How to say no

Here are a few ways to kindly and firmly say no when you need to focus.

Redirect to your supervisor

“I’ve got to focus on this, and if you check with {supervisor’s name} and if {they’re} cool with it, I’m happy to help!”

Just say no

“No, I can’t do that.”

Ask them to prioritize

“Here’s a list of things I’m working on: {Trello or ZenHub link}. Can you help me prioritize your request?”

See if you’re an optional attendee

“Is this a critical meeting, or can I catch up on the notes afterwards?”

Defer until later

“I want to be in that meeting so I can be aware of the kinds of decisions we’re making, but I won’t be able to work on this until after I finish {my project work}.”

“Do you need a decision on this now, or does it fit with the schedule to wait for me to finish {my project work} so that I can dig into this topic and give you better input?”

“I would genuinely like to contribute, but I need to focus on my billable project right now. Can we add this to the backlog?”

“I can’t take that on right now, but let’s schedule a meeting {next week} to pick this up when I have more bandwidth.”

“Sure. How’s {date months in the future} for a start date on that?”

Dig into the deadline

“Can you tell me more about the urgency of this request? I’m juggling project work right now, but I have more time next week.”

Offer a specific limited thing instead

“I have to focus on my {project work}, so I can’t join this, but I can find half an hour to chat over your ideas with you. Let’s find a time next week.”

Acknowledge the project’s value

And then defer: “That sounds like a really amazing project! Sadly, right now I don’t have the {time/focus/brain-space} to contribute.”

“Thanks so much for thinking of me! I think this is important work, but I’m in a crunch time with my project, and don’t have the time to make this work within this timeline. If I can help in a smaller way (like proofing or a short chat), I’d be happy to!”

Recommend someone else

“You know who’s great at this? {Name}.”

Slow things down with strategic questions

“Before we start working on that, can we talk about your larger goals for the project?”

Offer alternatives

“I’m not going to do that right now, because I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Here are some alternative suggestions: {link to guidance or include things to think about}.”

Gather some data for yourself

“I have 32 hours for this project, 4 hours of meetings, and 20 free minutes. I just can’t do this right now.”

Give yourself permission to focus

For yourself: “Choosing one thing to do for the next half hour doesn’t mean I won’t ever do the other things — the stakes aren’t very high if I do the wrong thing for half an hour.”