Warren Buffett Says We All Need To Say ‘No’ More — Here’s How

Prioritization has been a key to Buffett's success.

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful businessmen and investors of all time, and one of the keys to his success is his ability to prioritize and use his time wisely. Time is limited, so if you want to make the most of it, you have to be able to say “no” to people and opportunities that don’t directly benefit your personal or professional growth.

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything,” Buffett said.

But how do you say “no” in a tactful way? And does saying “no” really help you get ahead in your career? GOBankingRates spoke to entrepreneurs and other top professionals to find out how and why they’ve taken Warren Buffett’s advice to heart.

How To Know When To Say ‘No’

Before you say “no” or “yes” to an opportunity or request, take a moment to decide which is the better option.

I ask two questions for every decision I make: ‘Why?’ and ‘Why not?'” said Helen Yu, founder and CEO at Tigon Advisory Corp, a startup strategy firm. “Going through this process prior to saying ‘no’ will ensure it is a well thought out response.”

How To Say ‘No’ to People

Sometimes it seems easier to just say “yes” to a meeting or task that you know isn’t necessarily beneficial to you. It avoids the awkwardness of potentially hurting someone’s feelings or ruining a business relationship. But mastering how to say “no” is the first step in taking back your time for the things that matter most for your success. Here’s how to do it.

Find Out If the Person Asking For Your Help Really Needs It

Oftentimes people will ask you to do something they can do themselves — though they might not realize it.

“I ask questions that help the other person realize he/she already knows the answer or how to do the task,” said Gloria Feldt, founder of Take the Lead, a nonprofit dedicated to achieving gender parity by 2025.

Once the person asking for help realizes they are capable of helping themselves, it takes the burden off of you.

See: 8 Entrepreneurs Who Started With Less Than $15,000 and Made Millions

Put Yourself in the Asker’s Position

A meaningful ‘no’ response can be formulated once you put yourself in the asker’s shoes,” said Yu. “Why are they interested in you? What is their expectation for your commitment? [Can] your experience add value to the engagement? Does that align with your personal passion? Once you figure that out, you can explain to the asker why it is best not to get engaged tactfully.”

It’s OK To Be Blunt

If you know someone is asking you to do something that has no benefit to you, it’s fine to just be straightforward.

Sometimes I am blunt and say truthfully, ‘This is not where I need to be spending my time. It’s more important for me to focus on raising money or making partnerships. So you take care of it,'” Feldt said.

The more you practice being honest and saying “no,” the easier it will become.

Why You Should Say ‘No’

Saying “no” is the ultimate way to kill busywork, which has helped Buffett get ahead. This means he has eschewed all of the nonessential tasks that usually come with being CEO of a company — he doesn’t talk to analysts, he rarely speaks to media, he does not attend industry events and he skips out on most internal meetings, according to Medium. This allows him to focus on the tasks that provide the biggest outcomes.

It Allows You To Stay Focused On Your Mission

I am very mission focused,” said Feldt. “I could never have successfully run large, complex organizations without separating the important from the urgent and doing the important first. The important things are what allow you to achieve your big vision goals to achieve the mission. I liken my growing ability to do that to peeling an onion. Practicing focusing on the important allows you to get down to the core of things quickly so you can make decisions and keep the organization moving forward on its mission. So, I don’t see it as saying ‘no’ but rather as saying ‘yes’ to what is important.”

It Helps You See Your Priorities More Clearly

“Time is our most valuable asset, and to give it away without thinking about it is a cost,” said Bryan Rosenblatt, principal at the early-stage venture fund Craft Ventures. “I try to spend time on the most important things, but also leave room for opportunistic meetings that may not be a priority today, but could be down the road. For example, when an entrepreneur wants to pitch their startup for investment and it’s not an area of our expertise, I’ll share that directly as I don’t want to waste their time either. If it’s a company that is too early on but I think could be interesting, I may stay in touch via email and meet with them at a later time. And if I’m not sure if it’s a good use of time, I’ll get more context on the meeting request so I can make an informed decision about whether it’s a good use of both parties’ times.”

It Gives You More Time To Pursue Your True Passions

Saying ‘no’ helped me stay focused on what matters the most to me, allowed me to expand my skillset and opened up opportunities I am passionate about,” said Yu.

With more time available if you turn a few things down, you can easily focus on those tasks and problems you truly want to work on and solve.

Click through to find out how to avoid burnout as an entrepreneur.

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About the Author

Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert.