How to Say No to the Most Demanding Person in Your Life – You

By Jane Mountain | October 20, 2015

the art of saying no

What’s the first thing you think when your alarm goes off in the morning?

If it starts with “f” and rhymes with stuck, you probably need to learn how to say no. And I’m not talking about turning down party invites, favours to family members and added responsibilities at work.

Nope. Because if you’re anything like me (and almost everyone I know) the most demanding person in your life is… wait for it…


You want great things for yourself, right? And the only way you’re going to get them is if you work your butt off. You want to do things on your terms, you want to live your own adventure, you want your house to be clean, you want financial security, you want a healthy body, you want friends and love… hell, you want it all.

That’s great! I do too.

Who's the most demanding person in your life? It's you! Here's one way to keep your own demands to a minimum so you can get shit done.

But wanting and striving for everything all at once might be the reason you’re still struggling to achieve anything. There are limits to what you can do.

Related: How to Make Work a Happy Place Even if You Hate Your Job →

Lately, I’ve been hitting those limits pretty hard. These days I write at least two posts or articles a day for my writing clients, help Stephen out with his yoga business, and have a never-ending always-expanding to-do list on My Five Acres. Things like research, writing, social media, photography, replying to emails, technical updates and writing for other sites to build our traffic.

And that’s just work. I also babysit my nieces every day after school. Stephen and I cook a healthy meal every night and clean the kitchen. I want to do yoga daily and try to actually leave the house every day. My bike needs cleaning and the floor needs sweeping and the grocery store is calling and and and…

Will it surprise you if I tell you I’m not knocking the ball out of the park on any single aspect of my life?

I do my best to over-deliver to my current clients, but my client list isn’t growing. I love what we do on My Five Acres, but our goals still seem far out of reach.

Argggh. There’s never enough time or energy.

Related: 4 Ways to Make Space in Your Life for What Matters Most →

These self-imposed responsibilities build up in our minds, creating a kind of “busy buzz” that overwhelms our time and stresses us out, even if we never actually accomplish any of our tasks.

Lots of people will tell you to get up earlier or give up fun things in your life, like TV. But those are only short-term solutions. The only real solution – if you want to stay sane and avoid collapsing from overwork and stress – is to learn how to say no – to yourself.

Here’s a five-minute exercise that has been helping me cut through the noise and get shit done.

It’s a great way to learn how to say no to yourself and rock out your to-do lists.

wanting and striving for everything all at once might be the reason you’re still struggling to achieve anything. There are limits to what you can do. Here’s a five-minute exercise that has been helping me cut through the noise and get shit done.

Step 1: Write everything down

Get a pen and some paper. I mean it. Don’t do this on your computer. For some reason, paper and a pen just work better for brain dumps.

Take 30 seconds to write down every single thing you can think of that you have to do, want to do, and have been putting off. Include every aspect of your life: work, chores, fun, health, financial, relationships. Get it all out there.

Let’s play the Jeopardy think music while you write. Da daa da da, da da da, da daa da da, duh! Da-da da-da da…

Here’s what my list for today looked like:

how to say no to do list

Unless today lasts for about 376 hours, there’s no way I’m getting all of that done! Which brings us to step 2.

Step 2: Slash and burn (burning optional)

Now, we’re going to be uber-radical. We’re going to cross things off our list without actually doing them!

Talk about adventure!

Read through the list and cross off everything that’s not urgent and won’t get you any closer to your goals today. Keep going back through the list until you only have three or four items left. Be ruthless. An overlong list is a ticket to heart-attack town.

Once you’ve crossed off the non-essentials, everything left over is today’s to-do list.

Put the items in order from most important to least important and write the new list on a clean sheet of paper or stick them in your digital list-making tool (I adore Workflowy).

This is what you’re going to get done today. Start now with the most important thing and when it’s complete, cross it off. Don’t allow your busy little mind to get sidetracked by anything else all day. Remember, you already crossed off those inessential tasks, so don’t let them derail your day.

