Priorities-101:Yes means No

A down & dirty guide to Prioritizing

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, MCC, SCAC

Thanks to Phillip Martin!

Modern Life:

•  too much to do
•  too little time

Are you OVER feeling overwhelmed yet?

Whose life is it anyway?

Certainly not yours, if you are chronically overwhelmed.

Probably theirs.

Have you taken stock of the items that contribute to your “too much to do and not enough time” life? If you are anything like me, my clients, and my students, no matter what the list looks like in detail, it boils down to one single thing.

Unbalanced energy:  too much going out, not enough coming in.

It’s an easy trap to fall into – especially when you’re busy.  Believe me, I know better than anybody what that fly-paper feels like!  And the best way to start rebalancing the scales is simple (but not easy!): get the Time & Energy Vampires off your neck!

Time & Energy Vampires


You may have heard about “psychic vampires,” primarily described in emotional terms – but that’s not exactly who I’m warning you against in this article.  I’m talking about the bloodsuckers who put their items on your “plate,” expecting you to help them pick items off their to-do lists in addition to what you want and need to do.

“Bloodsucker” may sound unduly harsh, but people who repeatedly borrow your time and energy without putting it back are draining your life’s blood as surely as any vampire in the movies

That’s true no matter WHO they are:
parents, spouses, friends, lovers, distant relatives,
colleagues, bosses, or relative strangers.

Don’t get me wrong

I’m NOT talking about any of the following situations or the people involved:

  • the recipients of the odd favors we do for others now and again, figuring “we’ll get it back from the universe.”  That IS how it works.
  • the occasional request to work last-minute overtime or stop everything to help a friend or family member in a real jam, whether or NOT the time and energy ever comes back to you.
  • those on the receiving end of the random acts of kindness you do because it makes YOU feel good to do them.

I’m talking about the Takers — those crafty little buggers — the chronically needy, the crisis kiddos, the emotional bullies, or the terminally clueless who inspire us to allow them to “get in front of us in the time and energy line” repeatedly, leaving it up to us to figure out how we are going to make sure we get our turn enough times to keep our own lives and businesses running smoothly.

When you look it squarely in its beady little eyes, I’m sure you’d LOVE to make the fact that you are a few quarts shy of a full tank of time and energy all their fault.  Me too! But that’s not what’s really going on here.

WE have taught them it’s okay to take without giving back.

We put the “free time and energy here” sign on our own backs — the very first time we realized that the energy exchange was unbalanced and didn’t insist on a rebalancing before throwing any more time or energy under their bus.

underthebus-300x240Do what I say, not what I DO?

I know I have continued to give, time and time again, even to folks to who have never once asked me if there was anything they could do in exchange — never mind demonstrating any awareness of the idea that they might take some time out of their busy lives to do something that might make things a bit easier in mine.

Eventually, I find myself up against overwhelm’s wall when something unexpected suddenly goes wrong and I no longer have the time to take care of it.  I’ll bet you do it too.

I’ll bet you this, as well:

  • EVEN if they are grateful as all get-out, after a time or two, “they” [unconsciously] believe that they are entitled to use the minutes of your life to help them move forward with theirs.
  • I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching that some of those “entitled” folks have even stopped being grateful – much less expressing their gratitude with much beyond a perfunctory, “Thanks, you’re the best”
  • And I’ll bet you feel like they make it seem that YOU are the bad guy when you can’t squeeze ONE more “Could you do me a favor?” into your life without giving up bathing or sleeping regularly.

Because saying yes to one thing MEANS saying no to something else.

There may well be folks who have figured out how to have it all –
but nobody has unlocked the secret of DOING it all!

BAD IDEA: Saying no to YOU to say yes to them.

When we’re overwhelmed, what goes first?  Yep!  The things that are important to US.  We’ve all been well trained to make sure we handle our “responsibilities.”

But when did their to-dos and priorities become OUR responsibilities?

Here’s a reframe:  If you don’t have time to do what’s important to YOU,
you certainly don’t have time to do what’s not important to you! ~ mgh

Wiki – Creative Commons

The most obvious offenders are generally the people who claim to love us. And because we love them, we think we always have to say yes: spouses, lovers, parents, children.  Those guys.

The worst offenders are the emotional bullies: people who do any
of the following, bullying us into saying yes because, for one reason or another, we don’t feel that it makes sense to invoke their immature consequences for saying no.

