An Example of Saying No: Why I’m Not Speaking This Year

April 15, 2024

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I personally find it fascinating to hear what people are saying “no” to and why. In addition, hearing examples helps normalize saying no and sparks ideas for what others might say no to – all of which helps us manage our workload and life so that we have energy and time for the things we decide are most important to us.

So, here’s an example from my own life: How and why I decided to say no to speaking engagements for the rest of 2024. 

If you’re already saying no to a category of activities or decide to after listening to this episode, let me know! I’d love to hear. Email me or DM me on Instagram.

Full Transcript

 Episode 50. Why I’m Not Speaking at Organizations This Year

[Upbeat Intro Music]

Kelly Nolan: Welcome to The Bright Method Podcast where we’ll discuss practical time management strategies designed for the professional working woman. I’m Kelly Nolan, a former patent litigator who now works with women to set up The Bright Method in their lives. The Bright Method is a realistic time management system that helps you manage it all, personally and professionally. Let’s get you falling asleep proud of what you got done today and calm about what’s on tap tomorrow. All right, let’s dig in!


Hey hey, and welcome back! So today I want to talk about something that I actually previously shared with my email list that seemed to just resonate with people, and so, I wanted to share it here as well. It’s around my decision not to speak at organizations for the rest of the year, beyond those that I’ve already committed to. And I’m sharing this because it’s just a solid example of saying no, and I think their examples around saying no are really beneficial. I find it really interesting to hear what people are saying no to, how they’re saying no, how they came to that decision. Because, while from a high-level concept I think that we all get that saying no has its benefits and keeps our workload manageable and all of that, it’s still really hard and confusing at times on how to know when to do it.

So this is an example in my life where I’m saying no. I’m sharing it in case it’s useful to you and gets your wheels turning on where you might want to say no and how you might want to get to that decision.

Our Time is Limited – 1:25

So when it comes to saying no, one thing that I find very useful is seeing that I can’t say yes to everything, really understanding the finite, limited elements of time, and that is usually what I talk about in terms of the calendar and making everything visual and seeing the constraints of our capacity and our current workload and how they interact and all that kind of stuff, and that is very, very valid.

Another component of it that’s obviously related but it’s almost like a different angle of it is that a lot of our comfort of saying no comes from having clarity around what category of work or activities we’re saying no to and why, because when you have clarity around, “This falls into the category of things I say no to, and I’m very clear on why I’m saying no to that,” it is a lot easier to say no than to be making the decision of whether to say yes or no to something in the moment every single time that type of work is presented to you.

And we can’t always have bright-line rules for what we say no to. I’m not saying that. There are plenty of other things I’m gonna say no to this year that don’t fall into this bucket, but to the extent that you can get clarity around what is a bucket of things that you will say no to, it can be really helpful. At least it really helps me. 

All right, so I’m gonna share more about my decision with the aim that hopefully it sparks some ideas of things that you can say no to even if it’s just for the rest of this year. To get there, I’m gonna just first give you a bit of context about my business so you can understand why this makes sense for me, and then I’ll go through three factors that result in me saying no, and for each factor I’ll try and take a step back and kind of dig into a broader thing that you could think about if you want to go through this analysis for yourself.

Context Around My Business – 3:04

So, to kick this off, just a bit of context. In my business, my main focus is my eight-week Bright Method Program. Working with women in this program is what I enjoy doing most. It’s how I believe I deliver the most meaningful results to people, and it is how I make the bulk of my income. In addition, for the past four years I’ve spoken at organizations about time management. It’s been a solid income stream for me. I also really enjoy it, candidly. I have a signature talk. It’s not a crazy lift for me to give these talks. I just really enjoy hearing people’s response to it, fielding questions, helping people tailor the method to their organization, their preference, their life. I really, truly enjoy that stuff.

However, in January this year I made the decision to not do any further speaking engagements, at least not say yes to any further ones beyond those I’ve committed to, in 2024. And it’s hard. I mean, it’s hard to give up something that’s enjoyable. It feels like not a hugely heavy lift on the work front, and it brings money in the door. And so, it’s hard. It’s not deeply, deeply hard. But it’s not easy. It’s uncomfortable. It makes me feel like, “Ugh, I’m saying no to money. It’s scary. What if these opportunities don’t come again,” all that kind of thought. But once I made the decision, it has felt really good for the most part. I really do feel like having clarity around a rule like this is very helpful. It gives me a lot more peace of mind and also breathing space.

