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Prioritizing Your “Yeses”

Do you ever find yourself overloaded because you said “yes” to too many things? How often could that stress have been avoided if you weren’t afraid to say “no”? Are you constantly bending your own rules to accommodate new “yeses”?

If so, you’re not alone. If this resonates, if your plate is feeling too full, if you’re making 2019 resolutions about setting boundaries, then try a few of these tips to say “yes” to reclaiming control of your time and energy. 

Saying “No” 

Many of us like to say yes to everything that is asked of us and then just try to buckle down and get it all done. But, we know how well that can work out, and it usually leads to working overtime, dropping the ball, poorly completed work, or missing a deadline or important family event. 

We all juggle a lot of priorities. Being mindful of them is important to your well-being. Take a step back, evaluate your priorities and the norms/expectations around them, and recognize the need to course correct if things aren’t matching up. 

If you can clearly define what you need (and want) to say “yes” to and create boundaries to protect your priorities, saying “no” will become much easier. 

Saying “Yes”

Saying “yes” to one thing means that, by default, you’re saying “no” to something else. So, when you say “yes” to something that isn’t on your priority list, it can feel like a double whammy. 

  • Make a list of your big “yeses”: Identify what you absolutely need and want to prioritize. These become your non-negotiables. Intentionally focusing on what you’d like to say “yes” to will keep you focused on your goals and make it easier to identify which things you need to say “no” to so you can stay on track.
  • Make a list of your easy “nos”: It’s also helpful to identify habits you’d like to eliminate, tasks you should automate, or things you should just say “no” to. 
  • Set goals of behaviors to stop, start, and continue: Evaluate what you’re doing well to manage your big “yes” priorities (what you should continue). What else can you start and stop doing to accommodate these goals? 
  • Evaluate your lists. Decide if you might benefit from setting boundaries to protect time for your prioritized “yeses.” 

Setting Boundaries

Identify Your Needs: 

  • Is there an area of your life that might benefit from establishing new boundaries? Specify how you need things to change moving forward. 

Define Your Boundary: 

  • Be as clear and specific as possible with the boundaries you’d like to set. Rather than saying “I’m going to check my email less frequently,” aim to be specific by stating “I will only check my email at these times of the day.” 
  • Outline what you need. What is okay and what’s not okay under your new boundary? Clearly define it for yourself or your colleagues. 


  • Directly, calmly, confidently. Respectfully! You’re asking people (or yourself) to respect a request from you, so ask in a respectful way. 
  • It often helps to communicate your intent (“I’m not being as productive as I’d like because I’m distracted by constant emails during the day. To give myself time to focus, I’ll only be checking emails once in the morning and afternoon each day.”) 
  • Whatever your new boundaries, whatever you’re saying “no” to, whatever you’re choosing to say “yes” to, remember that communication is important. 


  • The adjustment period may be difficult. We teach people how to treat us and teach ourselves what’s okay. This is a re-learning period as you establish new norms for yourself.
  • Subtle reinforcement: If someone suggests they’ll send you a report after hours tonight, you might respond by simply saying “I’ll review the report at 9am tomorrow.” 
  • Sometimes enforcing boundaries requires difficult conversations. These conversations are much easier if you’ve clearly outlined your parameters in step 3 (communicate). 
  • Be open to new possibilities: Sometimes in the trial-and-error process you’ll find an alternative that works well! 

Work/Non-Work Boundaries

One of the most common places people feel they need to say “no” is in areas that affect work-life balance. Who among us doesn’t feel pulled in multiple directions or compelled to say yes to many competing demands? It can be difficult to set (and stick to) new boundaries, particularly at work or in terms of managing work-life interface. But, research shows us that setting weaker boundaries results in more inter-role conflict (Hecht & Allen, 2009). If you can create boundaries that work for you and clearly communicate them to your relevant people (colleagues, supervisor, family, friends, committee members, etc.), you can be more effective in managing your many roles. Once people know what to expect from you, they can set their plans accordingly.

Some folks are integrators (people who like very flexible boundaries between their life roles), some prefer stricter segmentation strategies, particularly in terms of work and non-work life (Bulger, Matthews, & Hoffman, 2007). Consider what works well for you. If you’d like more segmentation, explore new boundary possibilities: Perhaps you’d benefit from setting a new “no emails between 7pm and 7am” policy for yourself. 

The Personal Resource Allocation Framework (Grawitch, Barber, and Justice, 2010) suggests focusing on when, where, and how you’re spending your personal resources (your time and energy) can help you recognize the many competing demands (both positive and negative) in your life and helps individuals gain greater control over their work-life interface. 


Saying “no” and enforcing your boundaries takes practice. Often, it is us (not others), who are the culprits, constantly breaking our own rules. When your plate is already full and something fun or fulfilling comes along, it is hard to say “no.” Recognizing your own patterns of behavior and stress can be helpful – plan ahead so you know when you are reaching your critical mass and are in danger of having room for no more “yeses.” 

As you’re setting your 2019 resolutions, consider saying “yes.” That is, don’t just focus on saying “no” to sugar or non-fulfilling tasks. What positive and important things are you saying “yes” to? Focus on your prioritized “yeses” and create boundaries to protect them. You’ll find saying “no” to things that don’t support your goals becomes a much less daunting task. 

By: Kaitlyn Erb, Ph.D.


Bulger, C. A., Matthews, R. A., Hoffman, M. E. (2007). Work and personal life boundary management: Boundary strength, work/personal life balance, and the segmentation–integration continuum. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 365–375.

Grawitch, M.J., Barber, L.K, & Justice, L. (2010). Rethinking the work-life interface: It’s not about balance, it’s about resource allocation. Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 2(2), 127-159. 

Hecht, T. D., & Allen, N. J. (2009). A longitudinal examination of the work-nonwork boundary strength construct. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30,839-862.