The art of saying no: How to get out of overcommitting and de-stress your schedule in 2020

The art of saying no: How to get out of overcommitting and de-stress your schedule in 2020

By Brittany Carlson


One of my favorite things to do after Christmas is buy a new wall calendar. Call me old-fashioned, but I still use a physical calendar to keep track of my family’s schedule instead of my cell phone. I love seeing the new year laid out month by month while the dates are still open and full of promise. But it isn’t long before I start filling those dates in—first with work and school schedules, then with doctor’s appointments, sporting events, book club meetings and birthday parties. It’s easy to fill up the calendar too much and feel overwhelmed just by looking at it.

This year, as I look at my calendar, I’m asking myself: how can I make this year less stressful and more purposeful for my family? How can I say “no” to those things that crowd our schedule but don’t fill our spirits?

According to the Mayo Clinic, avoiding overcommitment has many benefits, including stress relief, decreased risk of sickness, and more time for the things that matter most.


Here is some advice for saying “no” more this year, which I’m learning to use in my own busy life:

*Don’t commit to anything right away. The Mayo Clinic advises people to “sleep on” decisions that involve a new commitment. I’ve been guilty so many times of saying “sure” right away to make people happy, only to regret it later.

Taking a day to think about taking on a new commitment is a great time to talk with the people who matter most to you. Pray about it. Talk with your spouse and children. When I wanted to join my church worship team, I first took some time to determine whether my husband could watch the boys during my practices and manage them by himself during worship services.

*Consider your motivation. Are you thinking of saying “yes” because you really want to do this new thing? Or are you afraid to say no? Trying to make someone else happy? Do you feel guilty for declining, and if so, why? According to the Mayo Clinic, if you say “yes” to something out of negative motivation, such as guilt, this will “likely lead to additional stress and resentment” (

*Set limitations on “extra” activities. These include extracurriculars for you and your kids. My boys are ages 5 and 2.5, and I have asked them to choose one activity outside of school. This spring, we are planning on swim lessons for my oldest son and an outdoor exploration class for my youngest. Once their activities are finished, they can choose something new.

I have to set limits for myself as well. I’m an extrovert by nature and love being part of social clubs, but I have a habit of overcommitting myself. Choosing my top one or two activities helps me to not stretch myself too thin.

*Guard your rest days. Give yourself at least one day a week to reset. If every day has multiple activities planned, you won’t have time to rest, recover and prep for a new week. It’s also a good idea to incorporate downtime into each day. If you have something planned every single day, consider what you can let go in order to regain balance.

*Finally, don’t be afraid to use the word “no.” The Mayo Clinic advises using “no” instead of something less strong like “I don’t know,” which could be interpreted as “maybe.” It’s also a good idea to briefly say why you aren’t able to commit and be ready to stand by your decision if you are approached multiple times, according to the Mayo Clinic.


This year, I’m hoping I can keep my commitment to say “no” more often, for the sake of my own health and the health of my family. It isn’t always easy to say no, but with some practice and courtesy, I’m sure I will be glad I set more boundaries in my life. Here’s to 2020, and to becoming more deliberate with the one commodity that we can never get back once it’s spent: our time.


Brittany Carlson is a lifelong lover of words and all things chocolate. She is an Army wife and has two sons, Adam (4) and James (2). She has written for several Army community newspapers, including the Stuttgart Citizen (Germany), Fort Leonard Wood Guidon (Missouri) and Fort Belvoir Eagle (Virginia). Brittany holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. 

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