Saying No: Having Balance & Boundary

So every time around this time the world of higher education can get hectic – and I found myself feeling underwater, never fully caught up with my email or the endless to-do lists, juggling so many different commitments.  And, honestly, most of it is stuff I love! Does this sound familiar, planner pals? How do we balance productivity with self-care, and maintaining a steady and sustainable pace?

I got to do a lot of things, and made it through with only a few tasks slipping through the cracks… but the vision of productivity comes at a cost – I was not sleeping what I needed, which led to less focus at work and making less strategic and whole decisions, reacting instead of responding, and doing work just to do it. So how do we undo the life we have created for ourselves?

We often talk about saying NO – and the advice is less-than-stellar.  “Just say no.” Okay, obviously if it was as easy as “Just” (omg pet peeve) then I would be doing it!! So what makes it hard? If we can address why it’s so difficult, we can reframe how we approach our choices… because if there’s anything that’s incredibly hard to learn, it’s that we are valuable just by existing. That we don’t have to keep doing things to earn our human value. That we are human beings, not just human doings.


Supplies featured:

So my video is short, and just barely touches on the specifics of how we can shift our thinking and just how hard it is to do so.  I’ll elaborate here.

What I mean by disappointing people:

  • To feel others wonder if they can “rely on you next time”
  • To feel others’ annoyance or frustration with you
  • To feel less valuable because you’re not there to provide an answer, face-time at their events, fulfillment of a role (like in wedding parties), time, support, a plan, or completion of a task
  • To feel like you aren’t sharing your talents and gifts (in my case, when I turn down additional calligraphy projects) – and thus wondering if you’re missing out on an opportunity to advance
  • Disappointing yourself because you’re not snagging every opportunity you feel like you’re supposed to
  • Feeling like you’ll be seen as “less capable” if you say no to a project, or that it might set you up for the next promotion, or superhero friend
  • Feeling like you don’t have a “real reason” to not go to something, do something other than “I don’t want to” (for this, see – “If Friends Were Honest Making Plans“)
  • Feeling like you’ll be “lame” not going to some social outing, or that you’ll miss out on something

Now, whether or not these feelings are from others or from ourselves is probably the major question – either way, they feel VERY real, and often get us into trouble as we commit to yet another thing.  Individually, things are very easy and simple – but in context of all our other stuff, it suddenly becomes overwhelming. And let’s be honest, we do it to ourselves. So here’s what I’m suggesting.

Some concrete strategies that help me manage my commitments, boundaries, and saying no:

  • Thinking about the Focus Funnel – what can I delegate? What do I actually have to do myself?
  • For tasks and favors, sometimes, people just default to asking people because they are convenient, not because they absolutely are the right person for the task – so sometimes I’ll ask questions that get at whether that is true
  • Also for tasks and favors, I remind people of boundaries by always asking first, “When do you need this by? What’s your ideal timeline for this?” – and being able to show that it is the task within this time-frame that will or will not work for me, not really because I can or can’t do it, period
  • Understand how your friends see support – is it showing up for the event? Or can you support in other ways by inviting others, publicizing, sharing words of affirmation elsewhere? And then offering support in another, more realistic way for you
  • Tell people what you CAN do rather than what you can’t
  • Don’t apologize if you can help it – so we can help shift the culture that we should be apologizing for protecting our own hearts and time. So instead, saying, “I hope you find someone”
  • Schedule in time in my calendar for errands, projects. I’m not always good at this for personal stuff, but it helps me at work block out necessary time to focus, rather than everyone else claiming and controlling my time. This also keeps me realistic about what time I need more intentionally, rather than reacting and squeezing it into spaces it can fit

That’s what’s worked for me- and maybe if you’re more introverted, these things come more easily to you! But what makes it hard for you to draw boundaries or say no? What strategies have worked for you?



7 thoughts on “Saying No: Having Balance & Boundary

  1. I so needed this today. I’ve been feeling guilt from all directions, although almost all of it is actually coming from me. The hardest to let go of is the voice inside that says, “But it’s family; they need me to do this.” I’m VERY introverted, but I also want to please everyone. Then I feel bad because I can’t handle it all. It’s time to change.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this! It was so…validating to see that other people struggle with some of the same challenges, and that I am not the only one who leaves my bullet journal with blank spreads some times! It is so easy to get over committed and to just be so busy that everything ends up suffering and nothing is getting done as well as it could be. I am really working on saying “no” to new committees, new projects and to say “no” to comparing myself to others – because I always end up feeling like – “if they can do all of this extra stuff, so can I!” Which is not fair to them or me! I have to remember that we never know what else is going on in other people’s lives, so I should not make assumptions about these things.Anyhow, thanks again and I love your blog, keep doing the great stuff you do, we all need more people like you out there to help the rest of us feel normal and ok and work towards being more productive and less reactionary and overwhelmed! Thank you!!!


  3. Just here to say I experience the same thing as well and my bullet journal is helping me to realize what things I WANT but then fail to follow through, usually because I succumb to what others want from me, or I fall into the trap of distraction on my phone.


  4. I came across this just now, only a week or less after the guilt of saying ‘no’. My situation wasn’t with accepting projects or tasks that overwhelmed me, although it could be broken down to those things. It is very difficult to say no to family which is what this situation was about. This was about family stating (not asking) at the last minute (the day before flying) that they would be coming for a visit. When I asked the questions as to when and was told the next day, I had to say ‘no’. I felt guilty because they don’t make this trip often and it may be the last time they can do so but I had to consider my situation and what it would mean to have someone come visit. I couldn’t take time off work because of the short notice which meant, with a very physical job, I would be exhausted from needing to do everything with no time at all to prepare for such a visit. Not working would mean not being paid. I had gone 1 1/2 years without work after being laid off and I need this job. Accepting could possibly jeopardize my ability to do my job and put so much stress on me it was starting to bring back anxiety and panic attacks. My health and well-being was at stake. I had to choose between guilt of not letting them visit over being exhausted physically and mentally and possible risk to my mental state all because they did not notify me in advance so I would have time to prepare and be able to request changes in my work schedule to accommodate their visit. It is horrible having to say ‘no’ to family especially knowing it might be the last time we could see them, but I have no help here from other family or friends and all the work would have been on me. I totally related to this article from a different stand point since I don’t do a bullet journal any more. And yes, I came close to saying ‘yes’ just because of not wanting to disappoint anyone and the feelings of family obligation but the more I thought about saying ‘yes’ the more I felt the anxiety rising and building towards all out anxiety or panic attacks which would make it impossible for me to work. So I had to say ‘no’ for health reasons and to keep my job. When they don’t understand this or accept it, makes it even harder. Getting called back and trying to emotionally manipulate me through my daughter put an end to it. This article confirmed I made the right decision, wish I had seen it earlier. It might have spared me days and days of justifying my decision to myself in order to try and ease the guilt. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. ~Patti


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