This is the time of year when people add many obligations to an already full life, which can lead to overwhelm. It can be challenging to say “no” because you may have old mindset patterns that associate saying “no” to being selfish or unkind. Or you may worry that if you say “no” people will be offended, will reject you or make you feel guilty.

Here are some ways to say “no” tactfully to protect your time and energy for what is truly important to you:

Abide by firm priorities. When asked to do something, ask yourself, “How does this align with my priorities?” and “Is this request bringing me closer to or further away from my goals?” Getting clear on your priorities is your filter to help you avoid being swayed into doing something you don’t want to do.

Offer an alternative. If someone asks you for something, you can say “no” by suggesting something else. For instance, if they ask you to collaborate on a project, you can recommend someone else. Or, if they ask you to attend an evening activity and your priority is to be with your family, you can suggest a coffee meet up instead.

Defer your response. Avoid saying “yes” automatically. It is easy to get maxed out when you don’t consider all your obligations. Instead, respond with “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” Also, just because you are available doesn’t mean you should say “yes." This may lead to regret when it rolls around. It is better to say “no” upfront than to cancel later when others are counting on you.

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Use these techniques to say “no” and decrease the potential for overwhelm. According to Warren Buffet: "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say 'no' to almost everything."

Pam Solberg-Tapper, president of Coach for Success Inc., is a Duluth-based executive coach, professional speaker and adventure marathoner. For questions or to submit questions or ideas for future columns, contact her at or 218-729-0772.