The art of saying no


One of the (not-so) secrets to success as a working mum is learning to say ‘no’. We can have it all, but we can’t do it all. In fact, the only way we can have it all is by not doing it all.  Inevitably, this means that we will have to say ‘no’ now and then – taking on too many commitments or spreading ourselves too thinly is only going to set us up for failure.

Saying ‘no’ is an art that many people struggle with – they don’t want to let others down, miss out on opportunities or jeapordise a relationship – but it is a valuable skill to master and it doesn’t have to be difficult.

The cost of saying ‘yes’

The starting point for mastering the artful ‘no’ is understanding the cost of saying ‘yes’.  We often become so concerned with pleasing others that we say ‘yes’ without hesitation and without really considering the implications of that ‘yes’.  Remember this: for everything that you say ‘yes’ to, you are saying ‘no’ to something else.

Going to work or staying home and spending time with the kids; taking a well-paying job with a commute or keeping the position around the corner from home; writing this blog post or going to sleep; eating my second chocolate Easter egg or eating my second chocolate Easter egg (there’s no alternative here, the egg is going to be eaten) – you get the idea.

How not to become a yes-(wo)man

The reasons why we becoming ‘yes-(wo)men’ tend to fall into two broad categories: not wanting to let people down and not wanting to miss out.  How do we deal with these fears?  The short answer: by remembering that you are living YOUR life, not someone elses.

Know your values, goals and priorities

The absolute key to mastering the ‘no’, is knowing your values, goals and priorities.  If saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to something else, you need to know which opportunity is more valuable to you.

If you’re clear about your priorities, any guilt you may have about saying ‘no’ falls away. At least, that’s the aim! Honestly though, if the choices you make are the ones that are right for you and your family, what is there to feel guilty about? We can’t be everything to everyone, nor can we make everyone happy.

My priority is spending one-on-one time with my daughter on the days I am not at work, so I won’t say ‘yes’ to catching up with every friend and family member who asks me. Yes, those relationships are important to me, but Lilly is my priority.

Creating a life you love

Feeling like we’re missing out sometimes is inevitable, but FOMO is not a good enough reason to say ‘yes’ to something.  Instead of focusing on the things you can’t do, focus on the opportunities in your life and practice gratitude for the things you do have.  Create and live a life you love.  Fill your life with so much love, happiness, fun, adventure, thrill or challenge that you want to choose your everyday life.  I know ‘gratitude’ is the buzz word right now and this may all sound a bit cliche, but it really is true!

Like most parents, I’ve missed many nights out with my friends.  As I write this post on a Saturday night, my girlfriends are out for dinner and drinks at a new bar (actually, I have no idea if it is new. I’ve never heard of it before, but, let’s be honest, I’m not exactly up to date with these things!).  While I’m sure I would have enjoyed myself had I been there, I genuinely don’t feel like I’ve missed out.  I like to be at home to settle my daughter to sleep and to comfort her when she wakes in the night.  Would I have it any other way? Nope.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the friendships don’t matter; they absolutely do, but there are other ways to nurture my friendships that fit with my priorities.  I can see my friends during the day when Lilly is happy to be apart from me or I can take her with me to see them.  What I value is the friendship, not the time and place of the get-together.

The art of saying no

Saying ‘no’ can be a complex art.  While it is important to value your own time and priorities, your relationships with others matter too and it is important that you don’t jeapordise them. Here are my thoughts on how to say no gracefully:

  1. Cut to the chase – there’s no point putting off your answer if you know it is going to be a ‘no’. The sooner you say ‘no’, the more opportunity the other person has to make alternative arrangements.
  2. Explain why – you don’t have to justify every decision you make to someone else, but if you’re struggling with a ‘no’ it may help to explain why you made that choice.  If you value a relationship, you don’t want people to think you are palming them off with a ‘no’ because you don’t care.
  3. Offer an alternative – if the relationship or opportunity is important to you, it is worth suggesting an alternative. It could be as simple as a new date and time for a meeting, offering help/assistance rather than taking on a complete task, recommending someone else to help or even a simple ‘let me know how you get on’.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life.

So, there we have it. How to say no! Do you struggle to say ‘no’?  What advice or tips would you add to this list?


