If you’ve got a finger in every pie and you’re feeling overstretched, you may have difficulty saying ‘no’. You probably feel resentful because you are doing too much, but you know there’s no one else to blame for this predicament. Even when you really want to, or know you have to, and even if you’ve given yourself the pep talk beforehand, you feel the ‘yes’ slipping through your lips!

‘I really need a session with you. Can you meet me at 5:30pm?’ It had been a long day and I was looking forward to going home and relaxing. But I agreed. After all, he needed me. I turned up to the session on time, exhausted and keen to get home to dinner. He turned up at 5:50pm apologising… he had been busy.

When you say ‘yes’ to something, you are always saying ‘no’ to something else, and it’s usually yourself or those closest to you.

A ‘yes’ to attend a breakfast meeting might be a ‘no’ to your health, because it means you’ll miss your morning run. A ‘yes’ to bringing forward a deadline so someone else can take an early holiday might be a ‘no’ to your family, because it means you need to stay later at work each night. A ‘yes’ to a networking event might be a ‘no’ to some much needed me-time to recharge your batteries.

Too often we only look at half the equation, letting responsibility, guilt, obligation, fear, or avoidance of conflict drive us into being just a bit too agreeable. “Yes, I can do that,” you respond, and regret follows a moment later.

What if you gave yourself a moment to consider the full equation before responding?

Next time you’re faced with a request, simply ask yourself “If I say yes to this, what will I be saying no to?” It will give you a fighting chance to make a decision that feels more right for you. And you might just find that saying ‘no’ really is ok.

“Working in an international business means we have phone hook-ups with people all over the world, and the time zones are not very easy to coordinate. I’ve created a rule for myself that I won’t agree to anything between 7 and 8.30am because that’s when I’m getting my son ready for school and dropping him off. I’ve found people are very understanding if you are clear on your boundaries.”

I bet you have many things you really want to do: things you are passionate about, things that will make you healthier and happier, time you want to spend with family members, priorities that will move your life in the direction you’ve dreamed of. When you lease rare and precious spaces in your life out to other people’s requests, it’s like shuffling yourself to the back of the queue, deferring your dreams, delaying your priorities, and robbing yourself of the precious time you have been given to live a full life.

It’s ok to say ‘no’ without doubt or fear, because a ‘no’ to something might just be that desperately needed ‘yes’ to the things that deliver the achievement, meaning and contentment you deserve.

Martina Sheehan is the co-author (with Susan Pearse) of Do Less. Be More: How to slow down and make space for what really matters. Published by Hay House UK. This is their third book offering practical techniques for working and living with real purpose, passion and presence in a busy world. Find out more at mindgardener.com and connect on twitter @mindgardentips.