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Say No to increase your Focus

Are you pulled in so many directions that you can’t focus? Our culture places so much emphasis on working more, earning more and doing more that exhaustion and stress might seem like a necessary price to pay to please others and be successful. But when we are stretched too thin, constantly rushing from one thing to the next, we are less able to focus or do our best work.

In her recent post on LinkedIn, Lena Dunham, the creator of Girls, writes about why she will be making 2016 a year of saying no more often, having realized the high cost of being over committed.

This year, I too am practicing saying no more often — graciously, even without apology. Like many people with lots of drive and interests and the desire to help others, I’ve had a tendency to over extend myself. Organize a poetry reading and publish a book for 150 students at my daughter’s school? That sounded like fun! Volunteer on two PTA committees? Sure, our schools needs parents to pitch in! Help a friend redesign her website and another friend with marketing and a crowd funding campaign for his new venture? Those projects sounded interesting too, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. So I said Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes… all at the same time… on top of having my own work and family to care for. Eventually after months of juggling too many responsibilities I realized how frequently I was skipping meals, exercise and sleep, to squeeze more hours out of my day. But I also realized how my health and social life suffered, and how hard it was to focus with so many balls in the air I didn’t have enough time to fully concentrate on each task. That was last year.

Steve Jobs once said: “Focus is about saying no.” This year, when I was asked to chair another PTA committee and plan an auction for an organization I support, my knee jerk reaction was to say yes. But then I remembered the promise I made to myself to not take on too much, and politely declined. Yes, I felt a little guilty, but I also knew that I was making the right choice, for myself, my family and the projects.

Are there projects or people you’re having trouble saying no to? It might help to have a script to craft your response. This article by Elizabeth Grace Saunders includes several sample responses for setting boundaries and saying no politely.

By practicing saying no, you can increase your focus, and make more people happy, including yourself. In our next post we will share six tips for how to say no at work, so stay tuned!

(Image courtesy of Stuart Niles at

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