I don’t care how we do it - a million sticky notes, a typed out list, a google task, or a dry erase board command center in the kitchen. They follow us around in some shape or form. It’s those to-do lists that seem to never quite get completed. My favorite (said in a sarcastic tone) thing is that no matter how many I check off, I seem to keep adding things on to the bottom. I no sooner have picked up my prescription and dropped a book off at the library, that I get an email about some form I must fill out or some event to add to the calendar. Then the panic sets in. How in the world is all of this going to get done and why is it never ending?! Then sometimes I get angry. Like “add one more thing to this effing list and I am going to lose it”. Let one more “action required” email or one more room parent email enter my inbox that I literally just emptied; I am going to lose my “sugar honey iced tea”.
But what is that feeling? There’s anxiety, there’s guilt, there’s shame, there’s anger. A lot of times, anger is the first thing that shows up. After all, it is easier to be angry, passive aggressive or nasty than it is to feel guilt, shame, or sadness. Here’s the thing – anger is telling us that there is a boundary that is being crossed. There is something within us that is being threatened and we are retaliating. We have an instinct to protect ourselves and anger is the way to do it.
The Best Time Management Tips.
I could offer a million tips about time management, planning, and using time wisely. These tips and tricks could help us in the moment. (I actually offer these methods in therapy for ADHD). We can use clocks, we can use timers, reminders, or the Pomodoro method. Great. We just figured out that the reward for hard work is more work. The annoying truth is that these lists will never get done. We are homeowners, we are parents, we are members of a family, we are spouses, we are employees or business owners. There will always be obligations to ourselves and others. It’s as if we are living in a world that will keep taking, as long as we keep giving. Maybe we are lucky to have a boss that says “Hey, you know what, you have been burning the midnight oil for the past week go ahead and take some time off, and I will have other folks cover for you”. Or maybe the volunteer coordinator says – “we can’t possibly ask for more time from you, you’ve given so much already. Why don’t you hold off, others will surely offer”. Maybe these things would happen, that would be nice for someone else to put boundaries in place for us. But I think if you keep offering people will keep taking. It is up to you to identify and know your boundaries and limits.
So, do you want to know the answer to how to get this stuff done? Or not feel so awful when it isn’t done?
Learn to say “no” or at least don’t say “yes” right away.
For a lot of us, our immediate response to a request is to say “yes”. Of course, I can meet you, of course I can present at this meeting, of course I will volunteer my time. But why? We like to be helpful, we don’t like to disappoint, and we don’t want someone to be mad when we tell them “no”.
Unfortunately, this can lead to a series of task items added to an already overflowing list. How about saying, “That sounds (interesting, fun, good), I do need to check my calendar before I commit”. Or “I would really love to be involved; however, you deserve more of me than I can offer right now”. You could also just say “No I am not available.” Remember, the more explanation that you offer after the “no” the more leverage you are giving. If you say, “No, I have a doctor’s appointment”, then it will be met with “okay can you handle it next week then?” If you say “no, I am not able to do that” without the excuse, there is less to argue with or less room for negotiation. Plus, you are being truthful and not lying about the 15th “doctor’s appointment” you’ve had this week.
Take a second and consider how it would feel to say any of those statements. Me personally, my armpits get sweaty at the thought of disappointing or leaving someone high and dry. I just felt a sharp pang of guilt deleting the request for the welcome wagon volunteers at my daughter’s elementary school. How will these poor, lost, little kindergarteners ever find their way to their classroom? The answer is, they will figure it out.
If you do things out of guilt, shame, or to not upset someone, you will feel resentment, towards yourself or someone else. That can often lead to depression or anxiety, and then we REALLY aren’t going to get anything done.
Before you agree to an obligation, take a second, or as much time as you need, to figure out if you really want to do it. Check in with yourself. How will you feel engaging in the task? Is it energizing or do you feel depleted? What is that gut, instinctual response? Is it dread? If it’s dread - say no. Or at least understand where the dread is coming from before you agree.
What about household tasks? If I don’t do them, they won’t get done.
Ah yes, the dreaded chore list. When we were kids, we might have been taught, get your chores and homework done before you can play. If we got it done, we were rewarded if we didn’t, we were punished. This really adds a positive/negative tone to chores. No wonder we feel guilty for not getting everything done as adults. Or if we do take the time to relax, we feel guilty that we should be doing something “productive”.
1. As kids, the chore list was finite, as adults, it is never ending. It is a reasonable request that kids take out the trash before they play. It is not reasonable to get a never-ending list done before we earn a reward. If we wait until the chores are done, we never will rest. Rest is just as important as chores.
2. Outsource - and you can outsource to your kids. If you have the means to hire people to help. Do it. Pay an accountant to do your taxes, have a house cleaner come in and vacuum. Teach your children the importance of contributing to their household (their future roommates and partners will thank you).
One more thing to consider. Your house does not have to be perfect and spotless. Check in with yourself, who or what are you cleaning for? Who is making you cook elaborate meals on a weeknight when there is sports practice? If you are doing these things out of guilt, then stop. Good enough is perfect.
Remember, this is a new skill you are practicing. It’s gonna feel weird.
I tell folks that I work with to imagine the brand new, baby giraffe, that has just fallen several feet to the Earth from momma giraffe’s warm womb. The giraffe is all legs, a bit disoriented, and wobbly. Of course it is, wouldn’t you? But give baby giraffe some time and it is running and playing with the rest, as if it had been doing this all it’s life. This is what it is like to say “no”. It will absolutely sound awkward AF the first time. You will probably stumble over your words, you might even give in to temptation and agree. But, if you practice and have awareness. It will feel easier and feel right.
Okay, I’ve practiced saying no, now what.
Notice how you feel looking at your newly curated to-do list. The items that are on there, does it feel exciting to do them? Do you look forward to it? Or at the very least, do you feel that you have enough energy to get them done? If you don’t have enough energy, notice if you feel guilt or shame. Why are these items on your list?
Often we do things on a surface level that are motivated by deep and strongly held beliefs. Sometimes we need a different perspective to get a better understanding of these beliefs and edit them or let them go completely. This is where I come in. I help stressed, burned out people gain traction in their personal and professional lives. We can figure out how to say no or why we say yes. We can sit with the guilt and the shame of feeling “not good enough”. Then, and this is my favorite part, we can figure out what feels right for you and figure out how to do it. Then you are not that person who is thisclose to walking out of the office/school/house middle fingers held high (though that sounds liberating doesn’t it?)