Do you feel overwhelmed by life, feeling that as the days go by you’re being asked to do more and more, while you’re getting less and less done? Do you find yourself saying yes constantly, when what you really need to do is say no?
Is your family frustrated with you?
Do you feel like you never seem to get around to the things in life that truly matter?
Chances are you’ve fallen prey to the following insidious madness that affects so many of us:
A while ago I was visiting my sister and we were talking about how crazy our lives could get sometimes. She made a statement I never forgot, and have written about in the past:
“When you say yes to something, you automatically say no to something else.”
That may seem obvious, but what cut me to the bone was something that most of us don’t realize.
You may say you desperately want more time for yourself, or that you would like to exercise more, or that you’d like to spend more time with your child or with precious friends, or that you’d finally like to find the time to pursue that meaningful goal you’ve had in your heart forever.
Yet every time another “something” comes along – another obligation, another invitation, another request for a favor or for your time – when you say “yes” and allow that new something into your life, you have just given away that possible down-time, or time with loved ones, or time doing something you love.
Does this happen to you? It sure does to me.
Usually, we inadvertently trade that precious, priceless time we need so badly for something that pales in value by comparison. Without realizing it, that’s what we’ve done. And then again, as we try to get through all our commitments, we feel overwhelmed and wonder why it is that we can never find that time we say we want for ourselves, or for the important things in our lives.
Here are a few ways to change the game, shifting the odds back in your favor:
1) Practice saying: “I’ll get back to you about that”
Ideally, when someone asks you for a commitment of your time to something, whatever it might be, it’s wise to develop the habit of saying: “Let me think about it/check my schedule and I’ll get back to you.”
That said, if you’re like me (and so many others) you’re probably more likely to get caught up in the moment and enthusiastically say yes, without really thinking about it.
If this happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, the instant you’ve recognized that you’ve DONE IT AGAIN, do some damage control. Call, text or email the individual and let them know that in your enthusiasm you overlooked the reality that you actually don’t have room in your schedule for that commitment (or forgot that you haven’t seen your children in a week).
They’ll most likely understand (or get over it quickly if they’re disappointed, at first). More often than not you can undo the damage and back out, especially if a short period of time has elapsed since you said yes.
2) Stop having a “magical sense of time” that isn’t realistic or possible
I’m a terrible people-pleaser and hate to disappoint people, and like many of my coaching clients I suffer from what I call a “magical sense of time”, i.e. I seem to think I will magically have way more hours in a day or week than I really do.
If I’m not vigilant, I’ll insanely plan a list of to-do’s and activities for a typical day that wouldn’t be possible, even if I didn’t stop to eat or have any other sort of break.
Totally. Impossible. Sound familiar?
3) Know your top priorities and live by them, ruthlessly
What (or who) are the top five priorities in your life? Have you had time lately for them?
Do you feel guilty by how consistently these key people or activities get pushed aside as you race to meet other commitments, week after week?
Right now, write those top five priorities down. Memorize them, in order. The next time someone asks you for a commitment or tries to add an item to your to-do list, ask yourself if you’ve got enough time available, right now, for your top priorities.
If the answer is no, then say no to the new request if at all humanly possible. If people push back, explain that you would like to help but simply can’t because (as modeled in #1) you haven’t seen your spouse/haven’t been able to get to the gym even once in the last week/haven’t even had enough free time to sleep etc. You get the picture.
If someone doesn’t care that you haven’t had enough time lately for life’s essentials and still expects you to drop what’s essential to meet their demands or request, perhaps this is a relationship that you need to rethink.
As a rule, you will do well to examine how you’ve been ordering your life. I need to, on a regular basis. There are so many demands in today’s world, so many options and choices, that one continually needs to check in and regroup.
Again, what are your priorities? Are you giving them sufficient time in your life? If not, what needs to change?
Reviewing your life choices from this perspective is a discipline, a practice to implement repeatedly until it becomes more natural. Don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself overwhelmed or distracted from your priorities yet again, it happens to the best of us. The pace of today’s life is like a vortex that will continually suck you in, you’ll need to catch yourself and reprioritize, over and over and over again.
It is absolutely worth the effort, you will see. Imagine having time for what matters most, especially for the people that matter most. At the end of our lives, these are the decisions that we look back and are so glad we have made. Living life this way makes for far fewer regrets in the long run.