So let’s go through the three factors of how I made this decision, and then again for each factor, I’ll back it up into more of a broader thing that you can think through if you would like to think about your work in this way as well.

Factor #1 – Speaking Doesn’t Move the Needle – 4:47

So factor number one is basically I realized that speaking does not move the needle on the main metric that I’m concerned about. Bringing that into more detail, I realize that speaking is not a top way that I attract clients into my eight-week program. So, as I said, my eight-week program is my bread and butter. It is the most enjoyable part of my business, and I have been speaking in large part to build awareness around what I do and attract clients. And it has worked to an extent. I definitely get clients from it, but I finally sat down (I probably should have done this earlier) in January of this year and looked at where the past three programs I’ve run of the eight-week program, where have those women come from? And the top three were Instagram, referrals from past clients, and guesting on other people’s podcasts. Note that speaking was not up there, and that’s a very good data point that I had not been super clear on before.

My takeaway from that information is that if my main goal is to drive people to the eight-week program (which it is), spending more time doing those top three things (Instagram, referrals from past clients (developing that), and guesting on other people’s podcasts) is smart. Spending time there is what would be really smart and speaking takes away my time from being able to do those activities, so it’s just a data point for me to be aware of.

So, backing up, how is this relevant to you? I know that a lot of what I’m talking about isn’t relevant in your own career. I hope that it is still, from a concept-to-principle standpoint, applicable. So what I would think about if I were you is if you are feeling stretched too thin, if you are, it can be helpful (and I know this is hard to take time when you’re feeling stretched thin) to sit down for an hour or two and analyze your work. It’s gonna look different for everybody, but here are just some examples to get your wheels turning.

So the first question you could think about is what types of clients or patients or projects (whatever kind of main thing you work on in your career), what types of those things do you enjoy the most? Another angle that you could think about that was relevant for me in the law firm world was which teams at your organization (like which partner teams at my firm was kind of how I think about it) do you enjoy working with the most? Another question you can ask is what types of clients or patients do you get the best results for? Another thing you can think about — these are not in the alternatives. I would think about all these types of things just because you can’t get the best results for someone if you don’t enjoy it, don’t keep that work.

Another question is what types of cases or projects or patients bring in the most revenue for you, and if revenue is not the metric you’re concerned about in your role, you can exchange that for whatever the relevant metric is (hours billed, revenue for the firm, whatever it might be). Which of those things gets you that main metric that you or your organization are concerned about. Would focusing on that type of work and nixing the rest allow you to obviously bring in more revenue or whatever the metric is and allow you to streamline your processes for those types of things (projects, matters, or whatever they might be) and make the work even easier and more enjoyable.

So simplifying the types of work you do has a lot of amazing ripple effects because not only are you getting to do more of what you enjoy and getting even better at it, but you can also streamline your systems so that work becomes even more enjoyable for you.

The last question I would think about here is kind of related to what I’m talking about, but what are your sources of work (which partners or bosses do you work for, which clients do you work for), and which sources are your top three (where’s the bulk of that work coming from). In relation to that again, I would really think about what do you enjoy the most as well. In that context, could you do more of that? However you get your business, your work that you enjoy, could you do more of that, working with those people, and nix the rest?

So just to give you a little bit more of a — in my lawyer background, the examples I’ve given you today get a little business-y that might not translate as well, but in my firm, I did this. I think it was at the end of my first year or second year. I realized which partners I really enjoyed working with and which ones I didn’t enjoy working with as much. And so, what I did is I had a pretty full plate, but basically any time any work came up with the team I liked working with, I would say yes, and I definitely overextended myself to do that, but intentionally knowing that my endgame was fill my plate up with work for those two partners so that I could legitimately turn down work for other people.

So I overextended myself for a bit because I kept taking on more and more work from this team that I really wanted to be on, and then as my other cases sunsetted out over time, then my workload became more reasonable, and then I could legitimately decline partners that I didn’t enjoy working with as much because my plate legit was full.

