These Answers Will Help You Master a Respectful No

How you can better protect your time.

Eva Keiffenheim
The Startup
Published in
6 min readNov 20, 2020


Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

In 2018, I said yes to almost everything. I was a full-time teacher, ran a startup, organized various group travels, and gave a helping hand to any project in need of one. By the end of each 70-hour week, I felt depleted. I had not yet understood how focus works.

Your focus is one big round yes-cake. On any day, you can decide on the pieces you give away. Say yes to 13 things, and you have 13 small yes wedges. Every recipient gets a tiny fraction of your attention and energy. If you, however, say yes to only three things, the recipients get large shares of your focus.

So the question is:

Would you rather give tiny pieces to the many or big portions to the few?

Your life, your decisions. But keep in mind extraordinary creations root in focus. Or, as Warren Buffet put it:

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Extraordinary people do the opposite of what I did in 2018. They share big yes cake pieces with a few selected projects. They’ve mastered a respectful no.

1) How to reply when you‘re asked to join a project

New projects arise with every minute. A book club, a soccer get-together, a volunteering position here, an interview request, etc.

By saying yes to every new project, you decrease your commitment to the existing ones. With every new yes, you take away attention from your previous yeses. Here’s what you can say to protect your focus:

Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the thought, but my priorities are elsewhere.

When you feel the urge to help, you can also offer an alternative solution. For example, if somebody asks you for advice, point them towards an article you wrote, a podcast episode you recorded, or a book you liked.

“Always think about what you’re really being asked to give. Because the…



Eva Keiffenheim
The Startup

Learning enthusiast, TEDx speaker, and writer with +3M views | Elevate your love for learning with my free, weekly Learn Letter: