It is not your responsibility to save the entire world!!!
I have a question for you… Why is it so difficult to say no? Such a simple word… just two little letters and we certainly had mastery of it as a two-year-old, but then society seemed to kick in; we do it every day – we teach our children that it’s polite to be agreeable, it’s socially acceptable even; this becomes more complex through our teenage years and all of a sudden all find ourselves saying is, “Yes, no problem” and “Of course, I’d love to help with that” quickly followed by “Leave it with me. I’ll see what I can get sorted.”
You might be one of these people that’s got it all mastered; who can manage to organise their workday so it’s got just enough of all the right sorts of things all sorted and prioritised, you’re working on them sequentially so that by the end of the day you have that terrific feeling of satisfaction of a job well done. Your ‘To Do’ list full of crossed out item, you’ve taken that last 15 minutes to create tomorrow’s priorities and you drive home a happy camper, whistling all the way, looking forward to a quiet evening filled with all of the things that you’d love to do… That’s certainly not my reality but apparently, such mythical beasts do exist.
I love to be busy; I feel more competent. If someone asks me “How’s your day?” to be able to truthfully reply, “Absolutely flat out, a thousand things on, constantly juggling the balls and trying not to drop too many” gives me a sense of satisfaction… maybe that’s just because it’s been happening for so long that I feel this is the way things should be, the only way to run ‘successful businesses’.
The world is full of famous quotes, scrawled across walls above people’s desks that reinforce this…
“Give it to a busy person, they always get things done.”
“In order to be successful your focus has to be so intense, people think you are crazy.”- Eva Stralour
“Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.” – Henry David Thoreau
“I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” – Thomas Jefferson
These days, especially if you’re running your own business, the expectation seems to be that you should be available to your clients 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, we’re here to serve after all.
I’d be sitting at my desk part way through one task and two other things I had forgotten to do would zip through my brain, so I stop what I’m was doing to write them down, so I don’t lose them. As a result, I have my to-do list for the day on the go while I’m creating nine other days’ worth of work as I go along.
The other problem I find when I’m getting crazy busy is that I don’t feel I’m doing anything particularly well. Sure, most things get done (not always on time), but I just don’t feel like I’m doing my best… Sure my clients seem happy as they’re getting what they need, but there’s just something missing. They might not know the difference, but I do, and do I really want that to become my new standard of work?
So, what’s the solution? Well, someone famous person once said, “If you can’t get the work done in the first 24 hours work nights…” now, I’m not sure how that goes in your world of math, but far as I know there are only 24 hours in a day and at least three or four of them, preferably six or seven, I’ve got to sleep, (I’m working up to eight).
No one wants to be seen as unable to cope. You look over the cubicle wall or, or to the other people in your networking group and they all seem happily busy, “living the dream”, they appear to have it seamlessly sorted and you ask yourself what are they doing that I’m not? My first thought was always, ‘What am I not doing right?’
Bookshop shelves are lined with help – ‘How to tackle procrastination’, ‘How to work more effectively and efficiently’, ‘How to get more done in your day’. All those wonderful utopic fantasies… let me share a tightly guarded secret with you… lounges, bedrooms, and office floors are littered with these same books as people pursue this holy grail of efficient and effective working – trying to wrestle their tasks into a Four-Hour Work Week or 40-minute Pockets of Power so they can have time to go to the gym, spend quality time with their children, relax, go out on date nights and do all the other things that were supposed to fit into a world… I know I’m supposed to be better at adulting than this, but I just can’t make it all work – in short, we are not alone!!!
I have come to realise and slowly accept that I might actually be trying to do too much and that no amount of juggling, planning, organisation or granted miracles will actually make it fit into a single rotation of the earth.
I know shock horror, right? How can I possibly admit this in a public space and still face my small business colleagues in the morning – it just shouldn’t be allowed.
Sean Covey said that “Saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying ‘no’ to many others. That’s why decisions can be hard sometimes.” – this takes us right back to the first paragraph – saying “No” sounds so simple, but all of a sudden, after a few well-meaning, “Of course, no problems, leave it with me’s”.
You suddenly find that you’re the secretary of the society that is going through a hell of a lot of change and sucks up lots time, you’re recording podcasts, writing blog posts, you’re helping a friend rewrite a training package that needs to be delivered to a whole stack of students for a new venture that he has on and, because he’s really busy, you are given the material three days before it’s needed and it turns into a full rewrite rather than a few tweaks; all the while you’re juggling the business which is supposed to be feeding your family and the new idea that you’ve also got yourself. Why on earth do we do it?
