We’ve all got friends who seem to be absurdly stressed, all the time. They’re constantly harried, rushing from one important commitment to another, complaining all the while about how incredibly busy they are. They’ve got their jobs, of course, but also a number of other activities and obligations piled up on top of their work, occupying pretty much every minute of every day.
If only they’d learned to say “no”!
Over the weekend The Guardian published an interesting article about saying no. The article points out that people who are miserably overcommitted aren’t powerless — they can directly affect their situations by carefully considering their own interests and saying no to things that they really don’t want, or need, to do. By declining unwanted invitations, and shedding obligations that aren’t really rewarding or essential, they free up time to do what they actually want to do with people they really like. And, as a result, the stress level goes down and the enjoyment of life goes up.
This recommendation mirrors my own experience. Some years ago I realized that, with work, charity involvements, and other obligations, I wasn’t enjoying much free time — on weekends, or otherwise. I looked at what I was doing and decided I needed to lighten my load, and then I went through my commitments and decided which ones could reasonably be eliminated — and then I eliminated them. When I did that, I felt like a weight was lifted from my shoulders and my free time was multiplied, and I’ve never regretted doing it.
I do disagree with The Guardian article in this sense: it suggests that most of the over-busy folks are people-pleasers who feel they just have to say yes. I’m sure there are people in that category, but I think there are two other categories at play. One is people who want to help and make a contribution, and just find out that they can’t manage all of the obligations they’ve assumed. The other is people who perversely like projecting to others how busy they are. The first category just needs to understand the power of saying no. The second category doesn’t want to say no.