One of the best feelings in life is helping somebody achieve something important to them. Once you reach a certain level of success, you often have the ability to help more people. At the same time, you will likely have more requests for your time and assistance than you can reasonably fulfill—even if you wanted to.
The truth is that people often don’t achieve their own goals if they overextend themselves helping others and get too far outside their core focus areas. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffett famously said, “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
The more you accomplish in life, the more valuable your time becomes. You’ll have more responsibilities to your family, career, close friends, and community. You’ll have people depending on you to be at your best at all times. And it will inevitably affect your existing commitments if you leap to help everybody who asks you for something.
That’s why it is ok to say no when people reach out for your time and energy. In fact, doing so could be the best way to ensure your own success and fulfillment. If you are struggling with saying no, here are four strategies to help.
1. Give Up the Guilt
When you get asked for something, remember that other people’s priorities aren’t necessarily your priorities. If somebody asks you to pitch in—even for a worthy cause—that effort will inevitably take time and attention away from something else important to you.
Everybody has existing commitments, whether those are related to improving a business, being present for friends and family, or giving time to a preferred charitable cause. When you begin to feel a pinch of guilt for rejecting a plea for help, just remember you already have important commitments that need your full focus.
We tend to react most to what is right in front of us. Just because somebody wants your help doesn’t mean that whatever he or she needs is more important than whatever you’ve already got on your plate.
2. Know Your Core Values
In deciding what I say yes or no to, I always find it helpful to refer back to my core values and goals; they are the key guideposts for determining where to spend my time and energy. We all need to focus on our spiritual and intellectual capacity—a topic I discuss more deeply in my upcoming book, Elevate: Push Beyond Your Limits and Unlock Success in Yourself and Others. The most successful people I’ve met and studied have clarity around their core values and goals, using them as a compass that tells them where to go and how to spend their limited time.
Next time you get an ask, take a moment to stop and seriously consider whether fulfilling that need will move you toward what is most important to you. Someone else’s passion may not be your own. When it’s not, the best thing you can do is politely decline.
3. Use Templates and a No Formula
When you decide to say no, how you respond can make all the difference This is where I’ve learned a lot from Tim Ferriss, who studied the principles of the no responses he received and highlights the lessons he learned in a great podcast.
Turns out there are some common denominators of a “good” rejection—including a personal acknowledgment of the individual making the request, an admission of your own need to focus on other priorities given previous commitments, a clear statement that you cannot help in this matter, and a note explaining that you are responding consistently in this way to all requests of this kind.
I have tried this approach and have found it to be very effective. Here is an example of a template.
Fortunately, you don’t need to agonize over every email to send this kind of detailed response. A best practice shared and used by my friends Bob Burg and Derek Coburn is to build templates for common requests. They might have one template for declining speaking engagements, another for podcasts, a third for meetings, etc.
Each time you field a new type of request, consider taking an extra minute to turn your response into a template. I have found templates make it much easier to give a quick and respectful reply without the guilt.
4. Create Some Work for the Asker
Let’s face it, some people want your time and energy without showing a willingness to invest much time or effort of their own. That’s why some very successful people I know have shared that they create a bit of a hurdle for askers.
For example, if a person wants to meet, ask him to check back in a month or so to see if he follows through. Most of the time, you will never hear back. Personally, when people ask me for help finding a job or seeking an introduction, I always ask them to do some research; tell me whom they want to be connected to in my network and provide a paragraph for the introduction. Almost everybody fails to respond to my request, and I don’t want to give my time to people who are unwilling to do their part.
It’s a normal impulse to want to share your success and lift others up as you climb. However, it’s vital to remember that protecting your time is not selfish; it’s essential to your well-being and success.
There’s great value in learning how to set limits without guilt. In the end, you might discover that saying no is the best way to say yes to something that will enable you to make your biggest contribution.
As Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less said best, “Your obligation is to the highest point of contribution you can make.”
Originally published on LinkedIn.
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