Were you ever told to get involved and be in a lot of activities because it’ll look great on your resume? Do you still believe that? Read on, this article will explain how to become successful with saying no.

What you don’t do determines what you can do. -Tim Ferriss

Here’s a thing I’ve noticed about school counselors who get things done AND manage to keep their stress in check: they say no and don’t apologize. They protect their time and focus on their mission.

For a long time, I was conditioned to be compliant, agree to demands on my time and then get angry at myself for not getting it all done (or having to work late). I kept thinking if I didn’t say “yes”… then I would disappoint everyone. They would think I was selfish and unhelpful. And by “everyone” and “they” I mean the imaginary crowd in my head. Silly, right?

Made up rules dictated my life. I wasn’t able to change things and draw a boundary around my time. I usually got things done, but not without feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

How did I turn this around? I began asking myself, “What’s the worst that can happen if I say no?” Then I said no a lot more. No angry mobs came storming into my office. In fact, I doubt anyone noticed. It’s not as if I walked into school one day and made an announcement over the intercom. I didn’t start glaring at people and yelling “NO! From now on, NO!”

Then, I felt liberated. I also realized it was not an all-or-nothing proposition: be a no-person or a yes-person. I decided the most important things that needed to get done and focused on those. I became more productive. There was more space to say yes, if I wanted to. I felt happier.

Some challenges:

  • Plan Time: If it isn’t there already, add it to your calendar and treat it like a meeting. It’s easy to say no when you have a 504 or staff meeting, you probably don’t think twice about protecting that time. Do the same with the time you need to plan.  
  • Unexpected Visitors: What if a student or teacher shows up at a time you are juggling other tasks? Isn’t it better to deal with a situation when you have a clear and focused mind? Of course, assess things and make sure it is not a true emergency.
  • Committees: I know, especially as a school counselor, you become a catch-all for committees. I also realize you often don’t have a choice. I think it’s possible to take a look at what you’re doing and figure out if there are areas you can cut back. Do you need to volunteer your time for extra tasks? Do you have to be an officer? It’s not about trying to do be completely uninvolved, but figuring out where to best spend your time and energy.
  • Social Media: This sneaky little indulgence eats away at your day minutes at a time. Be honest with yourself for when and how long you are engaged online. You really won’t become out of touch for saying no to it more often, I promise.
  • Gossip: Realize the difference between keeping a pulse on what’s happening versus spreading rumors. Negative talk about other people is, quite honestly, a drag. You can “say no” to it by not engaging and just not hanging out with busybodies.

Finally, I didn’t suddenly have zero stress and Disney bluebirds flying around my office windows, let’s be real. School counseling can be messy and unpredictable. I have to practice prioritizing my time and deciding when to say no.

Here’s the main takeaway: Structure and protect the time you need to get things done, which means saying no to the things that take away from your priorities. It’s OK to say NO.

What about you? If you start saying no more often, what is one project or goal you want to spend more time on? How would it feel to spend an entire hour planning something? As a school counselor, how would it feel to spend an hour planning while other people are in the building? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Want self-care delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to School Counselor Voice, a monthly self-care newsletter made to personalize and share. September’s issue will feature decision making and saying no and is delivered on the 20th of every month prior.

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