I bet most of us are "yes men," whether we choose to believe that about ourselves or not. For most of my working life, I've always heard the virtues of saying "no," or turning away opportunities gently and respectfully. 

As it turns out, I had not put those lessons in to practice. Much at all. 

For the last few weeks, I've been slowly reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown. One of the chapters I read last week talked about saying no. Or at least, not feeling compelled to say yes to every opportunity. McKeown does a great job of empathizing with you through the thought process and self-guilt associated with saying no. 

Typically, when we think about saying no, we think of easy things to turn down. At least that was true of me. We say no to that recruiter with a job that we don't want. We say no to people we don't know or organizations we've never engaged with. We say no to Comcast when they try and upgrade our service when we just want to lower our bill. Those are easy and straight-forward. 

But what about when you are asked to volunteer for a cause that you think is going considerable good? What if you're asked to help someone out that could legitimately benefit from your time and expertise? Things that we feel like we could be doing, be commended for taking on, have a warm fuzzy feeling at first for saying yes, but then quickly burn out. 

It is possible to burn out on good. 

I had that experience not long ago. I joined in one board meeting of an organization doing a lot of good here for the city. They were considering improving the tech aspects of their group in order to better serve their partners and better serve volunteers. I went for a meeting and was asked to step in and help with action items leaving the room that night. 

I said yes. How could I say no to helping people who had a heart for helping others? They needed help in areas that I happen to have a strong expertise in. It was a great team doing good things for our city.

It only seemed logical

Except it wasn't. 

I found myself procrastinating on action items because I had already worked on so much throughout the day. I wasn't putting my best foot forward on getting things done. And that wasn't helping anyone, nor was it fair to that group. 

After delivering a few items that I had initially promised, I took a step back from that organization. It wasn't an easy email to write, and I felt guilty for writing it, but I felt better later. And it was well-received by the group - no harm done (that I'm aware of). 

So how do we say no? Especially to those groups or opportunities we feel like deserve a yes from everyone? 

1. Keep focused on your priorities

For me, that priority is time. I obviously want to spend time and energy at DeMoss, since it helps pay my bills. But my other priority is time at home. Time with Megan. Time to spend in community with friends. I had other volunteer opportunities with my church and with MATCH Atlanta, among helping other people out with other things on the side. Those extra-curriculars are awesome, but limit the family/community time. Adding one tiny little thing had a ripple affect on my time prioritization. 

Think about your priorities: they could be goals or just prioritizing boundaries in life. Once you set those boundaries, the opportunities for saying yes or no become clear. 

2. Provide an alternative solution if possible

One reason we may say "yes" too often is because we may feel that we are the only ones capable of accomplishing _____. We aren't. There are a lot of people just as capable - probably more capable - than us. When saying no, offer to help find a replacement if the occasion calls for it. Responding with "I know someone who could be great for this" is a step in the right direction. 

3. Be nice and respectful

You can still say no and be nice about it. After all, that person or group respected you enough to ask for your help. It's a compliment to be asked. A sign of respect. It's only fair to be respectful back when saying no. Talk about how you appreciate the opportunity and honored that they thought of you - but that right now is not the best time. 

4. Finish what you started

If you've already said yes, don't back out before you finish what you said you would do. 

You may be surprised how well a "no" may be received. Saying yes to something when you can't give it the attention it deserves is worse than saying no. 

What other tips would you add to this list?