What Experts Say: NO

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Warren Buffett

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on.

But that’s not what it means at all.

It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.

You have to pick carefully.

I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done.

Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

Steve Jobs

One of the most dreaded words people avoid hearing is the word NO. Salespeople are scared of the word and some business people are too. The word brings some negative implications. But how come two of the most successful people in the world endorses it? There should be some wisdom in it.

To start with, successful people have developed the discernment to distinguish between what is important and what is not.

For most people, determining what is important and what is not important isn’t as clear. This is because to determine this is a process of logic and not one of emotion. As what tugs on your heart is not always truly important, it only makes you feel important and there is a big difference between the two. This isn’t the only emotion that can easily cloud your judgement of what to say yes to and what to say no to, the fear of missing out, and the fear of offending, disappointing, or displeasing people can greatly impact your judgement of what is and what isn’t important.

Not only have highly accomplished people learnt what is important and what isn’t, they also know how to say NO; some graciously, and yet some, unapologetically. If you have to make a choice, choose graciously.

 How to say NO graciously? 

  1. Do not fudge. Be straightforward and politely decline. Do not give false hopes. Let the other person move on and find an alternative. “Thank you for considering me for this project, but I have to pass. I cannot take on more tasks at the moment. Besides, a clear rejection is better than a fake promise. – Zig Ziglar
  2. You are not obliged to give a reason for declining the request, but doing so will soften the impact of rejection. Make it brief and honest. “I appreciate the invitation, but I have to pass. I have already committed to an earlier invite.” 
  3. Some people can be persistent. In these cases, be firm, not blunt. You need to understand that there will be people who do not have a perception of “respecting other people’s time.” 

Stick to your script, and don’t allow yourself to be bullied into saying yes.

If a boss makes a persistent request, mention the tasks you have at hand and allow him to choose the task to deprioritize so you can accommodate his request.

So, how do these highly successful, well-accomplished people figure out when to say no and what to say no to?

According to Bill Gates, one habit of Warren Buffett that he admires is how Warren keeps his schedule free from meetings. He is good at saying ‘no’ to things. And because of this, Gates noted that Warren’s calendar was almost empty. 

As Warren Buffettsays, „You’ve gotta keep control of your time and you can’t unless you say no. You can’t let people set your agenda in life.“ He says no to a lot of things so he can do what he wants to do, reading. He dedicates 80% of his day to it.

So don’t feel accomplished because your calendar is bursting at the seams. It apparently is the opposite. 

Say no to intrusions and disruptions.

One major distraction is technology. It removes one’s focus on the task at hand. When at work, focus. Disable all social media notifications from your smartphones, laptops, and desktops. Set certain times throughout your day to check for messages. If a message is urgent, people will call. As people get used to your system, they will know how you can be reached. 

Say no to clutter. 

Some people can’t say no to deleting emails from ex-colleagues even if emails said “Will send you the project details on Friday,” or “let’s discuss project details over dinner” three years ago. Valuable content within emails should be stored in a separate folder, otherwise, you will end up with 100,000 emails from 20 ex-colleagues or ex-clients.

Focusing is about saying no.

Steve Jobs in Apple’s 1997 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) said, “I know some of you spent a lot of time working on stuff that we put a bullet in the head of. I apologize, I feel your pain, but Apple suffered for several years from lousy engineering management. I have to say it. And there were people that were going off in 18 different directions doing arguably interesting things in each one of them. Good engineers. Lousy management. The total is less than the sum of the parts. We had to decide what are the fundamental directions we are going in. What made sense and what didn’t.” When you think about focusing, you think focusing is saying yes. Focusing is about saying no. And you’ve got to say “no, no, no”. 

And the result of that focus is gonna be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.” 


Successful people know how to distinguish between what’s important and what’s not important to them. This knowledge serves as their guide when they reach crossroads in decision-making. It becomes swift and simple for them to say no to those that fall under the “not important” list. They know it will not be a pleasant thing to say, but they also know it is necessary for them to say no so they can focus on what is important. 

In the end, one second spent saying NO will save you hours of unproductive time because you put another person’s “important” over your own. Time flies whether you spend it wisely or not. 

If you are struggling with achieving your goals because of distractions and time management, let me help you.Book a free 30-minute call with me today, and let’s talk! (link: https://www.roel-schaart.com/contact/)