Part of what keeps business leaders on the treadmill of busy is we get asked to do a million things and say (usually in our high-pitched, saying-yes-because-I-should voice), ‘sure thing’ right before the tsunami of regret kicks in. Often there’s a sense of obligation: that if I’m in this role then I ‘should’ be the person who can take it on, who says ‘yes’ and then figures out how I’m going to do it later.

When it comes to defending our most important currency, our time, we drop our guard, and end up feeling like we’re at everyone’s beckoned call and have neglected the tasks we really should be focusing on. Taking this time back starts with learning the art of saying ‘no’.

Know your biggest impact

Just because you can say ‘yes’ doesn’t mean you should. The way to get clear on what to take on board and what to say ‘no’ to comes from knowing where you can make your biggest impact. If you are a leader, then potentially the biggest impact you can have is to build up the capability within your team, rather than you taking on board the minute details of the tasks. So hand over the rostering to someone else and spend time focusing on culture and connection within your team.

Drop the hint

Mind-reading is not a default setting for us humans. (Of all the amazing things humans can do, mind-reading is certainly not one of them.) So stop hoping the people around you will pick up what you’re putting down. They’re dealing with their own stuff and their own internal dialogue, and worrying about who’s going to win The X Factor next week. Stop assuming they know what you need or what makes sense for you to take on board — they only know when you tell them. So be explicit about what’s you are saying ‘yes’ to and what you need to say ‘no’ to in order to give yourself space.

Drop the hint of ‘oh it would be nice’ and clearly set the boundary around the things you are going to say ‘no’ to. It might be that you are saying ‘no’ to tasks, it might be that you are saying ‘no’ to time (for example when you are available and when you are not), it might be that you are saying ‘no’ to networking events and opportunities. Get clear for yourself and then communicate this clearly to others. They will appreciate the clarity of certainty rather than a vague hint.

Be okay with push back

When you get clear on what you are going to say ‘no’ to, and start voicing this it’s key to realise that you’ve shifted the people around you may still interact with the old ‘yes’ version of you. Others may push back, even potentially riot and revolt in a big way. Push back is not an indication that saying ‘no’ is wrong; it’s an indication that it’s important.

Push back is also a form of testing your conviction on your boundary to say ‘no’. Did you really mean that? Or was that just a Monday whim that won’t even last the distance till Tuesday?

Remember — saying ‘no’ to some things allows you to say ‘yes’ to the important things.