Being open to new possibilities is a positive trait shared by most entrepreneurs—but saying yes to all the people you meet and opportunities that come your way can get you into trouble.

When we overcommit—especially when we take on projects that don’t actually benefit our business—our stress can hit the roof. It’s much harder to be productive when we’re feeling burned out and resentful.

One of the most impactful changes you can make in your business is to form one simple habit: give yourself time to weigh the cost and benefit before making any decision, and politely decline any opportunity that doesn’t align with your goals.

If you’re feeling stressed and less productive than you’d like, it’s time to get better at saying no. Here’s how.

Check your business plan

Your business plan is more than a record of the year’s goals and projections. It’s a living document designed to help you guide your business in the direction you want it to go.

Although some decisions may seem small—an invitation to coffee, a request for advice—all of those “asks” add up. In order to stay focused on the success of your business, you need to always keep your short and long term goals in mind.

If you don’t have a business plan (or it’s been some time since you wrote one), any of these free small business plan templates can help you get clear on where you want to take your business—and how you’ll get there.

Make a thoughtful decision

If someone’s request does not help your business, your decision is easy. If you may want to work with the person in the future, or there’s something you can ask in return that will benefit your company, a definite maybe is in order.

Before you say yes ask yourself the following questions:

  • How does agreeing to this benefit my business? How important is that benefit at this time or in the future?
  • Do I have the capacity to carry out this request at this time? How might other aspects of my business suffer if I prioritize this request?

What does my gut say? Will I feel burdened, owed a favor, or for any other reason resent saying yes to this request?

Scripts for saying no

If you’ve weighed the decision and need to turn someone down, these simple phrases can help you to say no gracefully.

  • Thank you for thinking of me but I can’t take on another project right now.
  • I’d like to help you but I have other commitments.
  • A healthy balance at work at home is my priority at the moment. I know this is a small request but I can’t be of service right now.
  • I’m sorry I can’t do what you’ve asked, but I can do this for you if it helps.
  • I’m unable to help you now, but perhaps another time.

Notice that specific reasons given for declining a request aren’t offered. You don’t need to give a list of excuses for saying no, which can sound unconvincing. Unfortunately when offered reasons for refusing a request, some people will add pressure by trying to challenge them.

Final thoughts

When you become skilled at saying no, you’ll not only avoid additional stress, you’ll have more time to spend doing meaningful work you enjoy, building a business you love.

One final thought: if the thought of saying no still fills you with dread, don’t think of it as saying no. Think of it as saying an enthusiastic yes—to you and the success of your business.

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