One topic that seems to come up everywhere I turn lately is work-life balance. Some might say the universe is trying to tell me something. I’m trying to listen. But honestly, how easy is it for anyone to listen these days when so much noise comes at us from all directions? Social media feeds, e-mail pop ups, hundreds of satellite radio channels – not to mention all of the programs available for Netflix binges. It’s easy to see how life can quickly get out of balance.

Such was the topic of a luncheon program I recently attended. I arrived, eager for encouragement in time management and balance, and wasn’t disappointed. The secret, says life coach Melva Tate, lies in one’s ability to tell others “no.” Women in particular, says Tate, have a hard time telling people no. I tend to agree.

The association you belong to needs a chair for its fundraiser. Will you do it?

Before saying yes to something, it’s important to spend time identifying your priorities. Put them down on paper. Limit them to just a handful of things that really matter to you. Anything you say “yes” to must fit in with these priorities. If it doesn’t, you have to say no. Maybe being fundraiser chair person doesn’t line up with your priorities. When you realize that every new responsibility you undertake requires you to say no to something else, it makes the yesses much more valuable.

If you recognize that what’s being asked of you isn’t on your priority list, just say no. But there are some ways you can make your no more effective. Here’s what Tate advises:

• Be prepared. Have a script of what you’ll say. Your response should always be respectful, responsible and responsive.
• Stall. Say, “Let me think about that. I’ve got some things coming up, and I need to check my schedule. I’ll get back to you.” Often, by the time you get back to the person with your no, they’ve already found someone else to say yes.
• Think, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I say no?”
• Tell the truth. Don’t lie and say you can’t volunteer at the fundraiser because you’ll be out of town.
• Realize what it costs when you say yes. It may cost time you could be spending with your family or taking care of other priorities in your life.
• Don’t add, “I’m sorry,” when you say no. Let your no be no.

When saying no becomes more natural, we become better at saying yes to what’s important – including ourselves. Being more productive at work and more balanced in life may not be a myth after all.