And so, I just share that as an example of maybe in a more traditional work context that’s not business that you can still think about this stuff and strategically move towards that. It might take some time. There might be some overextended period in there. But for me, I’ve always been able to deal with the overextension when there’s a real why behind it, like there’s a purpose for what I’m doing in that process.

So I hope that this gives you some data to understand to help guide your work approach so you can hopefully focus on work you enjoy more and that is more effective, like that you’re more effective at, and let go of the rest as best you can. So, just to clarify, please hear me on the elimination component of this. You know, we’re not just adding more work. Overall, the goal is to get clear on which work we want and which work we want to let go of. Like now we’re over time. To remind you, I’m talking about my example as overextending myself for a period of time but with the goal of letting go of other work over time. Similarly, obviously, the main premise of this is I’m letting go of speaking for the year so that I can do some more work where it matters, where it’s more effective, and I really enjoy it as well. But the whole premise is you’ve got to let go of some of this stuff so that you can spend your time where you’re most effective and doing what you enjoy.

Factor #2: Speaking Requires My Limited Availability – 11:31

Okay, factor two, going back to the decision not to speak anymore, is that speaking requires that I devote a lot of my limited availability to it, to speaking, and that stresses me out. I’m not sure that’s an objective metric, but it stresses me out. Taking a step back, we all have limited time, right? I mean, I talk about that a lot, and in a season of life, certain types of time can feel particularly limited.

So, to give you an example of the context of what I’m talking about, in addition to just having limited childcare hours, I only speak during times when my husband is home and available for child backup, and I’ve just learned that the hard way that I can have other types of childcare backup in play, but if a kid is really high fever and throwing up, other than another parent, typically, or hopefully if you don’t have a partner that can play that role for you, a family member or someone that you can find that would agree to that. I just haven’t been able to set that up in my life, and so, it really is like my husband needs to be home. If I’m committing to show up and perform well for an organization who’s paying me, I have to be able to have the most stress-free childcare backup situation that I can. I don’t do that for all my work (I can’t), but for that type of activity, that is what I have learned that just really reduces my stress if I have that in play.

What’s tricky though is that kind of sweet-spot time, that time that my husband is available to play backup, is also when I schedule one-on-one client sessions. It’s also when I interview on other people’s podcasts, and it’s also when I interview guests for this podcast. And so, there are a lot of activities competing for that pretty limited sweet-spot time. Speaking requires I give a fair amount of that to speaking. And as I said, for my main goal of bringing people into my eight-week program, there are other activities that I should be focusing on with those sweet-spot hours than speaking.

In short, speaking caused my availability for other important work tasks to be too limited, and that caused me a lot of stress and almost like resentment towards it because I wasn’t getting to do activities that I knew — not as clearly in the past, but I knew moved the needle, and that was frustrating and stressful.

In addition, I sometimes don’t get my husband’s schedule until a month before the next month starts, maybe three to four weeks before the next block. I usually get it in three-month blocks, which is amazing in its own ways. I’m not complaining fully about this. There’s a real beauty in seeing his schedule and knowing it’s pretty set, but it also is tricky when I don’t get it for more than three weeks out sometimes, and I’m trying to book out two months, and I can’t get people a date until then, and it’s just stressful. It just felt like kind of unnecessary stress.

So how is this relevant to you, because I know that was very me-specific. If there is an activity that you’re not enjoying as much or isn’t as effective than other activities in the ways that we’ve talked about in that first factor, just consider how much of your limited work hours and any relevant subset of those work hours that activity is taking up, and is it causing you stress? And would opening up those hours from that activity, so that you could do more important or higher-performing or more enjoyable activities, bring you relief and help you be more effective? Again, it’s just an important data point to have.

So the first factor is essentially analyzing your work and understanding where you’re effective and where you enjoy the work, and can you gravitate more towards effective and enjoyable work and away from and let go of some of the other work in the ways that we’ve discussed.

