Setting your agenda

Setting your own agenda: What happens when you learn to say no

How learning to say no can open up time and resources for your top priorities as a leader.

As a leader in your workplace, how do you make sure that your priorities and time are focused in a way that is most beneficial to your organization? You must be able to control your work agenda. One of the easiest ways to lose that control is to say yes to every project that crosses your desk. While some issues will come up that take priority for the day, many times you’ll be asked for feedback or guidance that’s not only unnecessary, but also distracts from more critical work. Here’s what happens when you learn to say no and set your own agenda.

Your time becomes YOUR time

No matter how high the numbers in our bank accounts, we only get 24 hours a day, making time our most valuable resource. You won’t have complete ownership of this resource until you learn to say no to projects that interfere with your priorities. This not only allows you to use time more effectively, but delivers mental health benefits as well. Committing to too many things at once causes stress, which typically makes you less effective, and can result in fatigue and illness. If you’re too run-down to get anything done, no one benefits from your leadership.

You create more value for your organization

When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to another. When new requests come your way, ask yourself, “Am I creating the most value possible for my organization by focusing on this task, or could my time be better used elsewhere?”

If by accepting a new obligation you are saying to no to an extended lunch break, then it’s probably okay to say yes. But if by adding more onto your workload, you are saying no to your previously determined priority that day, it’s usually best to turn that request down if it isn’t an emergency situation. Don’t miss the chance to make progress on important longer-term goals by responding haphazardly to many shorter-term requests that may seem urgent but may not contribute to the company’s overall priorities.

You let fewer people down

One of the biggest reasons people struggle to say no is that they genuinely want to help. They don’t want to be viewed as a rude, lazy or unhelpful person. But the truth is that saying yes to something – when you can’t commit to giving it the attention and thought it needs – can be incredibly rude and unhelpful.

If your to-do list gets out of control because you say yes too often, you’re more likely to break promises and miss deadlines. So if you’re empty-handed when one of your top people comes by a week later looking for that thoughtful feedback or insight you offered to give, you’ve not only set that person a week behind, but you’ve broken his or her trust as well.


Saying no can be hard – especially when you want to help and know you could. But by focusing instead on the additional value you could deliver by thinking of your time and energy as a valuable resource to be rationed, you may be more motivated to do so. To learn why and how to best approach saying no, contact Daniel White using the information below.

Daniel White

Vice President
Org. Development & Family Business Services

Daniel White assists organizations with their organizational development needs, including strategic and operational planning, leadership development, succession and exit planning, and family business advising. He has worked with a wide range of industries, including construction, healthcare, manufacturing, banking, not-for-profits, and government organizations. He has also worked internationally as an organizational development consultant, serving organizations in Bolivia, Guatemala and Ghana. Prior to advising organizations, he worked in not-for-profit leadership and operations, directing projects with clients such as the US Department of State and the United Nations Population Fund.

Daniel serves as associate director of the Kansas Family Business Forum, hosted by Wichita State University’s Center for Entrepreneurship. He holds a certificate in Family Business Advising from The Family Firm Institute. Daniel also earned his Certified Exit Planner designation from BEI. This designation demonstrates he is qualified to provide comprehensive, professionally executed exit planning services. He has been published in Fast Company and several academic journals, and he has presented at a number of national conferences.