Workplace Productivity Secret – The Power of No

No, nada, nope, nein, and nu.

Saying No

No is one of the simplest, shortest words in the English language. It’s one of the first words that most babies learn and in those young years, one of the most frequently used. Ryleigh, my 4 year old loves the word no. She’s Ms. Bossypants and tells me exactly what I need to do. “No, mom you can’t sit there.” “No, I don’t want to eat breakfast. I want pepperonis.” Ah, the life of a mom. I know you feel me. Throughout our teenage years and I’m sure Ryleigh’s included it will be tossed around with no care for the consequences of what saying it can have. It’s a way to show we have power and control and that the choice to say “no” is ours to make. In fact, most of us exercised that right freely and spouted off a “no” to any parent or teacher that wouldn’t make our lives a living hell if we did. Myself included. I was the girl who couldn’t say no.

But then we grew up. We started feeling guilty, obligated, trapped and stopped saying “no.” We realized the power of yes. In our professional careers yes, led to promotions, more responsibility and more money. Instead, we learned to schedule in more meetings, more events and added more tasks to our to-do list than we could ever dream of accomplishing. Not only did we tell ourselves that we couldn’t say “no” but we also let others pressure us into believing that no was not an acceptable answer. We believed the only way was yes. Yes, was the promised land.

But yes, led to stress and working late. Fights with the hubby and not enough time. I’m saying no to yes.

Workplace Productivity Secret

My workplace productivity secret isn’t about teenage rebellion or questioning authority; it’s about gaining control over my workday, my life and becoming a better, more productive employee. I’m saying no to yes.

I work in the world of human resources, which is a job that encompasses many things. (In fact, I discover new aspects of my job at least once a week!) I once heard that those who work in the HR industry typically have periods of no more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted work time before something comes up that needs taken care of. Don’t get me started on saying no to my technology. It’s a 24/7 world that I live in starting my this laptop and my phone that paves the way. While I can certainly attest to the fact that this is true, I don’t think our industry is the only one experiencing crazy days like this. We all feel the pressure to be productive but are bogged down by so many obligations that it’s hard to even get to what needs done that day. This is where saying “no” comes in.

Rather than agreeing to do everything you’re asked, focus first on what you need to do. Finish the tasks that you are responsible for before you take on other projects, committees or whatever it happens to be that’s keeping you from being a productive, happy, and healthy you. While it is important to be a well-rounded professional, it’s even more important to do the job you were hired to do and do it well. Your productivity will see huge leaps when you cut on the ‘junk and hone in on what’s important. And what’s important is me.

How to Reduce Stress

It can be difficult. People don’t like hearing “no” and most of us don’t like disappointing people either. What I keep in mind when I have to say “no” is that while someone might be unhappy with me for a while, it’s for the greater good or our company if I do my job before I help them with theirs. But I’ve found that no is really very empowering. How to say no and reduce my stress immediately.

No creates boundaries. It sets a clear line outlining your responsibilities.

Keep your yeses guarded and use your best judgment to determine when it’s beneficial to you or your company to help out a co-worker, even if it’s an inconvenience.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions


  1. Mary Wright says

    Love the idea that “No” gives you the time to do your job before helping others. (Sort of like putting on your own oxygen mask first!) You won’t be around to apply your knowledge in the service of others unless you get your own work done, too.


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