How to say "No" at Work
How to say no? Let business frameworks do it for you. Stick to your strategy and goals with these tried and tested tools.

Have you resolved to say “no” more often and make more time for your own priorities, but when anyone asks you to take on extra responsibilities, volunteer for the committee, or move up a deadline, you listen to yourself eek out a meek “yes”?

You may be taking the wrong approach. Why say “no” yourself when you can let business frameworks do it for you?

Often when we run up against a problem or challenge, the knee-jerk reaction is to work harder or do more. But what this typically ends up leading to is a dilution of your attention, time, and value as a brand (or employee). 

Instead of looking for ways to do more, double down on the tasks or initiatives that tie directly to your goals. 

Framework 1: The Eisenhower Matrix

One of the best frameworks for cutting your to-do list in half is the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s how we prioritize our own internal work, and it’s how we help our clients think through priorities. 

There are a few different versions of this, but here’s our favorite:

Spectacle's Eisenhower Matrix

Not everything can fit into a perfect framework like this (if only!), but you’d be surprised at the clarity you can gain from moving through this simple exercise.

The Eisenhower “No”:

“That’s a great idea. Can we revisit it next week? I have a number of high value tasks on my plate right now that are pretty urgent and important to our goals.”

Framework 2: Keep / Lose / Add

Keep / Lose / Add is a framework and exercise that can help you match your actions to your goals. It helps you think through the actions or daily tasks (or campaigns, or messages, or photo filters) on your or your company’s plate, and whether or not they serve your ultimate goals. 

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Identify your goal. This can be anything you want to move toward with intention. It could be "I want to spend more time with my family," or "I want to appeal to Gen Z," or "I want to increase revenue by 25% this year," or "I want more time for creativity." Write it down.
  2. Write "Keep", "Lose", and "Add" at the top of a whiteboard or notebook page (or print out the worksheet below). Then answer these questions: 

    a. Keep: Which tasks/items/initiatives serve the above goal? Which ones must I keep in order to achieve them? 

    b. Lose: What tasks/items/initiatives do not serve the above goal? Which ones should I let go in order to prioritize my goal and make more valuable time for it? 

    c. Add: What tasks/items/initiatives would serve the above goal but are not on my list? What do I need to add in order to achieve my goal or get there faster? 
  3. Reorganize your to-do list as needed.
Spectacle Keep, Lose, Add Worksheet

The Keep/Lose/Add "no":

Work - “That’s a really interesting idea. Can you help me understand how it ladders up to [insert goal]? I want to help you, but I’m hyper focused on [goal], which is really important to our company’s success.”

Personal life - “[That sounds so fun/I know that’s important to you] but I’m super focused on making more time for [insert goal] in my life right now. Can we raincheck/Can we [insert other activity] instead?”

Rinse and repeat as needed when your mind or Trello board get cluttered. The above exercises not only help you prioritize your own time, they also give you the confidence to stick to your goals and strategies in the face of pressure and pushback, which is a key skill for every founder, company, or life. We all deal with enough friction as it is - let frameworks take the fall.