Only SOME of the nasty tricks they pull to have their way with us include the following.  They’ve learned you tend to cave when they:

  • sulk (or cry)
  • play “take-away” (the dreaded silent treatment)
  • get angry or rage all over you – especially when icily controlled
  • shame and should on you for not being able to handle more than you can
  • pitch a fit (retaliating in some overtly aggressive, passive aggressive, or publicly embarrassing fashion).

Even though beginning to set boundaries around bad behavior from people close to us is clearly needed, they are the toughest to retrain, so let’s save them for another article.

Take Back Your Time

You can recapture a TON of time and energy taking a look at the sum total of the occasional time-takers that rarely do anything to move YOUR life forward — eliminate THOSE.

Start practicing your NO muscle there first – AS they come up – every single day for the next month. So that means you are going to say NO to items like the following:

  1. Requests for recommendations on LinkedIn by anyone who has not already put time and energy into YOUR life in some manner (send them directly to the trash if this is a one-way favor request – they’ll ask again, I promise!).
  2. Requests for more help at your kid’s school — you’ve already helped so you’re now on the short list of likely yes-sayers and new requests. Take yourself OFF that list. (Sorry, you’re currently overcommitted).
  3. Time on the phone with that friend or relative who primarily calls you when they want to vent (Don’t answer the phone when they call – you’re already booked!)
  4. Colleagues or network marketers who send email from their lists every day or – really now – several times a day.  (TRASH ’em!  Better yet, get off those lists!  YOU don’t need to be one of the “numbers” in THEIR “game.”)
  5. Texts or tweets asking for your opinion on a survey (or anything else) from any and all social marketing contacts who have never put any energy to YOUR social marketing. (Dump ’em unread and/or unresponded to)
  6. Emails with, essentially, no info except for a link to go read another of those l-o-n-g web pages telling you about something miraculous they want you to buy. (delete’em – they’ll have something new and even more miraculous next month)
  7. Email forwards from friends who send you jokes or “don’t break the chain” requests.  They may have time for that — and you may too, LATER – but not this month.  (Don’t read ’em – just dump ’em!)
  8. The “I need help handling items on my inability to say no list” folks.  (Don’t spend the minutes of your life trying to convince them to “just say no” – tell them you don’t have time to take on another thing right now, bless their passive little hearts, and keep moving!)

After a month of practice, you can start saying yes again — to the things you WANT to say yes to. This month, you’re building up your NO muscles.

The Quick Start Diet

Most of us are familiar with those “lose weight NOW” diets that begin with a restricted format to jumpstart your weight-loss.  They generally begin by warning you that it’s not healthy to attempt to stay on the quick-start plan, but it helps to begin there — or to pick it up any time you’ve gained a few pounds.

Think of the next few tips in the same way.  It’s not a recipe anyone will be comfortable with over time, but it sure helps refocus your life on the things that are important to YOU.

The 4-step strategy to taking back your LIFE:

1. Pick ONE day this week to be your “ALL NO” day.

Let everyone who has gotten used to counting on you to say yes know that for that one day you are saying NO to anything and everything anybody wants from you.

Don’t explain, don’t ask permission (especially with your tone of voice!) – just let them know, in a calm, charge-neutral fashion.

Some of you may need to practice “charge-neutral.”  Use the same tone of voice you’d use to respond to a stranger who asked you for the time: no opinion or apology, simply what’s so.

When ALL NO day arrives, reply to anyone who tries to wheedle an exception in the same charge-neutral tone, “Sorry, today’s my ALL NO day, remember.”  

  • You can start getting testy with them on their second request.
  • Bump-up to what I’m sure they will label “over-reacting” for all subsequent requests.
  • Better yet, lock your door and don’t answer the phone!
    (Sheesh!  They can’t do without your time and energy for ONE measly day?)

2. Use that day to pick off as many things hanging out as possible.

YOUR things, not theirs, even if you crossed your heart and hoped to die promised you would do something for them and haven’t had the time to make good on that promise.

  • If hubby has been bugging you to pick up his dry-cleaning, “Sorry darling, not that day.”  
  • If your wife has been “nagging” you about your promise to accompany her to an outlet mall an hour away, “Sorry darling, not that day.”  
  • If you’re a week or more behind on the laundry, or the lawn mowing, or any OTHER chore that really isn’t a life and death priority, “Sorry, not that day.”

