These days all it takes is a few taps on your smartphone to connect with friends, make a dinner reservation, take a workout class or even book a doctor’s appointment. The result: It’s easy to be overscheduled and overcommitted 24/7.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone, said Locke Hughes, of greatest.com, the fitness, health and happiness media startup. Here, experts help with how to say “no” in situations where it is warranted.
DONATING YOUR TIME
The scene: You’re asked to volunteer for a charity event, but you just don’t have time this year.
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The solution: Come on, it’s for charity — you have to say yes, right? Not so fast. “You can’t say yes to every single request for your time or energy,” says Diane Gottsman, etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “You have to pick and choose.” Tell the inquirer you’ve already committed to X and Y events this year, and you have to sit this one out, she suggests. It’s better than agreeing to help with the charity bake sale, then showing up with a bag of store-bought cookies because you didn’t have time to whip up your famous homemade banana bread.
A HOLIDAY PARTY
The scene: You’re invited to a holiday party where you won’t know anyone — and attending alone sounds about as appealing as getting your wisdom teeth pulled.
The solution: You may not want to hear it, but if you don’t have a good reason not to go, you should go, says Don Gabor, communications trainer and author of “How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends.” “Even if it’s uncomfortable, sometimes it’s really good to get out of your comfort zone and see what might happen. You never know who you’ll meet or what connections you’ll make.”
If you don’t want to go due to an already hectic schedule, keep it short and sweet: Acknowledge the invitation graciously, and say you won’t be able to attend. Skip the “I have to work late that night” white lie, Gabor says. “You don’t have to give a reason you can’t go.”
STAYING LATE AT WORK (AGAIN)
The scene: Your boss is always asking you to stay late at work.
The solution: Here’s another time when every so often, it’s just something you have to do. But if it’s a consistent pattern, be confident and assertive without coming across as aggressive or negative, Gottsman explains. Tell him, “When I learn I have to stay late last minute, I’ve had to miss events with my kids/had to cancel on my recreation league soccer team, etc., so I’d really appreciate a day or so heads up.”
Next time it’s 4:52 p.m. and your boss asks for a lengthy report by EOD, but you really need to leave the office, explain the situation sincerely: “I have a personal commitment tonight I can’t miss. I’m happy to come in early tomorrow or make some time now, but I have to be at X place by 6:30 p.m.” Just remember, there’s a fine line between setting boundaries and being insubordinate, Gottsman says.
MEETING UP WITH AN ACQUAINTANCE
The scene: An old acquaintance wants to meet up for a drink, but frankly, there’s a good reason you haven’t seen this person in a year.
The solution: “This gets a little sticky: You don’t want to be offensive, but you’re not obligated to go,” Gottsman says. You can try saying, “Thanks for the invitation, but I’m tied up that night,” and don’t offer an alternative date. After one or two times, they should get the drift. Gabor adds that this is one of those situations where you can offer a white lie: “I’m really up to my eyeballs in work right now and this isn’t a good time for me.” And leave it at that.
On the other hand, he says, sometimes it can be beneficial, personally or professionally, to catch up with an old college buddy or former co-worker. “Give it a shot if you don’t have a real reason not to,” he suggests. “You could turn out to have a lot more in common than you originally thought!”
A DESTINATION WEDDING
The scene: You’re invited to a destination wedding that’s going to set you back a month’s rent.
The solution: When you RSVP to decline, send a nice note saying, “Your wedding sounds fabulous, and I can’t wait to see the pictures, but it’s a hardship on my budget right now. I will be there in spirit, but I can’t make the trip,” Gottsman says.
If you’re uncomfortable discussing your financial situation, don’t feel pressured: Your finances are a private matter.
The same goes if you’re asked to be a bridesmaid, but it’s not something you can take on at the moment. “Let your friend know that you love her, you’ll support her marriage, and you’re happy to help in other ways, but you can’t make the financial or time commitments that are involved in being a bridesmaid,” Gottsman says. If you’re uncomfortable discussing your financial situation, don’t feel pressured: Your finances are a private matter, Gabor says, and you don’t have to tell everyone everything about your life.
If they push you — “I really counted on you to be there” — don’t be afraid to be firm. Say, “I really count on you to understand. I know you wouldn’t want me to be in a position where I need to choose between the wedding and paying my rent,” Gottsman says.