How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit (#328)

“People are effective because they say no.” — Peter Drucker

This episode of The Tim Ferriss Show showcases two chapters from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown (@GregoryMcKeown), one of my favorite books of the past few years.

The first chapter explains how to say “no” gracefully (and why most of us have trouble doing this in the first place), and the second one gives us ways to cut our losses and uncommit in the aftermath of a premature “yes.”

This should help you shorten your to-do list and lengthen your not-to-do list.


Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, read by Greg McKeown.

#328: How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit

Want to hear another podcast with lessons for overcoming fear in order to do the right thing?Lend an ear to these nuggets of wisdom from Sir Richard Branson, Maria Sharapova, Vince Vaughn, and Caroline Paul. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#291: Overcoming, Managing, and Using Fear

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…


  • Connect with Greg McKeown:

Website | Twitter


  • The right “no” spoken at the right time can change the course of history. [07:30]
  • Have you ever felt a tension between what you felt was right and what someone was pressuring you to do? [09:01]
  • Courage to say “no” is key to the process of elimination and Essentialism, the disciplined pursuit of less. [09:40]
  • As hard as it can be to say “no,” failing to do so can cause us to miss out on something far more important. Here’s a lesson from a noted Essentialist for illustration. [10:23]
  • Stephen R. Covey didn’t just teach Essentialism — he lived it. [13:29]
  • How do we discern the essential from the non-essential? [14:07]
  • Why does saying “no” often feel socially awkward and how does it have the power to cause us physical discomfort? [14:53]
  • The only way out of this trap. [16:00]
  • What a notable “no” from Peter Drucker taught Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about productivity. [16:24]
  • The difference between essentialists and non-essentialists when choosing between saying “yes” and “no.” [17:39]
  • Separate the decision from the relationship. [18:55]
  • Saying “no” gracefully doesn’t have to mean using the word no. [19:32]
  • Focus on the trade-off. [20:11]
  • Remind yourself that everyone is selling something. [20:41]
  • Make your peace with the fact that saying “no” often requires trading popularity for respect. A story about the designer who stood up to Steve Jobs and what happened NeXT. [21:04]
  • Remember that a clear “no” can be more graceful than a vague or noncommital “yes.” [23:20]
  • The “no” repertoire: eight responses to help you say “no” with grace. [23:53]
  • 1. The awkward pause. [24:16]
  • 2. The soft “no” (or the “no, but”). [24:40]
  • 3. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” [25:17]
  • 4. Use e-mail bouncebacks. [26:05]
  • 5. “Yes. what should I deprioritize?” [26:58]
  • 6. Say it with humor. [28:12]
  • 7. Use the words “You are welcome to X. I am willing to Y.” [28:32]
  • 8. “I can’t do it, but X might be interested.” [29:14]
  • What the lessons of the Concorde jet and a massive carnival game loss teach us about sunk-cost bias. [31:16]
  • The difference between essentialists and non-essentialists when choosing between staying a losing course or cutting losses. [34:58]
  • Ways to avoid commitment traps. [36:09]
  • Beware of the endowment effect. [36:28]
  • Pretend you don’t own it yet. [38:30]
  • Get over the fear of waste. [39:08]
  • Instead, admit failure to begin success. [40:52]
  • Stop trying to force a fit. (Don’t be Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.) [41:32]
  • Get a neutral second opinion. [42:38]
  • Be aware of the status quo bias. [43:44]
  • Apply zero-based budgeting. [44:33]
  • Stop making casual commitments. [45:52]
  • From now on, pause before you speak. [46:20]
  • Get over the fear of missing out (FOMO). [46:56]
  • To fight this fear, run a reverse pilot. [47:14]
  • Why learning how to uncommit is crucial to becoming an Essentialist. [49:07]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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29 Replies to “How to Say “No” Gracefully and Uncommit (#328)”

  1. Tim: Lots of negative stuff coming out now in response to the Keto diet; would really be helpful if you had an updated interview with Dom or one of your knowledgeable guests to address some of these concerns. Much thanks.

  2. Thanks for including me in your selected links, Tim! Essentialism was a life-changing concept for me, and I truly believe everyone can benefit from the book. I especially love the story of Peter Drucker and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. — Kyle @

  3. Hey Tim,

    This feels essential!

    I love that you are leveraging already made content that is so on point & helping it get out to a broader audience. I have never heard of essentialism until right now & it couldn’t be more timely & helpful.

    More audiobook podcasts from your library of recommendations are a HARD YES for me!

    Thank you,

    Have a great day!


  4. Tim, I’m a huge fan of yours, read all your books. I just wanted to thank you for all that you publish and to tell you how much of a positive impact it has had on me. Thank you from the bottom of my heart

  5. Love the format of this podcast. “Essentialism” is one of my favorite books and the book I gift the most. Would love to hear more podcasts with a similar format. Would be really cool to combine it with an interview with the author to learn the backstory and research that went into each chapter (or the entire book).

