Here on Inc.com we've covered why it's so important to and say no, and even how you should decide what to say no to if you want to maximize your success. But all this advice to be intentional about your priorities and trim your commitments still leaves you directionless when it comes to the part of saying no many entrepreneurs dread the most--actually turning someone down.
You need to maximize productivity (and make time for your own sanity, as well as seeing your family), but you're also a nice person. So when a real live person is in front of you asking you to do something, saying no can be agony. (If the request comes in over email, autoresponder might be able to do some of the heavy lifting for you.)
What you need is a script to arm yourself with the best language to let them down gently, and time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders has plenty to offer. On 99U she offered a whole host of stock phrases to help out those facing common requests for help that could be of use to almost any entrepreneur.
For last minute requests...
Say someone comes to you claiming to between a rock and hard place with an impossible deadline. You've been there and you feel for them, but you've got your own crazy schedule to worry about. Saunders suggests this:
"I would love to help you out, but I already made commitments to other [coworkers, clients, etc.] to complete their projects today. It wouldn't be fair to them to not follow through on what I said I would do. I will be sure to fit this in as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding."
You're the wrong person to help.
There's a chance you might be able to dig up the answer that they need or pull together something passable. But if there is someone else you know who could do a much better job, much quicker, go with, "That's not my area of expertise, but I would be happy to connect you with someone who could best help you solve this problem," recommends Saunders.
If it's just a matter of a colleague having a more open schedule than you at the moment, opt for: "I would love to help you out, but given my schedule, I wouldn't be able to get this back to you for a couple of weeks. If you would like to have this turned around sooner, I recommend that you reach out to XYZ. Does that sound good?"
In response to sob stories...
Sometimes when your schedule gets out of control, there's no one to blame but yourself. Instead of offering to help everyone with a problem you could potentially solve, Saunders reminds entrepreneurs of the necessity of strategically holding your tongue.
When "someone starts talking about a problem that you could potentially help them with but you don't have time to handle and is not your responsibility," she writes, your only response should be, "Wow. I can really understand how that would be hard. (Then say nothing more--just nod, smile, and release the problem when you walk away.)"
These are only a few of the situations Saunders covers in the complete post, so if you find these scripts helpful then check it out for several more.