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[Guest Editor] Helen Whait: How you can find more time in the day by saying no

In Features, Guest Editors, Mind Health, Stories by Nicole Fuge

Ever wish you could find more time in the day? Well maybe you can. Helen Whait, founder of ActivOT, shares some of the lessons she’s learned.

By Helen Whait

As mothers, as busy women, time and time again we succumb to fatigue and burnout. Our never-ending to-do-lists are overwhelming, and our children are always hungry. Those project deadlines get closer and closer, we have mountains of clothes to put away, bills to pay, meal prepping, soccer practice, helping with homework… I could go on, but I know you get it. 

So, with all that hustle and bustle, how do we find time to priortise what brings us joy…without feeling guilty? How can we reclaim time?

I am a single mum of three boys and let’s just say I didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. But from challenging times, comes invaluable lessons that have guided me to being the best mum possible while running a thriving, national business and still having time to do the things that make my heart sing. 

I would love to share some of these lessons with you, in hope that you too can reclaim some precious time back in your life to do the things you want to achieve. 


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Create your roadmap

To gain more time in your week you first need to define your why. What are the things that are truly important to YOU? Think about what are your values, goals and aspirations. What makes YOUR heart sing? Write these down, digitally, in a journal, on the back of a napkin – do it your way but make it visual. This simple exercise provides a road map for prioritising what really matters. As without a map, we can get lost.

Now comes the gold, the part that as women we aren’t always great at. How to say no and set boundaries. And yes, we can do this with kindness. When someone asks you to do something that either doesn’t align with your values, your goals or gives you joy, give yourself permission to say no, without feeling guilty.

Mastering the art of saying no can take some practice. But when you start saying no, you will start to reap the benefits, you will have more time to achieve those goals, spend more time with your loved ones and avoid burnout. As you start to do this, your mindset will shift from feeling guilty to a sense of empowerment. It is a wonderful feeling and a form of self-kindness.

I learnt how to say no with kindness by incorporating these practical steps into my life, and you can do it too!

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Understand the root causes of your need to say yes

Spend some time reflecting on why you feel compelled to say yes so often and how this pattern has impacted your life. Once you are clear on the root cause, take a step back and consider the long-term impacts of saying yes.

The ‘Tomorrow Test’

When in doubt, use the “tomorrow test” to assess whether saying yes is really what you want. Consider how you’d feel if you had to do it tomorrow. Would you be excited or wish you had never said yes? This simple tool can provide valuable clarity and help you make informed decisions.

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Delegate what doesn’t align

Before your plate is full, recognise that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. One effective strategy for saying no is to delegate or outsource tasks that don’t require your unique skills or align with your values. Do you have to do this, or could someone else? Confidently pass it on, it will be ok. This frees up your time for activities that will help you achieve your goals.

Practice saying “No” out loud

Just like any skill, saying no becomes easier with practice. Take the time to say it out loud to yourself, experimenting with different phrases that suit your style. Having a repertoire of ready-to-use responses ensures you won’t be caught off guard or pressured into commitments you’re uncomfortable with.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • “That task will be completed more efficiently by [name].”
  • “As much as I would love to help out, I have xyz priorities/commitments at the moment that require my focus.”
  • “Thank you for thinking of me. I am honoured to be asked, but I think this opportunity might be better suited to [name] instead.”
  • Or simply say, “No, thank you”.
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Buy yourself some time

If you find it challenging to say no in the moment, asking for some time to consider the request is perfectly acceptable. Politely explain that you need to check your schedule, speak to your team or family, evaluate your priorities, or simply take a moment to think about it. 

This approach allows you to gather your thoughts and respond in a thoughtful manner. By asking for time and then delivering your response, you demonstrate respect for both yourself and the person making the request. You show that you have taken their invitation seriously and given it due consideration, even if the ultimate answer is a no.

Reframe ‘no’ 

Contrary to popular belief, saying no is not a selfish act but rather an act of kindness – to ourselves and to others. It creates opportunities for someone who really wants to take on the task or opportunity. So really a win-win scenario. 

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Ask for help, seek support

Getting better at saying no also involves developing the courage to ask for support when needed. Instead of shouldering everything, reach out to others and invite them to contribute and collaborate. People generally appreciate being asked. You’re also giving them the opportunity to openly say no if they’re not able to help. By creating a mutually supportive environment, you strengthen your relationships and foster a sense of collaboration.

I have surrounded myself with value aligned people and also people who I know are there to support me and empower me to reach my goals. I encourage you to do the same. Great relationships are so important.

So ultimately, saying no is not about being unkind or shutting doors – it’s about setting healthy boundaries and prioritising what truly matters to you. By understanding your why, outsourcing non-essential tasks, practising assertiveness, and embracing collaboration, you can find the extra time and energy to reach those goals and spend more time with your family. 

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