  6. Hi Tim, a Sufi saying to compliment / contradict the quote in your 5 bullet Friday:

    There is the known, the unknown and the unknowable. Through the pursuit of knowledge the unknown becomes known. However the unknowable can never be known, and through seeking it, it is the knower who becomes unknown.

  7. As a college professor, I’ve found you and much of your content extremely useful and motivational. And by default, my students have also benefited. I am now researching best ways to start and maintain a successful blog/website and podcast. Thanks, Tim.

  8. Instead of asking, “How will I feel if I miss out on this opportunity?”

    Ask, “I did not have this opportunity, how much would I sacrifice to obtain it?”

    A reminder that we’re all influenced by our human biases. Reframing ones internal questions like this is very helpful!

  9. “Admit failure to begin success” & “get over the fear of waste” (who knew we had that going on?) & “get over the fear of missing out” (kinda knew I had that)

  10. Hey Tim,

    You’ve introduced a lot of amazing body hacks for people to change their lives. I’ve never seen anything like that for people still at their growing age. Any hacks or tricks to increase height growth as a teen? Thanks.

  11. Hey Tim,

    Great podcast. I’ve liked each of the shows i’ve heard so far. Especially the Humans of New York one. I’m at the beginning of my entrepreneurial ventures and was hoping you could help. I’ve had loads of solutions for loads of problems (some were only problems from my perspective) and some have even been solved by others. I saw some commercial for some new product (MTailor if it matters). It was so brilliantly simple that my first thought was “I could have come up with that”. Then I thought, “if this was my idea, how would I get it to work?”. That’s where I pretty much drew a blank. I wouldn’t have been able to hire an app developer (50k USD minimum), or advertising, etc.

    Maybe you’ve already covered the initial phases in a cast i haven’t heard yet. Maybe I’m making this too complicated. And maybe the guidance I’ve sought is making it all too simple. Do you have any advice for those that know what they want or product to be sold (assuming it doesn’t exist) to do but don’t know how to get there?

  12. I am your average gal who enjoys your books and occasional podcast but I have to say they are a) too long and b) often get way off topic so I stop listening. Just a little feedback

  13. Tim,

    Thank you for posting this. The excerpt really helped me with a decision about two different paths for the next year.

    I look forward to reading the Greg McKeown Essentailism Book

  14. Wow. I had a situation that required exactly this advise (avoiding overcommitting), today. Earlier, I was checking Tim’s podcast feed, spotted this episode, and listened to it, and wrote myself a script, which I internalized, and improved it from memory in person. Still a bit painful worrying about letting down the person, and I could tell the person was a bit taken aback, but will find an alternative solution, and I won’t have to deal with a situation that was untenable. Thanks much to Greg for his great wisdom, and to Tim for sharing it.

  15. Great episode – very captivating. If you’re interested in an alternative perspective to “learning how to say no”, I would recommend checking out the YouTube video “Three Letters Between Success and Stuck by Tyler Waye” (only 2 minutes long). A line from the video that most resonated with me was “Because we have trouble telling the difference between yeses that will force us to grow, versus yeses that are simply about doing more.” Hope you find it inciteful.

  16. Hi Tim, I was just listening to this while working and it gave me just the tools I needed to confidently and kindly say no to a request for my time. Done! Thanks for all you do.

  17. Hey Tim,

    Huge fan of your work. Just wanted to give a big thumbs up for the idea of doing a “reading” of chapters as another format for your podcast. I think its a BRILLIANT idea! I got so much out of this. I love it that you selected a section of a work that has been of proven value to you and not on the basis of publicity for a new release.

    I would love it if you did more of these or even started a side-podcast of them. I get so much from all your interviews – they are awesome free-ranging conversations that introduce me to so many fantastic ideas, books and insights but a reading like this from ‘Essentialism’ is a completely different format clear well reasoned thinking with deep wisdom. I found it extremely insightful, thought-provoking and USEFUL. I had read a book summary of the book previously and watched a talk by the author, but hearing these well-picked chapters gave me a much deeper understanding. I made several distinctions from it that have already saved/made me significant time and money!

    Thanks! and Keep up the GREAT WORK!

    All the best from Melbourne, Australia,


  18. I just wanted to say a quick thanks – I’m moving to my new house tomorrow which means I’m in the middle of thoroughly cleaning a rented apartment my little family has spent the last year and a half in (great landlords) and cleaning for hours with no end in sight would be absolutely soul crushing were it not for your podcast making me company.

    And your podcast (namely, the introduction of Seneca, and the three piece podcast with Kevin Kelly) has been a large part of what pushed me on the path I’ll be treading as of tomorrow

    Sending hugs and gratitude.