The second point is also realizing how limited your time is and could you be moving the needle more or enjoying your work more if you got to spend more time, especially if there was a particular subset of time you’re having to give work to. And again, I know that might be a little bit unique to my situation, but I doubt it. I bet people understand those sweet-spot hours and when you really have important things, when you’re gonna plan those and who you can rely on in certain scenarios. So my guess is it’s relevant hopefully. We’ll go from there.

Factor #3: Speaking Takes More Time/Energy Than I’d Realized – 16:08

The third factor that I think is worth thinking about — we’ll first look at the context for me, then we’ll bring it back — is for me, speaking fragments up my focus on other things and takes more time and energy than I had realized. Even I, the time-management person, understand all the steps that go into something and see the bigger picture and all that kind of stuff, I did not appreciate how much time speaking was taking up for me because what is confusing about speaking and what caused me to stick with it so long is that it feels like it’s not (and it shouldn’t be) a heavy lift for me. I get paid solid money to show up for an hour or two and give a presentation, and that sounds really good in theory. It sounded really good in theory in my head. But when I sat down and really parsed out what it entails, the following is a more realistic picture.

Before I book a talk, I have to exchange a lot of emails with an organization and/or have a 30- to 45-minute meeting to make sure it’s a solid fit for what they need. Any meeting also eats up into that limited, sweet-spot, only-when-my-husband’s-home time because I only want to have those calls when I’m not gonna have to back out on them that morning. It also requires at least 15 minutes of prep work for me to make sure I understand the organization, what they do, what their pain points might be, all that kind of stuff.

Separately, assuming that it goes forward, I have to review contracts, I have to issue invoices, and that takes 45-to-60 minutes depending on the situation. Then, even though I have a standard talk, I have to prepare slides for it, which means I have to adapt my typical slides. I double check that my standard slides fit that organization. If we’ve talked about specific time-management pain points their organization has, I add slides to it. I just try and really make sure, even though it’s a standard workshop, that it is tailored to that organization. I also create a guide to go with it that I can give out to people so that they don’t have to take notes so feverishly. That takes anywhere between one-to-two hours of work to make sure that’s good.

Then, as we get closer to the workshop, I have to refresh my memory about the slides before I give the talk so I can deliver it confidently. Usually, that’s like 30 minutes. I also usually have to — I should say I always for a presentation get showered and get dressed and put on makeup and do my hair in a way that I don’t normally do when I’m just staying home and doing something. So that adds, like, 45 minutes of time that I usually am not — I feel funny saying it — getting glammed up. I do not look glam, but you know what I mean. I’m not normally doing that, so that adds time.

More to the point, too, is I just acknowledge that I get kind of nervous about these talks. Even though I’m way more comfortable doing them now, I’m still distracted that morning. Whenever the talk happens, beforehand, no matter when the talk is, I struggle to do anything else, really. Not like anything but just anything work-wise that requires my focus is a struggle for me. I just have mild nerves. I have low-level nerves, and so, I can’t focus. So that can be one hour to four hours of my day that’s not shot, necessarily, but I’m not getting to do that deeper work that I want to do.

In addition, my energy is depleted after a talk. It can be for about an hour. It can be for three hours. I don’t really know how the energy’s gonna go. But I can be really tired after it, and so, that’s just another thing to keep in mind. And then I also have to track invoices and make sure that I was paid, which I am, like, really bad at. So that’s 15/30 minutes total, but more so it’s scattered over time, I have to keep tracking it, that kind of stuff.

So basically, more to the point, it is not just an hour of time. It’s much more time, and there are many more tasks than I’d realized, and some of them can really fragment up my day. I could be spending that time and that energy and that focus on other work activities which, as we’ve discussed, move the needle further for me and are more effective at getting amazing women in my programs, which is my main focus.

So, while speaking is really not a massive lift for me, it is a bigger and more disruptive lift than I have appreciated in the past. And when my work hours are limited, as all of ours are, and speaking takes up a solid enough percentage of my work hours (especially those subset work hours), I just can’t dismiss that. That’s another data point for me to look at.

