The Simple Trick to Say "No" to Help-Seekers? Create Hurdles

Helping everyone who asks is a quick way to overload, especially when many people ask just because they’re lazy. By making it just a bit harder to ask for our help, we can focus on the people who are willing to work a little to justify our help.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #422

You’re a successful person. I know, because you’re listening to me, which all successful people do. And being amazingly talented naturally means that people often seek your help. Since you love helping others—it’s how you pay it forward, in appreciation for those who help you from your humble beginnings–you say “Yes” to all those requests. And you say “Yes” some more. And some more. And pretty soon, you’re buried under a gigantic pile of requests. Yes, you’re overcommitted.

But giving back is important, and there’s a way to do it without overcommitting. Develop hurdles for your help. Make it just a little bit difficult for other people to dip into your well of advice and feedback.

Bernice loves to help fellow plant-lovers. It’s what she’s been doing thanklessly for years at the Green Growing Things Shop. But now she’s buried between questions about moss, guest bloggers who want to contribute essays on the ethics of selling carnivorous plants, and budding young entrepreneurs who want advice on how to grow their own businesses. Bernice would never, ever, stop helping people, but with this new flood of requests, she needs a way to decide who to respond to. This means finding out who’s serious about getting help, and who just wants some face time with an expert like Bernice.

Decide How Much Time You Can Give

You lead a busy life! But if you’re going to give back, the first step is deciding how much time you have to give. 

Say you set aside five hours a month to work with your followers. That could mean helping five people for one hour each. Or it could mean working closely with one person for a solid five hour block. Whichever it is, block it out on your calendar as “giving back time.” Not only is that explicit time to give back, but that’s also all the time you’ll use to give back. It’s both a placeholder and an upper limit! You could even schedule a work-related meeting immediately after your giving back time to force you back into your main work.

Bernice chooses eight hours per month—one work day–as a good benchmark for her time. Capping her pro bono at a day insures Bernice won’t run herself ragged each month. As much as she likes helping others, Bernice also has to run her business, encourage her employees, feed her Venus Flytraps, and moisturize the glands on her Pitcher plants.

Build Criteria for Who Is Worth Your Time

Now you have a limit for how much time you can spend giving help. The next step is to decide who deserves that time. After all, you’re pretty awesome, You don’t want to give your awesome to just anyone. Build criteria for who’s worth your attention. You want to weed out anyone who doesn’t seem serious about using your advice. Especially those vile souls who prefer to bug you with simple questions, when they could get the answer from Google with a tap of their fingers.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.