Life Margin Tip #2: Just Say No

For the past several days, I've written about reclaiming life margin, that open space in our lives and schedules where we have room to breathe and be.  I'm on the hunt for practical ways to find balance, which prompted yesterday's post about seeking and accepting help, my first tip for expanding life margin.

Today I want to explore a second useful strategy: Saying No.  (Seriously. We can do this.)

Contrary to how we often use the word, no can stand on its own as a complete sentence without explanation, guilt, or capitulating.  We're allowed to say no.  We reserve the right to guard our time, which is a valuable form of currency.  Once time is spent, it's spent.  We don't get it back. 

Recently I was asked to speak at a mom's group, which is something that I love to do.  I considered my schedule and knew that now wasn't the best time to accept more responsibility.  When I declined the offer, the world didn't end.  I didn't wither under anyone's judgment.

We say yes out of a desire to help and serve, which is admirable.  Occasionally we say yes out of habit.  But sometimes we say yes for less desirable reasons like feeling pressured, wanting to avoid disappointing people, or fearing that we'll miss out if we say no.

At this point in my life, I've accepted that I'm going to disappoint people.  This is inevitable, so I simply need to choose the right people to disappoint.  I'm going to miss out, so I want to miss out on those activities that aren't essential.  The challenge, it seems, is having the wisdom to discern the difference, which is why I often pray in alignment with Psalm 90: "Teach us to number our days so we might gain a heart of wisdom."

I want to say yes to the opportunities that are best, not simply the opportunities that present themselves.  I want to show restraint and not crowd my days with tasks and activities that might seem urgent, but actually aren't all that important.  Besides, sometimes God simply calls us to rest so we can regain our focus and strength.  (You see the cycle.  To say yes to rest, I have to say no to something else.)

Practice with me, would you?  Just let the word roll off your tongue:  No.  No.  No.

Perhaps you need to say no to cooking dinner one hectic evening and order take-out instead.  Perhaps you need to say no to an invitation to volunteer, a request to take on a project, or the self-imposed expectation that you must sew your child's Halloween costume.

Your world won't end if you say no.  On the contrary, a healthier life margin likely will begin.

Today's action step: Reclaim some necessary life margin by saying no. 

Image compliments of sboneham (

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  1. Where were you when I was 30 and always tired? Excellent advice, as per usual, my friend!

    1. Thank you! Oh, it's so nice to see you here! :)

  2. Saying "No" is so hard for me- I am a professional people pleaser, after all. I just have to remember that my family and my mental health are my top priorities. If I'm always saying "Yes" to other people and things, then I'm not keeping my priorities in check.

    1. I think we all could benefit from Twelve Step programs that work on people pleasing. Your two litmus tests -- family and mental health -- are good ones.

  3. Hi Robin! I remember reading once that a great answer to something you don't want to do is: "Thank you but that just won't work for me." It really helped me because I used to have a terrible time saying no. I figured that if I was asked, it meant I was called to do it. Well, I don't think I was called to be overwhelmed!

    It's good thing to know what will work in your schedule and life, and what won't. I know I only have so many open hours in the day and I have to use them thoughtfully.

    1. I love that response. It's disarming because it's so friendly, yet it doesn't give room to fall back and change your response to "yes." Such a good tip!

  4. Yes!!! Or, um, no! This was a lesson I learned the hard way. I said yes so much I ended up exhausted and burned out. It is still hard, but I do give myself permission to say no, though I should probably say it even more.

    1. Lisa, I was thinking of you when I posted this and how you played hooky (AKA, said NO) to the PTO meeting this week. (Can I be proud of you for playing hooky? I am!)

      I think we all learn this lesson the hard way.


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