For busy women — and who isn't busy these days? — daily life is a constant negotiation between the things that need to be done and the time available to do them. That means we're always on the lookout for shortcuts and time-saving strategies, but often those don't go far enough. We wind up stressed out and disheartened, feeling as if time manages us.
This past year I made a personal commitment to stop trying to be here, there and everywhere. It hit me one day when my biggest priorities - my husband and kids - were suffering at the expense of me saying yes to something I should have never committed to doing. It was there that I learned it was time to say no.
I see so many women - moms especially - being pulled in too many directions. I've had numerous conversations with my mom who agrees that being overly busy is a generational thing. When she was raising our family, she never felt the pressure to volunteer on every committee. Have us kids in 3 overlapping sports. Teach Sunday school. Run a marathon. Teach a workout class. Do mommy and me Gymboree. Sound familiar?
Overcommiting is the human tendency toward optimism and the planning fallacy at work; many overschedulers simply assume it'll be no problem to run the charity auction while also preparing a year-end report and throwing an anniversary party. Couple this over-optimism with a lack of assertiveness or a need to prove yourself, and you've got plenty of reasons for taking on too much. "People-pleasers often have a hard time saying no, for fear of losing favor or angering others," explains psychologist Wiegartz, and that fear may spring from a lack of self-confidence. People-pleasers may say yes to requests as a way to prove their worth both to themselves and to others, she explains.
Need a way out??
As a self-described "recovering 'yes-er,'" Welch says, "Building your 'no' muscles is easier than you'd think." The first step is to interrupt your automatic tendency to nod your head and form the word "yes" before you know if you can or want to do what someone is asking of you. Buy yourself some time by saying, "Let me think about it," and then assess your schedule, priorities, and desires. Welch recommends memorizing a couple of scripts and practicing saying them out loud; her favorite is "My heart says yes, but my calendar says no." She also suggests instituting "policies" (a softer word for "rules") so that when you do say no, you feel you have a legitimate reason for doing so. For instance, if you make it a policy to volunteer at only one school function per semester, it's easier to turn down a request to help out at a second event. Just try this script: "Oh, I'm sorry, but I can't do the Senior Picnic because I've already committed to Career Night."
After 22 years of mothering, Colleen Scholer, 50, a communications consultant at a research firm in Cedar Rapids, IA, has developed her own rationale for turning things down: "After a bit of burnout and experience, I can easily say no to projects. I justify it by explaining that I've already put in my volunteer time, and now I just want to spend time with my kids." Not that she's dropped out of volunteering altogether; she just has a more realistic view of what she's capable of — and interested in — cramming into her schedule.