Saying No

I thrive off exciting opportunities. So much so that sometimes I have a hard time saying No.

In the creative field we’re frequently presented with opportunities. This could be client work, exciting new ventures, collaborative or personal projects. However, opportunities eat up time, our most valuable asset. There are so many ways we can choose to spend time. Being selective about which opportunities to spend it on shouldn’t be taken lightly. Though if you’re a people pleaser like me chances are you struggle with saying No. 

Whether it’s fear of disappointing others or thinking you’re invincible, it’s normal to want to say Yes. Maybe you like keeping busy or have an ambitious goal you’re working towards.

Alternatively, you might be inspired by the hustle you see from your peers on Twitter. It seems like everyone is doing crazy cool projects and taking on everything that comes their way. I often find myself wondering how they have the time to do anything else. Working on crazy cool projects is awesome, but doing important work like investing in yourself and your skill set is valuable too.

Have we really been so encouraged to make the most of every opportunity that we’ve lost the ability to say No?

We’re all fighting for productivity. Maintaining focus without the urge to procrastinate is something I’m still not sure can be mastered, but I’m trying. Fighting procrastination isn’t the only key helping me unlock productivity – being conscious about the type and volume of work I take on also plays a large role. 

Imagine two glass jars; one filled with opportunities you’ve said Yes to, and the other filled with No’s. If you have too many Yes’s at any given time it’s going to be very difficult to find clarity and focus in your work. A healthy balance is actually unbalanced. For every Yes there should be multiple No’s. 

Saying No not only makes your Yes’s more precious but encourages you to spend your time more purposefully. We probably have less time on this Earth than we think we do so don’t waste your Yes’s on bad opportunities. 

Identifying bad opportunities and declining them might seem obvious but when in the situation can be difficult to do. Maybe there’s the promise of a big budget, exposure or more work to follow. Sounds tempting, right? Sometimes these promises are legitimate, but it doesn’t always mean it’s worth saying No to everything else.

This is where I often trip up. I’m a master at taking on too many things and saying Yes. It’s just how I’ve worked – keeping busy and overcommitting myself. Often I say Yes to so many things that I start to lack focus and prioritisation on my existing commitments. Work becomes a blur and projects bleed into one another as I try to keep up.

So when should we say Yes? Is it as easy as choosing the most ‘fun’ one? For me, there has to be something appealing about the opportunity. It could be as simple as the chance to try something new. 

Not everything needs to be perfectly aligned with our goals all of the time. Having a healthy mixture of work and play opportunities helps us grow and provides a healthier perspective on the world around us. It’s ok to grow and develop other skills not typically used for work.

The type of opportunities you say Yes to is bound to attract more. Saying Yes to a branding project is likely to open doors to more branding projects. If this is aligned with your goals then great! Say Yes to a select few so you can put your focus and energy into creating a kickass brand. Otherwise it might be worth saying No to free up your time to say Yes to a project that is better aligned with your goals and strengths.

Saying No enables you to say Yes to better opportunities and prioritise your existing commitments. 

Most of us are raised being taught that saying No is rude or inconsiderate. We bend over backwards for people and neglect our personal commitments just to avoid saying the word No. It might sound silly but saying No takes practice. Learning to do so starts with recognising your own personal worth and value. If you’re spending all your Yes’s on others, when will you have time to say Yes to yourself? 

I don’t have the answer to that one quite yet, but I hope to soon. In the meantime I’ve been asking myself the following questions when presented with an opportunity:

Other-opportunity (eg. client work)

  1. is this aligned with my strengths and skills?
  2. will this help me to do my best work?
  3. what will I learn from the opportunity or experience?
  4. will those learnings be valuable to me or others?
  5. how important is this compared to what I already have on my plate?


Self-opportunity (personal project)

  1. is this aligned with my goals?
  2. will this provide value or benefit me in the long run? 
  3. does this help me learn and grow?
  4. is this a could, should or must do?
  5. how does this fit into my existing priorities?
  6. is this something I am willing to make time for?

We’re often told to make the most of opportunities – but at what expense? Asking yourself what value the opportunity entails and whether it’s worth your time investment are two big factors. Whatever opportunities you say Yes to, make sure there’s a handful of No’s. Focus and prioritisation are key to helping you maintain productivity and do your best work. 

After all that’s what we want at the end of the day, right?

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