There really is nothing more valuable than your word. Once you've established a good reputation as someone who keeps their word, and as a person who lives up to commitments, people decide that they can count on you- that in itself is a form of currency. In business, reputation is everything, and your reputation stems from the guarantees you make (both personal and professional), and how you go about keeping those same guarantees. Are you fully delivering on your promises grudgingly (and only after being chased via multiple mediums), or are you happy to keep your end of the agreement in a timely fashion? There is something to be said for people who not only keep their word, but that do so with pleasure.
It is unfortunate that several times this year I have found myself declining to participate in great events staged by respectable and influential entities. Not because I didn’t want to speak and certainly not because I wasn’t flattered to be included, but because I didn’t want to commit myself and find that at the last minute I would be forced to either do a medicre job or bail altogether. There really is nothing wrong with admitting that you are too busy or that your resources are stretched too thin.
It doesn't make you sound remote or unavailable; in my opinion, it saves the other party a great deal of headache and last minute footwork scrambling to fix whatever space or problem that you’ve left in your wake by not making good on your claim. This applies to everything from speaking engagements to mentoring sessions to meetings. If you have no time, then you have no time. There are those people of extremely generous spirit who try to be everywhere for everyone, but good intentions can sometimes backfire when you find yourself unable to meet all of the different conditions that you have set.
It is detrimental to your reputation to make a promise that you can’t keep. It is also potentially harmful to the other party. Whatever contingency plan you may think that they have in place for your failure to deliver isn’t as good as the original plan that involved you or your business, or it wouldn’t have been the fall-back to begin with. Everyone has been left high and dry at some point over the course of their careers, and these things often happen at the eleventh hour. I know that I have been disappointed on several occasions, and some of these problems have had much larger repercussions than the other parties could have imagined. It must be said that some situations are extenuating circumstances of course, but these are the anomaly and not the norm.
It is essential that you don’t take on more than you can handle, regardless of how good your intentions or how much you want to help out. The “learn to say no” method may actually save someone a lot of trouble- not to mention salvage your reputation.