  1. Mackenzie Glanville | 4th May 17

    Really great post and something we all often need a reminder about! Thanks for reminding me xx

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 4th May 17

      Thanks Mac. It’s nice that I can give you a nice reminder for once, that’s usually your job with your beautiful posts <3 xx

  2. Kerry | 4th May 17

    Thank you Lucy, a timely reminder for me as I plough in to a very busy term at school. My ability to say no is often compromised by my desire to do just that bit more to help someone or to be just that bit better. It is indeed what you’re saying yes to that matters. I always feel stronger when I have said no to something that I didn’t really have to do. And I am learning to share the chores with others who are generally more than happy to pitch in or to take care of something for me.
    Love reading your insightful writing.

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      Thanks Kerry, I’m pleased that you can relate to what I write. I had to learn to share the chores too, especially learning that things don’t always have to be done exactly as I would do them myself.

  3. Amy Haverkort | 6th May 17

    Oh my… I used to say YES to everything for fear of disappointing someone. I used to always agree and then five minutes later I’d almost (and sometimes) be in tears because I really didn’t want to do that thing. Luckily I stopped doing this when I was pregnant because I was literally too exhausted to do certain things. Since then I’ve just been honest about what I can and can’t do. Like you mentioned I do explain why but I’m not ashamed to say “No, I don’t feel up to that”.

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      Good on you! I’m glad you have figured out what works for you now! We definitely shouldn’t feel ashamed to say we don’t feel up for something – it’s not worth the stress and tears.

  4. Helen K | 6th May 17

    Always a good reminder. And also good to remember that priorities change too as life changes (sometimes I get stuck doing something because I’ve always done that role, or been reliable – but something your ace to shake it up)

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      Yes, this is such a good point. It’s all too easy to get stuck in a rut and do things just because they’ve always been done that way.

  5. Amy @ Hnabdbagmafia | 6th May 17

    Very important advice, here. We get stretched so thin if we can’t say no.

  6. Tash | 6th May 17

    Great post! I have trouble saying ‘No’ A LOT! I might need to print this off and put it in my diary so that I read it every week before I schedule in the following week.

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      haha, it would be a good reminder! Take baby steps, you’ll get there!

  7. Lauren | 7th May 17

    I’m a big “yes” person…and find it hard to say no. Especially when it comes to work and blogging things… I remember reading a quote somewhere “You can have it all, just not all at once.” which really makes sense to me. Great post!

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      Thanks Lauren. I’ve been reading Shonda Rhimes’ book ‘Year of Yes’ and now I am wondering if I say no too often and should actually be saying yes more! Seems I can’t win! I’ve heard that quote before too, although I think we can ‘have it all’; we just need to be responsible for defining what ‘all’ is for us, instead of following someone else’s definition. Thank you for your thoughtful comment 🙂

  8. Heather Keet | 8th May 17

    I think my problem is saying no too often. I used to say yes to everything but that got tiring very quickly! #GlobalBlogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 8th May 17

      Funny you say that, because after publishing this I have been reading Shonda Rhimes’ book ‘Year of Yes’ and now I am wondering if I need to say yes more often! It seems I can’t win!

  9. Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom | 8th May 17

    Glad you ate the second Easter egg! And put up this blog post. I think motherhood really helps you prioritize and time-manage. #globalblogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      haha I probably ate the third and fourth too. I have a weak spot for chocolate! Thanks Katy 🙂

  10. Heather Burnett | 8th May 17

    I love how you said-For everything you are saying Yes to you are saying No to something else…I am so guilty of people pleasing. I am getting better with time. I think that comes with experience & the burnout that being a “Yes Woman” brings. Thanks for sharing this on #GlobalBlogging!!!

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      It makes you think about saying ‘yes’ differently when you put it like that, doesn’t it! Thanks Heather 🙂

  11. Michelle | 8th May 17

    I love this. I’ve touched on this subject in a blog posts that I still haven’t completed. I find I spread myself so thin at times and now I’ve become a mother i’m just used to sacrificing my time for other people. It’s a hard balance #globalblogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      I can relate to that – I have so many unfinished posts in my drafts! Send me a link if you get around to finishing yours, I’d love to read it x

  12. Mama Grace | 8th May 17

    I was thinking of the yes project while reading this. Where a guy said yes to everything that came his way, no matter what and all these opportunities came to him. I know this is not the same but the yes and no and how that empowers us as mothers or indeed disempowers us is interesting. #GlobalBlogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      Since I posted this I have started reading Shonda Rhimes’ book ‘Year of Yes’ and I’m now wondering if I need to say yes more often! I think being aware of how we use our time is what is most important, rather than just doing things because we think we should.