Step 3: Create tomorrow’s list

Throughout the day, new list items will pop into your head. Resist the urge to add them to today’s list. Instead, pop them into a list marked “tomorrow”. First thing tomorrow, use this as the basis for your new list. Repeat all the steps every day to have your most productive week in ages.

But Jane, you’re asking (whining really, but we won’t dwell on that) what about all the demands on my time from other people?!?

That, dear reader, is a subject for another blog post.

♥ (Tough) Love, Stephen & Jane

PS. That adorable photo is of Noisy Minor chicks pestering their mom for food. It was taken by Mdk572.

Hi, I’m Jane, founder and chief blogger on My Five Acres. I’ve lived in six countries and have camped, biked, trekked, kayaked, and explored in 50! At My Five Acres, our mission is to inspire you to live your most adventurous life and help you to travel more and more mindfully.


  1. Pingback: How to Be Happier with a Simple Flip of the Happiness Switch | My Five Acres

  2. Comment by Ryan Biddulph

    Ryan Biddulph Reply October 23, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Hi Jane,

    I’ve learned the hard way over my life that force negates. Meaning you better be sure I say NO to myself again and again. We let things in. No need to chase, strain or strive to make our lives complete. Adding that different energy to my life has reduced my gray hairs. A smidge. Until I show polish my head. Awesome post and inspired message. Thanks so much.


    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 23, 2015 at 9:44 am

      Thanks so much Ryan. Yup, it’s sure easy to let things in and so hard to put them back out – kind of like our neighbor’s cat who keeps coming around :). I am still learning to say no, but am getting much better at it (I don’t think it’s doing much to help with my gray hairs though!).

  3. Comment by Murielle Marie

    Murielle Marie Reply October 22, 2015 at 7:48 am

    You are so spot on with this! We start with all these good intentions, then the list becomes bigger and bigger and as a result we are not giving our all to anything anymore, simply because we have too much going on. As a life coach I see that often in my client’s lives. They want more serenity or peace of mind, but don’t know how to detach themselves from their to-do lists. Great post. Thank you for sharing <3

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 22, 2015 at 9:02 am

      Thanks Murielle. I am a total victim of this mentality, which is why I know all about it. It’s hard to let myself off the hook and let things go, but I’m working on it!

  4. Comment by Hope

    Hope Reply October 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    I LOVE lists and I LOVE crossing things off those lists even more. I have found since recently losing my regular gig that list making keeps things in perspective and helps keep me focused on the end game rather than getting caught up in the stresses of every day life. Great post! Shared it on my business page!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 22, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Thank you Hope! As Murielle says above, the danger for we list addicts is to become so tied to our lists that we don’t know how to detach and see the bigger picture. Also, thanks so much for sharing! I really appreciate it.

  5. Comment by Mitzi

    Mitzi Reply October 21, 2015 at 9:14 am

    This was a wonderful blog post and honestly makes you think. I finally learned how to say no to others without giving myself stomaches over it. It’s not easy but it got easier. Also lately having to be a lot harder on my now teenage son is challenging as I definitely say no to him now more than ever and in a way it’s telling myself no because it keeps me from giving in.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane October 21, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Saying no to other people is a whole different ball game. At least it’s external, so it’s easier to be objective about those demands. Unless, I imagine, it’s one of your kids, and then objectivity goes right out the window. Being aware of it is really the first step, so congrats for figuring it out and trying to practice it!

      Thanks so much for you comment.


  6. Comment by Jane

    Jane Reply October 20, 2015 at 11:19 am

    Thanks Dorene! I love crossing stuff off, even if it’s not done. It gives me permission to forget about the inessential things and just focus on what’s important.

  7. Comment by Dorene

    Dorene Reply October 20, 2015 at 11:05 am

    Love this post, I just needed to read this today, and just crossed stuff off the list. Amen.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Go top