Priorities-101:Yes means No
Sunday, June 17, 2012 10 Comments
A down & dirty guide to Prioritizing
by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, MCC, SCAC
• too much to do
• too little time
Are you OVER feeling overwhelmed yet?
Whose life is it anyway?
Certainly not yours, if you are chronically overwhelmed.
Have you taken stock of the items that contribute to your “too much to do and not enough time” life? If you are anything like me, my clients, and my students, no matter what the list looks like in detail, it boils down to one single thing.
Unbalanced energy: too much going out, not enough coming in.
It’s an easy trap to fall into – especially when you’re busy. Believe me, I know better than anybody what that fly-paper feels like! And the best way to start rebalancing the scales is simple (but not easy!): get the Time & Energy Vampires off your neck!
Time & Energy Vampires
You may have heard about “psychic vampires,” primarily described in emotional terms – but that’s not exactly who I’m warning you against in this article. I’m talking about the bloodsuckers who put their items on your “plate,” expecting you to help them pick items off their to-do lists in addition to what you want and need to do.
“Bloodsucker” may sound unduly harsh, but people who repeatedly borrow your time and energy without putting it back are draining your life’s blood as surely as any vampire in the movies
That’s true no matter WHO they are:
parents, spouses, friends, lovers, distant relatives,
colleagues, bosses, or relative strangers.
Don’t get me wrong
I’m NOT talking about any of the following situations or the people involved:
- the recipients of the odd favors we do for others now and again, figuring “we’ll get it back from the universe.” That IS how it works.
- the occasional request to work last-minute overtime or stop everything to help a friend or family member in a real jam, whether or NOT the time and energy ever comes back to you.
- those on the receiving end of the random acts of kindness you do because it makes YOU feel good to do them.
I’m talking about the Takers — those crafty little buggers — the chronically needy, the crisis kiddos, the emotional bullies, or the terminally clueless who inspire us to allow them to “get in front of us in the time and energy line” repeatedly, leaving it up to us to figure out how we are going to make sure we get our turn enough times to keep our own lives and businesses running smoothly.
When you look it squarely in its beady little eyes, I’m sure you’d LOVE to make the fact that you are a few quarts shy of a full tank of time and energy all their fault. Me too! But that’s not what’s really going on here.
WE have taught them it’s okay to take without giving back.
We put the “free time and energy here” sign on our own backs — the very first time we realized that the energy exchange was unbalanced and didn’t insist on a rebalancing before throwing any more time or energy under their bus.
I know I have continued to give, time and time again, even to folks to who have never once asked me if there was anything they could do in exchange, never mind demonstrating any awareness of the idea that they might take some time out of their busy lives to do something that might make things a bit easier in mine.
Eventually, I find myself up against overwhelm’s wall when something unexpected suddenly goes wrong and I no longer have the time to take care of it. I’ll bet you do it too.
I’ll bet you this, as well:
- EVEN if they are grateful as all get-out, after a time or two, “they” [unconsciously] believe that they are entitled to use the minutes of your life to help them move forward with theirs.
- I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching that some of those “entitled” folks have even stopped being grateful – much less expressing their gratitude with much beyond a perfunctory, “Thanks, you’re the best”
- And I’ll bet you feel like they make it seem that YOU are the bad guy when you can’t squeeze ONE more “Could you do me a favor?” into your life without giving up bathing or sleeping regularly.
Because saying yes to one thing MEANS saying no to something else.
There may well be folks who have figured out how to have it all –
but nobody has unlocked the secret of DOING it all!
BAD IDEA: Saying no to YOU to say yes to them.
When we’re overwhelmed, what goes first? Yep! The things that are important to US. We’ve all been well trained to make sure we handle our “responsibilities.”
But when did their to-dos and priorities become OUR responsibilities?
Here’s a reframe: If you don’t have time to do what’s important to YOU,
you certainly don’t have time to do what’s not important to you!
The most obvious offenders are generally the people who claim to love us. And because we love them, we think we always have to say yes: spouses, lovers, parents, children. Those guys.
The worst offenders are the emotional bullies: people who do any
of the following, bullying us into saying yes because, for one reason or another, we don’t feel that it makes sense to invoke their immature consequences for saying no.
Only SOME of the nasty tricks they pull to have their way with us include the following. They’ve learned you tend to cave when they:
- sulk (or cry)
- play “take-away” (the dreaded silent treatment)
- get angry or rage all over you – especially when icily controlled
- shame and should on you for not being able to handle more than you can
- pitch a fit (retaliating in some overtly aggressive, passive aggressive, or publicly embarrassing fashion).
Even though beginning to set boundaries around bad behavior from people close to us is clearly needed, they are the toughest to retrain, so let’s save them for another article.
Take Back Your Time
You can recapture a TON of time and energy taking a look at the sum total of the occasional time-takers that rarely do anything to move YOUR life forward — eliminate THOSE.
Start practicing your NO muscle there first – AS they come up – every single day for the next month. So that means you are going to say NO to items like the following:
- Requests for recommendations on LinkedIn by anyone who has not already put time and energy into YOUR life in some manner (send them directly to the trash if this is a one-way favor request – they’ll ask again, I promise!).
- Requests for more help at your kid’s school — you’ve already helped so you’re now on the short list of likely yes-sayers and new requests. Take yourself OFF that list. (Sorry, you’re currently overcommitted).
