Take it from motivation expert Nicole Williams: Yes isn’t always the best answer.

By Real Simple
Updated January 13, 2009
Ann Summa

On tonight’s to-do list: Go to yoga, make dinner, plan best friend’s birthday dinner, pick up Julie from swim practice. And that’s after a full day’s work. So what to do when a coworker asks if you’d mind staying an extra hour to help with a proposal? Bow out gracefully. Here, Nicole shares her advice.

When to say no:

Keep your personal priorities in mind as friends, family, or coworkers ask for help. If performing a favor will add to your stress or impede your progress, it’s probably time to decline. Think about it: If you’re determined to compete in a half marathon, you won’t have as much time to play on your company softball team. On the other hand, if you have your heart set on a promotion, the softball team might be a good opportunity to schmooze.

How to say no:

• Be honest. Don’t create an elaborate excuse (“Gee, I wish I could help, but I’m getting a root canal this weekend”). You’ll feel guilty and it won’t be pretty if the person somehow finds out. Nor should you offer a lengthy explanation about the one million other things you have to do. Instead, say politely and honestly that you’re stressed out and need time to get back on track or that you wish you could donate money but need to watch your spending. If you intend to help out next time, tell her that, but don’t make a promise you won’t keep.

• Offer an alternative. Say that you’re not available to drag a dresser up four flights of stairs (and frankly, who could blame you?), but you know a reputable moving company. Instead of going to the trade show in place of your coworker, suggest someone else in the company who is dying for more responsibility. By offering another solution, you can help out without doing any heavy lifting.