Ask anybody who objects, “What would you do if I dropped dead?”  Good plan!  Pretend I’m dead. We can talk about it later – I need this ONE day to figure out how I’m going to get ANYTHING done without imploding.

3. Before the day is over, make a list of to-dos and promises to which you are already committed. 

Tally up the energy expenditure: what’s important to YOU and what’s important to somebody else?  (No, it’s not important to YOU simply because they are important to you.  We’re talking time and energy here, not feelings)

How much of YOUR life is committed to what they want?

4. Make a commitment to balance the scales the down & dirty way:

a.  For the next month, pretend you are not ALLOWED to say yes to anything unless you say no to something else.  Pick something, and allow the new thing to bump the old thing right off your list – forever or for now.

  • If the person doing the asking is one of your time and energy vampires, tell THEM to pick what comes off your list, unless they would rather hear a firm no to this one — only from the things they want you to do.
    (IMPORTANT: their things, not your things – they don’t get to vote on what’s important to YOU!)
  • Stop enabling bullies – you are entitled to spend the minutes of your life YOUR way. Tell them if they can’t appreciate the fact that you are doing them a favor when you put your shoulder to their wheel, you will dump EVERYTHING you’ve ever said yes to, and say no to the new request as well.
  • THEN DO IT!  Bully back — consider this tip permission to deliver an overdue lesson in empathy.  If you’ve always been the long-suffering type, you won’t have to do this very many times before they get it.  You can talk about it later.  Boundary this ONE month however you must.

(If you recognized your own behavior in the description of those emotional bullies – this is your month to stop that nonsense, practice stating your needs in a mature, charge-neutral fashion and get OFF that emotional roller-coaster.  I promise life will be MUCH less overwhelming once you do.)

If there is nothing on your list you CAN say no to, there’s your down-and-dirty priority: you don’t have TIME to say yes, no matter how “important” the new request might seem to anyone involved.

  • Give yourself a stern talking-to if you hear some little voice telling you
    that it’s easier to say yes than to explain no.  Don’t explain it.  Just SAY it!
  • If it’s REALLY important to the asker, tell them you’d be up for a trade:
    they do one of your tasks first; you’ll do their thing AFTER you can cross
    the other off your list.  (YOU pick the trade – and make sure you are being
    fair to YOU, not simply teaching the “give-back” lesson).

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

22 Responses to Priorities-101:Yes means No

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  6. Osyth says:

    Another excellent article, for which I thank you. Forgive me if I am frugal with comments today – I’m off away for a few days and chasing my tale which is an uncommonly unflattering look!! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. These are helpful tips for everyone Madelyn. It seems like we get so involved in doing for others, we forget to do for ourselves. When we begin doing for ourselves, it seems to become a shock to others. Oh well, that’s their problem!

    Isn’t it funny that others believe they are entitled to explanations or excuses? If one isn’t given they assume all sorts of things. I’m over it! No explanations, it’s time for me!

    I sure appreciate your site. I need to take a Me Week, to go over all your articles. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences. Take care and stay safe, Edie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Edie – I think we ALL need to take a “me week!” I know I do — not so much to go over articles, but to re-aim myself (which is probably the reason you’re thinking it would be helpful to read the articles.)

      I WRITE the darned things, and still, when life gets nuts (and when isn’t it?) and it comes down to DOING what I know, there always seems to be some emergency that seems to require my personal time and energy (that I feel I can’t say no to without long-lasting regret)

      Peggy [Ramundo] and I were talking about this very thing about two hours ago — I call it HELPER’S DISEASE. I told myself the following on my 50th birthday — “OK, you spent the first half-century of your life in service to others; the next half-century is YOURS! You’ve *earned* it!”

      Yet here I am, a solid decade later, still struggling to fit the “me time” into my very own life! I’m getting better, but that’s not the same as GOOD!

      My dad died last Thursday morning (11/20/1919 – 10/4/2012).

      Thursdays are my busiest day, appointment-wise, but I’m VERY proud of myself for cancelling everything, despite the short notice, to give myself 24 hours to recenter from the shock of his passing AND the cumulative shock of the deaths of three dear ones in this window of time.

      Did you hear what I finally heard (after some sleep and many straight hours of starting at a TV screen at Peggy’s, zoning out totally)? PROUD of myself? That’s nuts. Of course I needed the time – why the self-congratulations for garden variety self-care?

