‘Just say no.’
It’s awesome advice. Spectacular even. Except when you are a chronic people pleaser and you realise you have said yes to an enormous number of things that are slowly but surely closing in on you.
Then it’s just smug.
I havejust emerged from a period of too much yes. It’s been months but the light ahead finally feels like sunshine rather than an on-coming train. I am hoping to bask in that sunshine for a while.
But while I was dodging the trains, here’s how I kept my head and the lessons I learned along the way:
- When I am feeling overwhelmed, I write everything out. I note exactly what I have committed to, the deadlines, the dates and who I have promised what. I find an A3 sized piece of paper helps. I also include the regular everyday things that still need to be done. This exercise has one of two effects. Either I start to hyperventilate as I realise the ernormity of the hole I have dug and pour a very large glass of wine. Embarrassingly often, I look at the neat list, which when reduced on paper appears quite manageable, and decide I actually have capacity to take more on. Note to future self: Drink the wine. Do not fool yourself into thinking you have more capacity.
- Reduce. After I write everything out, I assess whether anything can be delegated, shared or pushed back. In doing so, I try to remind myself:
- I am talented and capable. But I am not the only talented and capable person around.
- It’s okay to prioritise the things that make my family and I happy, that generate income and that fuel passion.
- When noting deadlines and expectations, make sure they align with what I’ve actually been asked to do, not my heightened sense of what I should do.
- Reflect and understand the yes. While I have that big old list in front of me, it’s helpful to think about why I have said yes to all the things. It’s not exactly comfortable, but I need to do it in order to avoid always ending up in the same situation. There are too many things that I say yes to simply because I am in the habit of saying yes.
- Don’t over-commit the week after big stuff has finished. In amongst the big ticket “yes” items this year was helping run the school fete and co-convening its craft stall. I had to push back a fair bit of freelance work in order to clear the time necessary. And I told everyone I’d be free the week after the fete. So instead of having a relaxed week to recuperate (which I needed), I actually had an even bigger week of work to get through. Which leads me to…
- Schedule time for yourself. When I am pressured by appointments on all sides, I don’t honour any time to myself. I need to book in some downtime and respect it as I would my appointments with others.
- Keep a notebook on hand. When I have a huge number of balls in the air, my mind is a constant whir of to-do lists, ideas and 3am panics. I find it useful to keep a notebook nearby (including on the bedside table) and jot down what comes to mind. Allowing a notebook to be the caretaker of my thoughts immediately relaxes my spinning mind.
- Guard the productive times. I can get through a lot more work at 6am in the morning than 9pm at night. When I’m under the pump, my household understands that I will be working from 5am – 7am and they respect that. Most of the time.
- Plan for next time. I have a knowledge management background so whenever I am doing something, I am constantly documenting how and why I did it. While it seems counterintuitive to be using time this way, the benefits play out later down the track. If it’s a recurring commitment, I can rely on those notes to either be more efficient in the future or feel comfortable about delegating a well-documented task.
I’m glad to be in a period of space right now. I can be reflective about my constant need to say yes and I can think more critically about where I should be spending my time. So perhaps that’s the most important thing to do when I get to the end of a long line of yeses – stop, get off the hamster wheel and reflect on what I really want my life to look like. Rather than saying yes to everyone else – what would it look like if I said yes to myself?