Learning to Say “No” When You are Overcommitted by @harleylebon

Photo Credit: boltron- via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: boltron- via Compfight cc

by Cherylyn Harley LeBon | Featured Contributor

A business acquaintance recently asked for my assistance with an event. I declined and sent an email explaining that I was overcommitted. I suspect my business acquaintance felt slighted, as I did not receive a response to my note.

Often, when I am asked to volunteer, I think, “This will not take much time,” or “This will only require a little bit of coordination.” This is rarely the case and I repeatedly fall into the trap of being overcommitted.

In an effort to give others the tools to correct this frustrating and common pattern, I am sharing five tips for Learning to Say “No”:

1. Ask Yourself “Must I” or “Should I”?

Based on my calculations, the activities that fall into the “must” category include anything directly related to my family, my business, or my health.

Some activities that fall into the “should” category include volunteer time at my children’s school; more time on community or church related outreach; or making more of an effort to contact extended family and friends.

I have to make the calculation of what I can accomplish in the “must” category and then figure out how much time is left for the “should” category.”

2. Decide Which Meetings Require My Physical Presence

I prefer face-to-face meetings, but I live in a major metropolitan area, where traffic impedes my productivity. This is not an issue for out of town clients, but worth a calculation for local ones.

So, instead of agreeing to a meeting downtown, I offer teleconference calls and Skype and work harder to ensure clarity when a face-to-face is not possible.
For me, this will get me closer to my goal of being less overcommitted.

3. Keep It Brief

When “No” is the inevitable response, I am a firm believer in “less is more.” More details equal more emphasis on why I am unable to commit. So spare the saga and be brief, respectful, and firm.

4. Offer an Alternative – If You Have One

If the commitment involves my community, school, or sports activity, I always try to suggest someone else or offer my assistance in a very limited capacity. Recently, my daughter’s scouting group lost their Troop Coordinator. While I love this organization, I am unable to commit to this leadership position. However, I did agree to support the new Troop Coordinator in terms of sending out emails and general communication. I spend a lot of time at my computer, so this task is manageable.

5. Honestly Assess The Benefit

I always ask myself, “What will I get out of this? This is especially true for networking events and dinners. But whatever you might get out of it, just make sure it is important to you and worth the energy you expend.

There is nothing more aggravating than spending an evening out and coming home feeling it was a waste of time and money.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say “No” even after you have already committed with a “Yes.” People understand that schedules change and priorities shift. Just be honest with yourself and commit to saying no the next time.


Cherylyn Harley LeBon Cherylyn Harley LeBon is a lawyer and public affairs executive with almost 20 years of experience in Washington, D.C. and is the President and CEO of KLAR Strategies. She provides grassroots/coalition development, strategic counsel, and media strategy to corporations, trade associations, and non-profits.

She has worked as senior executive in the federal government and as a Vice-President of Public Affairs for a national trade association where she directed media and communications strategy; health coalitions, and corporate partnerships. Additionally, Cherylyn served as a Senior Counsel with the U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee was responsible for judicial nominations, the Department of Justice oversight, and civil and human rights.

She writes about policy, business and legal issues for a variety of publications and serves as Co-Chair of Project 21, leadership network with the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Cherylyn is a regular guest and commentator on nationally broadcast radio and television programs.

Cherylyn was a Research Guest and Lecturer at the University of Bremen Law School in Germany and has lectured across the U.S. and Europe on American business, leadership, and policy issues.  She was formerly an adjunct public policy professor with the Washington Center in Washington, DC.  Cherylyn is a 2013 graduate of Georgetown University’s program in Executive Leadership Coaching.

Follow her on Twitter @HarleyLeBon

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One Reply to “Learning to Say “No” When You are Overcommitted by @harleylebon”

  1. Amanda Hoffmann

    This is something I have particularly learnt this year with pressing family responsibilities. While it takes wisdom to understand/accept your limitations. It is not easy and not everyone will agree!

    The benefits however far outweigh any negatives!

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