  13. Natalie Dickinson | 8th May 17

    This has been a bit of a thing for me lately too so this post is pretty good timing and a good reminder for me to stick to what I’m doing right now! Saying no to things I don’t really want to do or don’t have time for is getting a little easier… #GlobalBlogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      Glad to hear it is getting easier. Stick with it, do what is best for you xx

  14. Susie / S.H.I.T. | 9th May 17

    I’m terrible at sayng no – well, I’m a bit better now through sheer necessity but I still find it very hard. But as you say priorities change and we have to say no, and I want my kids to be able to say no much more easily than I have done in my life so far. #globalblogging

  15. MomOfTwoLittleGirls | 9th May 17

    Great advice. Doing it all is certainly different to ‘having it all’, #globalblogging

  16. Lexie @ | 9th May 17

    Priorities are so important when you are a working mom! All of the sudden time is our most valuable resource. We need to spend it wisely.

  17. Tubbs | 9th May 17

    Useful reminder. I’m terrible at saying no! Thank you

  18. Tracey | 9th May 17

    I feel like if its someone I’m close too its easier to say no. Someone I go to uni with invited me to a bbq, I didn’t want to go and I don’t think they would care whether I did or not but I not having any other plans and not wanting to lie, I just said send me the details I might come. Needless to say I didn’t go! #globalblogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 9th May 17

      The ‘maybe’ trap is so easy to fall into! The problem is that we end up saying maybe so often and never following through. I think that is worse than just saying no in the first place!

  19. Barrie Bismark | 9th May 17

    Thanks for the reminder. I need to get better about saying no. Great post.

  20. One Messy Mama | 9th May 17

    Love this! I was told by a very special lady once, that in order to be the best me, I needed to learn how to say NO… I have never forgotten that. There is nothing wrong with saying yes to people, but when it overtakes our own happiness it can become dangerous ground… #globalblogging

  21. Paula from Her Life Is Love | 9th May 17

    This is a nice read, Lucy. I don’t think I have trouble saying no though…might need to work on saying yes actually. #globalblogging

  22. Jeannette | 9th May 17

    A long time ago, someone said to me that you should always start with No. And then be convinced why it should be yes. A bit hard to do, but not the worst advice.

  23. Charlene | High Heels And Fairy Tales | 9th May 17

    I LOVE this post! I think most of us struggle with saying no, and I love how you explain why it actually is okay. Need to share this everywhere!! #GlobalBlogging

  24. Nige | 9th May 17

    Fantastic post so interesting and yes we need to say no every now and again thanks for hosting #globalblogging

  25. Petite Words | 9th May 17

    A BIG yes! This needed to be said (: I’d added a post this week about taking back time, great minds think alike! #globalblogging

  26. Stephanie | 10th May 17

    Choosing between writing a blog post or going to sleep. Been there! #globalblogging

  27. Eva Katona | 11th May 17

    Great reminder. I am a yes person too, but working on becoming an in betweener, as I can’t fully go cold turkey 🙂 if that makes sense. #globalblogging

  28. Mrs Mummy Harris | 13th May 17

    I’m slowly embracing the “no’s” and finding that the “yes’s” are more rewarding for it! definitely worth doiing it every now and again! #globalblogging

  29. Jo - Mother of Teenagers | 15th May 17

    I am actually very good at no and learnt that early on when I was working and needed to leave on time to get to the nursery to pick up eldest. Also working in a service industry I learnt it was important to use no to set clear boundaries and expectations. #GlobalBlogging

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 15th May 17

      Working in a service industry is a great example! It is really important to set boundaries so that clients know the limits of your service. Saying no is crucial for this!

  30. Hayley @ Mission: Mindfulness | 19th May 17

    This is so helpful – I am still not very good at saying ‘no’ to things.

  31. Lucy At Home | 23rd May 17

    Well I read your post at the perfect moment. To cut a long story short, I’ve been running the local baby group for about 15months but, with my blog taking up more and more of my time, I’ve been resenting my volunteering role but didn’t want to let everyone down. I’ve just read this and immediately sent off the email to inform everyone that I will be stepping down from the role as of July. I feel so much relief that I’ve made a final decision. Thank you #blogcrush

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 24th May 17

      I’m so pleased this helped you to work out your priorities! It can be hard when we feel like we’re letting people down, but you have to do what is best for you and your family. Feeling relief is a good thing – it shows you made the right decision! Enjoy the ‘free’ time!!

  32. Lucy At Home | 23rd May 17

    Oops I should have said “Congratulations” too because someone loved this post so much, they added it to the #blogcrush linky! #blogcrush

    • Lucy | Leaning In | 24th May 17

      Thank you! That was the lovely Hayeley at Mission: Mindfulness <3


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