These days, I say “no” very often. I say no to meetings, no to coffee breaks, no to parties, and no to almost everything which I know to be a time suck.

Before, I’d say “yes” to nearly everything. And then I’d overcompensate for my claustrophobia-inducing calendar by working longer and harder, draining my energy and creativity in the process.

The problem is that we think saying no is somehow insulting — the two-letter equivalent of flipping the middle finger. But by reluctantly saying yes, we grow to fear our calendars and loathe the people cannibalizing them. What we need to do is articulate our needs, challenges and deadlines.

As my friend Joann Lim says:

“A respectful no, is better than a half-assed yes.”

Here’s how to structure a (respectful) no:

1) Acknowledge the importance of the request, or appreciate being considered:

  • “I really want to help you, but…”
  • “This sounds like a great project, however…”
  • “Thanks for inviting me to this. Unfortunately…”

2) Explain why you’re saying no:

  • “I’m up to my eyes in deadlines…”
  • “This is really outside of my expertise…”
  • “I’ve been in serious need of some “me” time lately…”

3) Suggest an alternative:

  • “I could introduce you to…”
  • “Could we perhaps try to do this another way?”
  • “My friend Janakan is an awesome graphic designer. Here’s his email.”

Saying no — when respectful and structured — deflects distractions and ensures that (the right) projects are completed. The creative process is paralyzed when you are juggling things that you wish you never committed to.

Guard your time from things that don’t warrant your immediate attention or are counterproductive. Start saying yes to yourself by saying no others. Say no to happy hour, no to lunch meetings, no to round-tables…

Just say “no.”

This post was originally published on Medium.