This is the time of year when there are so many things to do that you run yourself into the ground with over-commitment. Between work parties, school parties and various social events, plus holiday shopping, family expectations, travel plans, holiday decorating, baking, cooking … well, you get the picture. It seems like every weekend between now and the holidays is maxed out with activities. And, if you have trouble saying no, you may be volunteering for at least half of them and looking towards the holidays as a time of stress, not joy.
Why don’t you give yourself a gift this year? It’s a single word, and one seldom uttered in the English language: No. It takes practice to get used to saying it without apology. But, once you do, you’ll feel a huge weight lifted off your shoulders and find joy in the feeling that you don’t HAVE to do it all.
People usually fear that saying no means that they won’t be liked anymore, or that they won’t be needed. But we over-commit, we can wear ourselves out by running around or even worse, become resentful. The key is not turning everything down, but rather, to find balance and giving yourself some free time so you don’t feel stressed.
Here are a few pointers for learning when to say no, how to say it politely, avoid over-commitment and finding joy during the holiday season and well into the New Year:
Avoid explanation. People feel they need to explain their nos. That leaves them wide open to that unfortunate phenomenon: backpedaling to a yes. When you provide an explanation, it’s easy for people to poke holes in it. Let’s say you’ve resolved to limit your volunteer commitments this season. Then, you’re asked to coordinate a bake sale. You explain your position (“I’m really busy and trying not to over-schedule myself”). Then, the pressure begins: “This won’t take much time at all – just a few hours during the week and one afternoon in December.”
Try this response, instead: “I’m not able to help this year, but thanks.” Or, “Thank you, but I’m not able to squeeze it in this year.” No further details and no apologies. The abruptness of this approach may seem jarring at first. But it’s a polite way to say no and then shut the conversation down. Leaving it open ended by specifying “this year” means that you aren’t saying that it isn’t worth your time, but you still shut it down by being firm.
Re-prioritize the parties. Accepting every single party invitation will likely leave you exhausted, stressed and maybe even broke. Select your top two or three. Decline the rest with a simple “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I already have a commitment that evening.” And, by the way, that commitment could be to sit at home and watch a movie in front of the fireplace!
Make an appearance, then leave. Most people feel that attending their work holiday party is mandatory for their career. Consider going to the party but not staying the entire time. Your co-workers will remember that they saw you, but they probably won’t remember when you left. This approach will also help keep you out of any situations that could cross the line into unprofessional – nobody wants to be the topic of gossip because they had too much eggnog at the office party! Paying your respects to the people you need to see and then quietly exiting means you don’t have to say no, but you don’t have to commit an entire evening to the party either.
Let the voicemail pick it up. When the phone rings, you might feel put on the spot. But you don’t have to be tied to your phone 24/7. If it’s important, the caller will leave a message, and if it’s an invitation or request, you’ll have time to mull it over before responding.
Establish your own traditions. Let go of others’ expectations for how the holidays “should” be. The made-for-TV version of the holidays might be more stress than you want or need. It’s OK to institute a no-gifts policy with family members, order takeout, skip purchase store-bought cookies for the office or do your holiday shopping online from the comfort of your sofa. Some of the best holiday memories come from just being together with the people you care about, so keep the focus on what’s really important.
Consider negotiation. The holidays can be a huge strain on finances – but guess what? Everyone is in the same boat. If a friend suggests doing a big gift exchange or going to an expensive dinner, propose an alternative (like a potluck dinner and used book swap) that will be just as much fun and easier on your wallet – your other friends will thank you for it too!
Don’t tell them you’ll get back to them. Avoiding a decision only puts you under more stress, and you may cave in to a yes later. Saying no at the first ask takes the weight off your shoulders and establishes a good precedent.
Happy holidays to you – may your boundaries be firm and your days under-scheduled and overjoyed!