So bringing this back to you is just, as you’re analyzing all these activities that we’ve been talking about, don’t assume that one hour of being on for an activity is the only hour that goes into it. And this is something that, as I said, I talk about this stuff all the time and I even have not fully appreciated the amount of time and disruption that this type of activity caused me. So just a nudge for you to do the same if you’d like is factor in the emails, the phone calls, the prep work, the drafting, the nerves, the recovery time, all of it when analyzing the time and energy cost of an activity.

Recap – 21:26

Okay? So wrapping all of this up, let me go over the three factors again in case it’s helpful. The first is realizing which activities move the main metric that you’re concerned about, and which ones don’t, and if the main metric isn’t the right way to think about this, really, it just comes down to effectiveness. What activities are most effective for you and which ones are not. I would also infuse what do you enjoy in here as well. You can take this however it works for you. But we can talk about the substance, the type of work, the type of client, the type of bosses (the people in your organization who you like to work with), all of that is the angle of this discussion you could have. But however it is, I think it’s really useful to sit down and analyze your work for an hour or two and really think about which parts of these are effective. “Which parts of this work do I most enjoy? Which teams, which people do I enjoy working with the most?” And just getting a little bit of clarity around the types of activities you’re doing, and which fall in the relevant buckets that you decide, and that can help you decide where to maybe lean in a little bit more and where to phase out of.

Factor two was really thinking about how limited your time is and, particularly, if you have any subset of limited time. And even if you don’t, your time is very limited, and the fact that you’re having to devote a lot of that limited time to activities that aren’t as effective or that you don’t enjoy or to teams you don’t enjoy working with, is that causing you a lot of stress, and could you instead imagine devoting more of that limited time to activities that light you up where you’re effective, where you feel good, and what would that feel like.

Then point three is really getting clear — and I needed this too — of how much time and disruption are certain activities taking you, because my guess is, let’s say you have a corporate standing meeting, well, if that meeting is an hour of time but it takes you three hours to prepare for it and you’re exhausted for two hours after and all that kind of stuff, that’s important to think about in your analysis of where your time is going.

So those are the three factors. To wrap it all up, I just want to give you context of where I’m coming from. Due to, I don’t know, life and things happening in my personal life, there is a strong desire in me lately to have even more breathing space. And as I’ve shared about this to my email newsletter and Instagram and this podcast, I’m just craving even more breathing space in my life right now, and so, I’m searching for ways to simplify my work and my life to get it. And so, while I enjoy speaking for all of the reasons above, it’s just a good candidate to nix.

I just want to throw this out there so that you can think about this too is I can always bring it back in the next year if I want to or not. A year from now if I’m like, “Yeah, I really miss speaking,” I can do it, or I don’t have to. I don’t have to make that decision right now. All I have to know is from now until the end of the year, I’m not saying yes to anything else on that front.

And also, just to be realistic, if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes up, I can make an exception. This rule is supposed to help you alleviate stress and not add to it. So if some amazing opportunity comes up, I can always say yes, but the general rule is helping me simplify and free up my time in amazing ways already, truly. I think just having not to make that decision every single time an opportunity comes in the door, that alone frees up some focus time and energy in my head.

And so, I just encourage you to think about if there are pockets of work in your life or pockets of things, like maybe activities at a kid’s school or something like that, whatever it is, if you can create these kind of bright-line rules that there’s a certain type of activity that you say no to for the next year, and you’re very clear on why, I think it can give you a lot of relief. And so, I wanted to give an example of how I’m doing that in case it’s helpful for you. I just find it really interesting to know what people are saying no to, how they made that decision, all that.

So hopefully this was interesting to you as well. More so, I hope it sparked an idea or two for you on your own work front, and really just thinking about are there parts of your work that you want to intentionally let go of for a period of time, whether it’s the next year, where it’s two years, whether it’s six months, whatever it might be. The more you can get clear on which activities you’re saying no to this year and why, the easier it will be to decline them going forward. And if you decide to nix them this year, let me know! I would really love to hear. As I’ve said, I love hearing about what people are doing and how they got there, so please feel free to send me an email, send me a DM on Instagram, whatever you’re most comfortable with, and for all of us, here is to more breathing space and simplifying so that we can rock the parts of our career and life that are most important and enjoyable to us. I’ll catch you in the next episode. Thanks for being here!

[Upbeat Outro Music]

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