      See what I mean? Helper’s Disease!! So, I am resolved to stop apologizing for deciding to take 2 – 4 days following Kate’s Memorial on the 13th to catch up on sleep and grieve. As I type this, I’m thinking I might be better served to take the entire WEEK following!

      Wonder if I will?



    • In the wake of Kate’s Memorial (no pun intended!), what seems to be coming up MOST is the need to strengthen our NO-muscles.

      The ADD startle response always gets in MY way (my default is set to YES when I have something someone else needs, but it doesn’t serve me). I’m not sure how that plays with the TBI crowd, but I’ll bet it DOES!

      Madelyn Griffith-Haynie


      • Madelyn, Are you okay? Tell me if you really rested for your ME WEEK. How did the Memorial go? I was with everyone in thought and prayer. Edie

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for thinking of me, Edie. I *will* be ok – grief is a funny thing, and there’s a lot to process.

          As I tell my clients, we can only peel the outer layer of any onion. So every new opportunity to grieve brings up the unprocessed NEXT layer of all the past grief in its wake (including dx stuff). And so it is – times THREE.

          Good thing I took your advice – I was pretty darned worthless last week – emotions all over the place, and out of nowhere. I burst into tears when, on Amazon to pick up a brain-based book for research, I discovered a [very] young Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 recording of a Christmas album I purchased for my late sister and her late husband (then fiance), one of my first Christmases living in New York. It arrived today, and I boo-hoo-ed with every new track (and it’s a REALLY upbeat album that’s not even my taste in Christmas albums). But I had to have it, and I had to play every single teary track.

          As for my “me week,” I pretty much slept through it – and my chronorhythms are a MESS right now as a result.

          The Memorial was truly lovely, but Peggy and I got *very* little sleep the entire week leading up to it – truly a miracle we made it through the service without falling asleep! Friday “nite” prior we got only two hours sleep – and that wasn’t the only all-nighter of the week.

          If you are willing, I would love to process a few things with somebody likely to understand and not “connected” as are my clients, students & ADD colleagues (so no vested interest in telling me to cheer up! nor likely to worry if/when I am unwilling or unable to in the moment – it never works to stuff emotions, and it always helps to talk to someone willing and able to simply be a witness).

          I won’t post my email or phone anywhere because of the damned spambots, but it you will go to the far right of the top menubar (before “posts”) and click on e-Me, sending me YOUR phone number on the resulting contact form, I will return it with an email with my contacts (the form is secure, but you can’t see MY stuff until I email you).

          Of the options, pick “I am in ACT-12” – the last one, I believe. That “files” to a place I will be able to find it easily. If you don’t pick anything, I’m not sure WHERE it goes!

          We need to exchange contacts anyway, so this is a great time to do so – and if you don’t have the bandwidth for supporting anyone else, I truly understand. (I don’t know that I could do it right now myself). I *will* be fine, I’m just reeling at the moment.

          Grateful for your concern


  14. annie ellerbusch says:

    Learning to say no has been an invaluable part of bringing my life into a more balanced state, and has had a positive effect not only on me but on every relationship I was/am involved in. I was very weak in the assertive area of relationships when I began so I proceeded slowly, but eventually had many positive results. I did get support from others along most of the way and that made a HUGE difference! My advice to anyone working on this issue – get support – as much as you need to succeed, it will be worth whatever you need to invest now.
    Wonderful information, ideas and support Madelyn, on such an important, key issue – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment, Annie. Learning to say no is something that, in my experience anyway, is an ongoing struggle — like housework and laundry — never done! What makes it tricky are those darned decisions!

      We don’t want to go all black and white and say no to EVERYTHING, but yeses seem to be like letting the camel get his nose inside your tent. Before you know it, YOUR life consists of their to-dos!

      When I have my wits about me, TRADING favors seems to work best, but when I am my busiest, I don’t seem to remember that part – then I have to assign myself another ALL NO week.



  15. Thanks for including my post. Great post here! Looking forward to reading more of your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are very welcome – good content deserves a wider audience! Ditto on the “reading more of your blog” btw.

      Keep in touch – and if you are blogging on other “related content,” leave a link in the comments section — I’ll approve you [eventually, grin!] as long as I can FIND you, should Akismet throw you in with the multitude of spam trash (happens with links sometimes).


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