when our oldest son entered elementary school. I began to fear the seemingly innocent “Friday Folder” that comes home chock-full of volunteer flyers, fundraiser events, endless extra curricular sign-ups… At first I was in my ole people-pleaser mode and my initial reaction was to say “yes” to everything, especially if I technically had the bandwidth to do it.
But I quickly realized that surviving the school-age years with three kids was going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
I needed to pace myself.
So I started saying “no”. And you know what? I survived! My son survived! Actually, we’re thriving because our lives are full of only things we said “yes” to because they are truly important and/or we really want to do them! Come to think of it, that’s another advantage – I’m teaching this practice to my kids so that they learn what activities they truly value, as opposed to how to just fill their lives to capacity…
I realized this approach could be applied in other areas of my life such as work and at home. And I thought it’d be fun to share some of my “no’s” with you! But before reading the below list, REMEMBER that everyone’s criteria is different. If one of my “no’s” happens to be one of your “yes’s”, that’s perfectly okay!
Things I Say “No” to at My Kids’ Schools:
- Birthday Treats for my Kids’ Classes – My kids get a birthday party and presents. And I know the kids in their classes don’t need more junk food or trinkets. And I don’t enjoy doing it, so I’m not gonna!
- PTA Meetings – It’d be important for me to go if no one else went but we fortunately have schools full of amazing, involved parents. If this is on your list, then THANK YOU! You’re giving me the ability to say “no” here!
- Driving on Field Trips – These often meet criteria #2 for me (I want to do it). But I have to use vacation time from work in order to do so (more to come on this topic in a future post…). So I try to drive on at least one field trip, each school year, for each of my kids. Otherwise this falls into that pesky #3 category so it usually doesn’t make the list. And again, if this meets your criteria, then THANK YOU for driving my son!
- All the Extra Curriculars – It’s tempting to try and squeeze in Math Night next Wednesday at 7pm, but does my son really need to go to that…? It might be fun to do the Science Fair, but he is only in First grade… That might be better saved for when he’s a little older. We’ve gotta pace ourselves.
Things I Say “No” to at Work:
- Schmoozing During the Lunch Hour – Of course if it’s a special occasion with the team, I love to join. Or if I’m meeting with someone to talk about work or to build relationships. But otherwise you can find me eating leftovers at my desk, getting my work done so I can get home to my family.
- The Late Night Email Login – Sometimes there’s a crucial email you need to send (criteria #1). But if you log into your email at night, just out of habit or for the heck of it, you’re gonna end up tending to things that really could wait until the next morning.
Things I Say “No” to in My Personal Life:
- Holiday Cards – This used to meet criteria #2 but this one no longer makes the cut for me. That’s another thing to keep in mind – your answers to the criteria can change over time!
- Trunk Shows – I love getting together with a group of awesome women to drink some Chardonnay. But I don’t enjoy buying Tupperware or stretch pants while we do it.
All of the above things used to meet criteria #3 – something other people believe is important or that one should want to do. As soon as I realized that criteria #3 had to go and that I needed to leave alone any excess capacity on my list, I was free.
What things do you say “no” to? How has it changed your life? What approach do you use to make these decisions? We want to hear your thoughts so Comment below! Subscribe above to receive future posts directly in your email. Visit and Like our Facebook page.