- Time on the phone with that friend or relative who primarily calls you when they want to vent (Don’t answer the phone when they call – you’re already booked!)
- Colleagues or network marketers who send email from their lists every day or – really now – several times a day. (TRASH ’em! Better yet, get off those lists! YOU don’t need to be one of the “numbers” in THEIR “game.”)
- Texts or tweets asking for your opinion on a survey (or anything else) from any and all social marketing contacts who have never put any energy to YOUR social marketing. (Dump ’em unread and/or unresponded to)
- Emails with, essentially, no info except for a link to go read another of those l-o-n-g web pages telling you about something miraculous they want you to buy. (delete’em – they’ll have something new and even more miraculous next month)
- Email forwards from friends who send you jokes or “don’t break the chain” requests. They may have time for that — and you may too, LATER – but not this month. (Don’t read ’em – just dump ’em!)
- The “I need help handling items on my inability to say no list” folks. (Don’t spend the minutes of your life trying to convince them to “just say no” – tell them you don’t have time to take on another thing right now, bless their passive little hearts, and keep moving!)
After a month of practice, you can start saying yes again — to the things you WANT to say yes to. This month, you’re building up your NO muscles.
The Quick Start Diet
Most of us are familiar with those “lose weight NOW” diets that begin with a restricted format to jumpstart your weight-loss. They generally begin by warning you that it’s not healthy to attempt to stay on the quick-start plan, but it helps to begin there — or to pick it up any time you’ve gained a few pounds.
Think of the next few tips in the same way. It’s not a recipe anyone will be comfortable with over time, but it sure helps refocus your life on the things that are important to YOU.
The 4-step strategy to taking back your LIFE:
1. Pick ONE day this week to be your “ALL NO” day.
Let everyone who has gotten used to counting on you to say yes know that for that one day you are saying NO to anything and everything anybody wants from you.
Don’t explain, don’t ask permission (especially with your tone of voice!) – just let them know, in a calm, charge-neutral fashion.
Some of you may need to practice “charge-neutral.” Use the same tone of voice you’d use to respond to a stranger who asked you for the time: no opinion or apology, simply what’s so.
When ALL NO day arrives, reply to anyone who tries to wheedle an exception in the same charge-neutral tone, “Sorry, today’s my ALL NO day, remember.”
- You can start getting testy with them on their second request.
- Bump-up to what I’m sure they will label “over-reacting” for all subsequent requests.
- Better yet, lock your door and don’t answer the phone!
(Sheesh! They can’t do without your time and energy for ONE measly day?)
2. Use that day to pick off as many things hanging out as possible.
YOUR things, not theirs, even if you crossed your heart and hoped to die promised you would do something for them and haven’t had the time to make good on that promise.
- If hubby has been bugging you to pick up his dry-cleaning, “Sorry darling, not that day.”
- If your wife has been “nagging” you about your promise to accompany her to an outlet mall an hour away, “Sorry darling, not that day.”
- If you’re a week or more behind on the laundry, or the lawn mowing, or any OTHER chore that really isn’t a life and death priority, “Sorry, not that day.”
Ask anybody who objects, “What would you do if I dropped dead?” Good plan! Pretend I’m dead. We can talk about it later – I need this ONE day to figure out how I’m going to get ANYTHING done without imploding.
3. Before the day is over, make a list of to-dos and promises to which you are already committed.
Tally up the energy expenditure: what’s important to YOU and what’s important to somebody else? (No, it’s not important to YOU simply because they are important to you. We’re talking time and energy here, not feelings)
How much of YOUR life is committed to what they want?
4. Make a commitment to balance the scales the down & dirty way:
a. For the next month, pretend you are not ALLOWED to say yes to anything unless you say no to something else. Pick something, and allow the new thing to bump the old thing right off your list – forever or for now.
- If the person doing the asking is one of your time and energy vampires, tell THEM to pick what comes off your list, unless they would rather hear a firm no to this one — only from the things they want you to do.
(IMPORTANT: their things, not your things – they don’t get to vote on what’s important to YOU!)
- Stop enabling bullies – you are entitled to spend the minutes of your life YOUR way. Tell them if they can’t appreciate the fact that you are doing them a favor when you put your shoulder to their wheel, you will dump EVERYTHING you’ve ever said yes to, and say no to the new request as well.
- THEN DO IT! Bully back — consider this tip permission to deliver an overdue lesson in empathy. If you’ve always been the long-suffering type, you won’t have to do this very many times before they get it. You can talk about it later. Boundary this ONE month however you must.
(If you recognized your own behavior in the description of those emotional bullies – this is your month to stop that nonsense, practice stating your needs in a mature, charge-neutral fashion and get OFF that emotional roller-coaster. I promise life will be MUCH less overwhelming once you do.)
b. If there is nothing on your list you CAN say no to, there’s your down-and-dirty priority: you don’t have TIME to say yes, no matter how “important” the new request might seem to anyone involved.
- Give yourself a stern talking-to if you hear some little voice telling you
that it’s easier to say yes than to explain no. Don’t explain it. Just SAY it!
- If it’s REALLY important to the asker, tell them you’d be up for a trade:
they do one of your tasks first; you’ll do their thing AFTER you can cross
the other off your list. (YOU pick the trade – and make sure you are being
fair to YOU, not simply teaching the “give-back” lesson).
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