On Saying No


This is not one of those blogs where I tell you how to do life faster/better/more efficiently in ten easy to follow steps. (I could only think of nine points anyway). There are no answers in this post, only a lot of questions and a handful of frustrations and a desire to get better at making the most of this year.

I’ve realised, once again, this week that I am terrible- absolutely, probably the worst person in the whole of Belfast- at saying no. This is not a new problem. In the past I have agreed to all manner of ridiculous scenarios, (teaching knitting classes, making sandwiches for 250 people, organising tech conferences, being a youth worker), simply because I am incapable of saying no.

Things came to a head around a year ago. Zoe, (office mate extraordinaire), wisely intervened when she heard me about to agree to leading an introduction to boxing workshop for deprived teenagers. Having pointed out that I had about 30 seconds of free time left in my diary, a horror of youth work and no boxing skills whatsoever, Zoe wisely suggested that this might be a good opportunity to practice saying no. A dinosaur shaped star chart appeared on my wall and over the next few months I was awarded stars for declining everything from quick wins and work experience students to forming a choir for disabled children and being kept waiting 60 minutes by the BBC. There were office rumours of a prize, possibly stationary-based, if I could fill my chart within the year.

The “saying no more often” chart is not full. It is not even half full. I had a relapse somewhere about July and started saying yes to everything again. This, with hindsight, was not my wisest move. Recently life has begun to feel like falling down stairs on roller skates. I go to bed at 12:30. I get up at 6:30. I watch very little TV and don’t play video games but I never seem to accomplish everything I meant to accomplish before bed. Lately I’ve begun to suspect that not saying no has something to do with this.

This is a busy year and I need to be writing a small mountain of words weekly but increasingly I feel like one of those people who call themselves a writer and never really get round to writing anything. Time is always running away from me. I need to do better with my time, to prioritise writing and also the important things like hanging out with this little person who helped me through a very long and wearisome Friday with a rendition of The Tiger Who Came to Tea, three year old sound  effects included. Moments like this are important and I want to make sure I don’t miss them in the muddle of all the things I could be doing.


So here’s the list. There are no easy solutions to saying no to the right people at the right time in the right way but here are a few things I’ve observed and if, in the next few weeks you think of anything wise to contribute to my thinkings, I’d be more than happy to hear your thoughts, (in an appropriate manner at an appropriate time or I’ll say no to you, or at least think about saying no but listen to you for an hour anyway).

1. Sometimes I say no to things I later realise I should have said yes to. I don’t like this feeling. How do I stop this happening?

2. Even though I think/say I don’t care about other people’s opinions I don’t want to let anyone down by saying no; even people I’m not that bothered about. What does this mean? Am I fickle or just incredibly responsible?

3. Often the people who advise me to say no more automatically rule themselves out of the list of people I should say no to.

4. I say yes to things much more often when I am full of energy or have just finished a successful thing I said yes to. I should go home to bed, rather than agreeing to further idiotic endeavours.

5. I am, in part, saying yes to things simply because I think that if I don’t people might stop asking me to do anything or no one else will do those things, which is daft because I am not the only person who writes/programmes/speaks/drives/builds flat pack furniture/organises kick ass tea dances in the world.

6. I can usually make a fairly decent stab at doing the things I say yes to, (probably even boxing lessons), this is probably down to my ability to bullshit and pick things up quickly, rather than some odd calling to have a go at everything in the entire world.

7. People rarely say no to me. Do other people say no a lot? Maybe I just get asked to do more bizarre things than the average person. Maybe other people have secretaries who filter out the oddest requests.

8. The more people I say yes to the more people ask me to do things. These requests are not multiplying in a normal, linear fashion, they are multiplying in droves like fornicating bunnies.

9. Saying no in a lovely way is an art form and I have not quite mastered it yet. I feel like my “naysaying” technique swings between widespread agreement and blank dismissal. Sometimes I am not very good with words.

All suggestions gratefully received


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