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20 Templates to Say No to Just About Everything (Nicely) So You Can Get Your Focus Back

Jessica Stillman

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Warren Buffett has said that “really successful people say no to almost everything.” Steve Jobs believed “focusing is about saying no.” Most of us would agree in theory, but here in reality I, have a question for you: How’s your schedule looking?

For a lot of professionals the answer is probably “packed.” As much as we love to read about the Spartan to-do lists of super achievers, in the modern workplace, keeping your calendar under control so you can actually focus on what matters can be a daunting task.

The solution isn’t complicated. You need to say no to more stuff. The trouble is in the execution. We fear being rude, struggle with FOMO, and worry about appearances. I can’t do much to help with your underlying anxieties about the shortness of time (though others have offered great advice), but I can at least help with the practicalities of saying no.

Many incredibly busy people, from CEOs to venture capitalists to time-use experts, have written about their own struggles with managing their schedules and have helpfully offered up exact scripts to automate the process of finding just the right language to say no nicely. To help you wrestle back control of your calendar this year, I’ve gathered them up here in one handy resource.

Turning down work/ projects:

  • “I’m sorry I just can’t prioritize that right now, but best of luck.”
  • “I know you’re not asking for a lot of my time, but I need to concentrate on getting some projects done and can’t let myself be distracted right now. Best of luck.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me for X. However, I’m going to have to turn this down. I want to ensure I continue to do my best with my existing workload and my plate’s a little too full for me to be able to take this on right now. Sorry I can’t be of more help!”
  • “I would love to help you out, but given my schedule, I wouldn’t be able to get this back to you for a couple of weeks. If you would like to have this turned around sooner, I recommend that you reach out to X. Does that sound good?”
  • “I appreciate your thinking of me, and I’m honored by the request. But unfortunately, I…

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Jessica Stillman

Top Inc.com columnist/ Editor/ Ghostwriter. Book lover. Travel fiend. Nap enthusiast. https://jessicastillman.com/