After some serious soul-searching and navel-gazing (assisted by a more than one glass of red wine), I finally had to admit to myself, it’s actually all about my ego!!! I like being busy; I like being the go-to girl. Few things please me more than when someone comes to me and says “Jax, I have this problem and I know that you can help, do you have any time?”
“Yes, of course!!! It would be my pleasure. How can I help?” is always my pre-programmed response (to say otherwise would admit that my world was not under control). I love to teach. I love to coach, and I love to help when and wherever I can.
No matter how much I try to practice that skill or magic art or whatever we want to call it – that sense of equanimity where external feedback is not more valuable than your own internal voice; where I truly believe that it is not more valuable to get high praise than high criticism; that place of inner peace where, if someone says, “Man, that was a brilliant job”, it prompts the same level of emotion as “That really sucks. You know, you’re terrible at this.” – I take what is useful from the comment and move on – I just can’t pull it off.
I’m getting much better at ignoring the trolls and believing in myself and going “You know what, what I have to offer is valuable and this is the best I can do and it’s good enough”. But I still crave that acknowledgment, that job well done, the thank you. Not the public side of things so much, but just knowing that way you spent your time has truly made a difference to somebody else’s world.
It ticks a competence box to me – the fact that I can put my metaphorical cape on, put my undies on the outside, go and saddle my white horse ‘Binky’ and ride off over the horizon to do battle on behalf of a cause or a person or a whatever. I just can’t tolerate half doing something I’m either in or I’m not. And, let’s face it, 99% of the time I’m in – I’m really, really bad at saying no.
Now, the problem with all of this, of course, is that if my satisfaction and my delight come from a job well done, well delivered, that really makes an impact and I take on too much stuff, I think I’m operating at a level that I’m actually falling far short of – I’m not actually delivering on the whole purpose of doing these things in the first place.
My billowy cape has holes, my ‘undies on the outside’ are on inside out because I put them on too quickly and I’m rushing through life at such a speed that I’m missing all these amazing opportunities as I blitz past them chasing squirrels in shiny tinfoil hats.
I know I’m not alone here. There are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of books written about fixing this problem, but they all seem to tackle subjects such as ‘How to stop procrastinating’, ‘How to be more organised’, ‘How to be more effective’. I’m yet to find something really useful on how to effectively, sincerely, and without offense say “No”, and then personally feel OK about it. And sometimes it’s that last piece, which is the trick. Maybe Brene Brown’s ‘Braving the Wilderness’ is the key.
This inability to say “No” seems to spread into other things, so it’s not just a case of saying no to something, it’s putting limits on an idea or a time, for example, when we had this great idea to get a few beehives as a bit of a non-work hobby, instead of having two or three like a normal person we now have 50 so we don’t just have a way of reconnection to nature, an opportunity to practice ‘mindfulness’ and a few jars of honey, we have a semi-commercial operation – you can imagine what that does to your free time on the weekends – and I don’t even really like honey.
I came to the conclusion that something has to change. I got so frustrated with having to start email after email after email to clients with “I can only apologise for the delay in dot, dot, dot” – sometimes it was just a couple of days and they were not necessarily expecting a report within three or four days but that was my internal metric and I just wasn’t meeting it.
Is it a case of reviewing our internal metrics, reviewing the expectations with clients, just getting on with it because we have our feet up during the day drinking coffee or is it something more fundamental and needs to be fixed or at least reviewed?
For me the impact of all this rushing was that I become intolerant – little things which should elicit an “Oh well” response becomes the foundation of huge drama. My brain doesn’t go to sleep. I spend time going, “Bugger, I haven’t done this; Damn, I need to do that too”, “I told Dave that I would that by Tuesday, heck, that’s tomorrow” and it just doesn’t do anybody any good – none of the people I’m was trying to help and certainly not me. I just end up creating a set of expectations that cannot possibly be met by any individual, no matter how good they are and how many pairs of underpants they have on the outside of their trousers.
So, I am made a commitment to myself, and I invite you to try it too… I took a leaf from Steve Jobs book and tried to remember “Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”… and I put in to practice just two ideas:
Stuff I don’t want to do: “Thanks for thinking of me, but I have too much on my plate right now, and I wouldn’t be able to give it the attention it deserves”.
Stuff I would really like to do: “OK, what do I need to stop doing so I can fit this in? Is this more important to me than them?” – this is really hard sometimes, but so worth it.
And, guess what, I’m not perfect at it yet… but it’s working and not once has the world stopped turning as a result… Who knew?
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Be the voice, not an echo.