How to Prioritize

Simplify Your ADHD Life by Learning to Say “No”

No matter the request, adults with attention deficit have a hard time turning down others. Here, find out how ADHD adults can prevent over scheduling and exhaustion by learning how to nicely say “no.”

A woman with ADHD simplifies her life and calendar.

As an ADHD adult, have you ever found yourself saying, “What was I thinking?” after volunteering to do something you don’t really want or have the time to do? There are things about adult ADHD that make it hard for us to say no. First, we often say yes to something that sounds great before thinking it through. Second, our interests are so varied that we can’t choose-so we say yes to it all.

And then there is impatience. We don’t want to wait until our eight-week salsa class finishes before we sign up for acting classes. We pack our schedules with important, interesting, and fun things to do, but we are too exhausted to enjoy any of them.

Christina knows this feeling well. She has ADHD, and admits that she loves the “H” part of her ADHD diagnosis. She has a bottomless reserve of energy, and is on the go from sunup to sunset. She is the first person family and friends think to call when they need a favor. She has a hard time saying no and has a tendency to over-commit.

Christina came to see me after her life had spun out of control. She was running on six hours of sleep, and, on top of her busy schedule, was helping her mother move into an assisted-living facility. Everything seemed equally important and urgent. Here are a few suggestions I made that helped Christina learn to say no and get her life back-not to mention eight hours of solid sleep.

[Free Resource: Get Control of Your Life and Schedule]

Prioritize and Practice Saying No

1. Take time in making a decision. Impulsivity and hyperactivity make two seconds seem like forever. Take a deep breath, pause, and respond: “I’d like to think about the offer and call you back.” Sleep on it if you need to.

2. List your priorities-in order of importance. For many of us, everything seems important, and prioritizing can be as painful as trying to pay attention to a boring lecture. For Christina, though, it was easy. She loves her mother and values their relationship above all else. Putting this at the top of her list made things at the bottom easier to decline.

3. Practice saying no to the easy stuff. A good start would be telling telephone solicitors that you don’t want to be called anymore. Work your way up to saying no-civilly, of course-to your husband or to your boss.

4. Be brief. A tall order for minds that race like wild fire through a dry forest, but it can be done if you slow down all those thoughts dancing through your brain. Instead of explaining why you can’t attend a late-night party for a coworker who is leaving, just say, “I’m sorry, but I have to be home early.” The more reasons you give someone why you can’t do something, the harder the person will try to convince you that you can.

5. Be unconditional when saying no. Using the words “maybe,” “but,” and “if” won’t do. This happens when we think out loud. It’s best to think, decide, and speak-in that order.

[How to Delegate Your To-Do List]

6. Don’t say yes just to be nice. Some of us feel we have to go the extra mile to make up for the times things slipped through the cracks or when we goofed up. You don’t. Compromise, and meet the other person halfway. When asked to sell raffle tickets, say, “No, I don’t like doing that, but I’ll buy some.” This is saying no without offending anyone.

7. You are not indispensable. The world won’t come to a halt if you can’t step up to the plate every time you are needed. While it is tempting to take on new responsibilities to keep things exciting, resist the urge to do so. Even if you know you’d do the best job, let someone else do it for once.

8. You can change your mind. What if you said yes, and now wish you had said no? It’s OK to renege. Christina had already agreed to co-chair an important community event when unexpected responsibilities arose concerning her mother’s care. When she mustered up the courage to speak to the other committee members about bowing out of the job, they understood completely-and several people volunteered to step up to take her place.

I’ll be the first to admit that saying no is not easy. One thing I learned, though, is that honesty and integrity are always respected when accepting or declining a request. When you align your decisions with your values, the results are never disappointing-not to yourself, your family, or your friends.

12 Clever Ways to Decline

—By Ramona Creel

  1. I’m in the middle of several projects.
  2. I’m not comfortable with that.
  3. I’m not taking on any new responsibilities.
  4. I’m not the most qualified person for the job.
  5. I do not enjoy that kind of work.
  6. I do not have any more room in my calendar.
  7. I hate to split my attention among projects.
  8. I know you will do a wonderful job yourself.
  9. I need to leave some free time for myself.
  10. I would rather help out with another task.
  11. I have no experience with that.
  12. I have another commitment.

[A Dozen Ways to Say ‘No’]