How to Say No to Requests, Ideas, Proposals & More?

Table of Contents

Reading Time: 6 minutes

2 Hour Walks

Hey guys I went for a 2-hour walk this morning which I used to part read, part think and take notes.

I’m keeping up this walking thing and what an amazing gift it really is.

I have an amazing team of people around me executing both high-level as well as more process-driven tasks, and these walks are giving me more room to reflect upon the question of:

‘What should I be doing in order to make myself successful?’

It’s very easy to be busy. In fact I’ve become a master at being busy and it’s been a big part of my success.

As I move into being something of a semi-experienced agency owner though – I’m beginning to think and reflect less than I did before to also understand what is it – that’s inhibiting my success?

Am I pressing on the right levers? 

How do I get from where I am at £30-40k per month to £100k per month?

How do I become worth millions of pounds?

And so my reading odyssey begins to uncover the minds of experts and leaders in their spaces in my bid to understand more.

Some hugely insightful things have come from this process – and one of them is something that I definitely know to be a big inhibitor to many people’s success.

If you’re achieved some level of self-sufficiency – what you’ll find is that there are many many requests placed upon your time, as well as many requests you place upon yourself.

What Do You Say ‘Hell Yes!’ To?

What I’ve been terrible at though is focussing.

In the words of the late Stephen Covey (author of the the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) – ‘the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing’.

And you do this by understanding your priorities; crystallising them and making them literally visible in front of you so you’re reminded of what they are before offering your time up to do something else.

This for me – focussing upon what’s really going to push the needle in my life – is the main failure I’m certainly experiencing within my own path.

And this is actually the first step in learning how to say no.

In order to say no emotionally a couple of things need to happen first of all:

You need to say ‘hell yes!’ to something to start with.

Otherwise, it’s easy to drift relatively aimlessly.

I’m actually a great example of this. If you look at my online brand you’ll notice that I’m an SEO agency owner – yet if you read my last 50,000 words…pretty much none of it is about SEO.

So in not saying ‘hell yes!’ to SEO – it’s also meant that I’ve not been able to say ‘no’ to other opportunities – because it’s clear SEO alone doesn’t wholly satisfy my urges.

This is no easy task of course – to a) discover what your ‘purpose’ is and then b) fulfil it – I certainly don’t have a crystal clear sense of ‘who I am’ – beyond being an entrepreneurial business owner.

But it’s still something worth reminding myself.

When I’m next offered opportunities, partnerships, jobs or otherwise – I need to ask myself…

‘Deepak how will this serve the central money-maker in your life?’

If the answer isn’t ‘this is how’ or ‘but it’s something I LOVE’ than you should just drop it.

So learning to say ‘no’ is much about understanding what you wish to say ‘hell yes’ to.

And ‘hell yes’ is about making a (in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger now) a ‘full commitment’ to something you’re doing.

What are you making a ‘full commitment’ to?

In truth I’m still trying to figure that out and am voraciously reading to find out how to and what I should commit to.

From Books I Learn

Incidentally – I thought that me setting a target of reading for 1 hour per day at 1.75x speed was a big commitment. But as it turns out – billionaire Mark Cuban reads for up to 5 hours per day – and does a minimum of 3!

With this in mind let me check today’s ‘ticker’.

I’ve done 1 hour 25 minutes so far – so I’ve got at least another 35 minutes I need to crunch through.

11 Ways To Say No

So let’s get back to the premise of this blog post – and outline some of the things taken from Greg Mckeown’s Essentialism intermingled with some of my own ideas:

[convertful id=”197358″]

When you’re asked to do something for someone here at several ways you can politely decline:

  1. The long pause no: Pause and wait for the other person to respond for you (wait for as long as it takes).
    1. If you can’t handle the wait, you can pause for a three-count and then actually respond by saying ‘I’m so sorry…’
  2. No thank you no: Respond firmly without a reason – so there’s no room for a rebuttal – ‘I’m really sorry – that’s not going to work for me – but thank you for asking!’ But thank them at the same time
    1. If you’re face to face you can either pause until they move on – but it’s better to perhaps move the conversation on yourself
  3. Calendar no: When someone asks you to do some work by ‘X’ or to organise an event/meeting or otherwise by ‘Z’ you can simply respond by saying ‘let me check my calendar and get back to you’
  4. OOO no: Utilise your ‘out of office’ email responder – it doesn’t just need to be for when you’re actually out of office or away on vacation – use it when you have top priority work to get through
  5. Defer till later no: when someone asks for a coffee but could say ‘I’d love to but I’m being consumed by X….let’s look at catching up towards the end of summer!’
  6. De-priority no: If management ask you to do something you can respond by saying ‘yes sure – but what shall I deprioritise?’ – which asks your manager to question the importance of the work
  7. Say no without saying no – ‘I’d love to do a great job and I fear I wouldn’t be able to take this on with my existing priorities’
  8. You can simply be short, sharp and humorous with responses such as ‘nope!’, ‘no can do’ ‘I can’t do it I’m afraid’ and then say no more on the matter
  9. Offer an alternative ‘no’: I can do X and welcome you to do Y – e.g a response to ‘can you put this presentation together Deepak?’ – I can do the initial research then pass it back to you Frank!’ 
  10. Pass It Off no: ‘I’m not available for this but Frank might be interested!’
  11. Someone else is better no: ‘You know I think Frank is the ideal person for this’

Learning all about the power of saying ‘no’ has been something of a revelation to me.

I don’t do it enough and have only started implementing this more in combination with giving others more control and beginning to see what is a priority and what isn’t.


In my instance – TIME is a priority and whatever I’m doing has to be the highest priority for me. Right here – right now – that’s sharing my thoughts on this topic with you in the hopes it’ll help you figure out what’s important to you as well.

It’s safer to assume we only live once, and time is extremely limited so it’s really important to make sure you spend your time doing the thing (not things) you love.

So audit your life, and audit the activities you’re currently engaged in – as I’m continuing to do with mine. Slowly but surely do a couple of things as I’m learning from this literature I’m reading.

Do less of the non-essential things (90% of the things you do in some cases – for me it was probably close to that number).

Do MORE of the essential things (I’m still slowly trying to figure this out).

Start saying ‘no’ to the favours, requests and asks of others if it gets in the way of your overall mission.

The social faux-pas with saying ‘no’ is something that’s deeply embedded within us as we’re social animals – and it definitely can lead us astray. You’re probably engaged in several projects or tasks at the moment you have no business being involved in.

Understanding what’s truly essential

I’ll give you some direct examples from my life right now which I still need to resolve:

Serpwizz, Wordpigeon and potentially another couple of SaaS apps I’m looking at launching all need a CEO to run the business in exchange for sweat equity and revenue share.

The reality is – is that I’m working across several different businesses so my highest value is delivered when I’m overseeing overall actions and making sure everything is moving forward.

So I haven’t prioritized so, therefore, have been saying ‘YES’ to all of the requests of my partners when really I haven’t been thinking about it properly.

Say ‘no’ is a muscle. It’s an art – and it’s a skill that I believe will become critical to anyone’s success.

There are too many incredibly smart people out there who get caught up in requests of others and find that their own ambitions get totally pushed aside.

You are your own worst enemy

In my case (as with many others I expect) – I am my OWN worst enemy and I need to get better at saying ‘no’ to myself and asking myself that same question as highlighted in 6 and 7.

If I say yes – what am I saying ‘no’ to in other parts of my life.

Because something will suffer – and will it really be worth it.

You can do at most 1-3 things excellently. And the rest badly. So just focus on the vital few, rather than the meaningless many.

Something I am still working on.