Beyond Busy

by Shannon Dean

Chances are you can probably relate to a scenario like this: Short on time, you’ve skipped the gym and are preparing for a work presentation when your church leaves a message asking you to chair a committee. This reminds you that you need to buy a classroom gift for your son’s teacher. Later, tired and relieved that you’ve nearly completed your to-do list, you remember that you promised to stuff envelopes for the PTA. Exasperated, you snap at the kids who beg for your attention and feel resentment with every envelope you begrudgingly stuff. Many experts say you should vividly remember your frustration the next time you receive a fresh batch of requests for your time.

Overcommitting Has Consequences

Parents are notoriously selflessly available to our families, our friends, our work, and our communities. But rarely do we care for ourselves with the same devotion. Sure, most requests fill a legitimate need, but if the inability to say no means you haven’t been to the dentist in a few years, are making payments on a gym membership you never use, and can’t remember when you took time for yourself, you’re probably overcommitting. Saying yes out of obligation may mean saying no to the things you care most about. Worse, overextension contributes to health issues like low self-esteem, depression, migraines, ulcers, and a compromised immune system.

Carefully Evaluate Requests For Time

Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Body for Life for Women, says that parents can develop what she calls “helium hand,” which is when your hand automatically pops up every time there is a request for volunteers. She says you can avoid this affliction by listing your top priorities and evaluating all requests against this list. For example, a last-minute PTA meeting to discuss one more fundraiser doesn’t bring you any closer to the priority of spending more quality time with your children.

It’s also helpful to seek out volunteer opportunities that align with your priorities, goals, and skills. If spending time in your child’s classroom is a top priority, agree to be a story or homeroom parent. If using your skills to get noticed for possible future job opportunities is important to you, consider highly visible positions like serving on a board. If you’re creative, it may be easier and less time consuming to write the community newsletter than to be the treasurer.

Train yourself to pause before automatically saying yes to every request. Ask yourself if your tendency to overcommit is fueled by the common desire to be needed or appreciated. If so, look for recognition from your family, friends, and colleagues. They may have been trying to show their appreciation in various ways, but you’ve been running around so much that you didn’t notice. You may not have heard the thank you in the hand-picked wildflowers from your preschooler or the pat on the back from your coworker, but you only have to slow down a little to get a second chance.

How To Compromise Or Say No When Your Plate Is Already Full

If you find yourself faced with worthwhile requests, but are too busy to fully commit, consider alternatives, suggests life coach Karen Wright of Parachute Executive Coaching. For example, if you are asked to make last-minute muffins for a teacher appreciation breakfast but promised you’d watch a movie with your daughter, don’t hesitate to buy the muffins on the way to school. That’s preferable to shortchanging your daughter and feeling put upon as you measure out ingredients. Know that the PTA isn’t looking for award-winning baked goods. It’s the intention behind the breakfast that matters.

What if you’ve carefully evaluated a request and decided it just doesn’t work for you right now? Simply state the same, without guilt and without over-explaining or repeatedly apologizing. “Saying no is not impolite or disrespectful,” reassures Wright. “It’s being honest about your priorities.” Dr. Peeke says that a simple, “I’m so sorry, but that doesn’t work for me right now. Maybe next time,” is really all that is needed. If you’re uncomfortable with being direct, consider using humor. Try something like, “Are you kidding? My spouse will divorce me if he has to fly solo another night this week.”

Taking Time For Your Own Priorities Makes You A Better Parent, Spouse, And Employee

Experts agree that valuing your own time is by no means selfish and actually makes you a better parent, employee, and spouse. Fulfilling your own needs means that not only are you more enthusiastic, focused, and present for the tasks that are most important, but you are demonstrating life skills for those who matter the most. Tracy Lyn Moland, the author of Mom Management: Managing Mom Before Everybody Else, explains that “an energized, confident mother with a strong sense of purpose, balance, and priorities sets an example for her children and for all those around her.”

Think about it. If you’re constantly answering your child’s pleas for attention with “in a minute, honey,” while completing everyone else’s requests, you might be sabotaging your most important goal. You’re probably volunteering because you want to ensure that your child has an involved, invested parent. So make sure you’re allowing enough of yourself to give her exactly that.

10 Tips To Avoid Overcommitting

1. Always meet your physical needs first. Getting enough sleep, eating right, and finding time to exercise are essential if you are going to fully present for your most important tasks.

2. Request time to check your calendar before committing. Then ask yourself if you can comfortably and enthusiastically complete the request.

3. Overestimate the amount of time a task should take and then ask yourself if you’re still willing to do it.

4. Make sure you’re comfortable with what you are giving up to commit to the request.

5. Whether you accept or decline a request, define what you intend to do in the future. Try, “I’m swamped right now, but will be available for the fall festival.” Or, “I can help set up, but I need to leave by 11 a.m.”

6. Make a list of all past, present, and future volunteering commitments. Refer to the list often to keep yourself on track. Realize that you’ve volunteered before and will again.

7. Consider the self-care that is possible when you say no. Setting boundaries is easier when it means you have time for a long walk or a hot bath.

8. Speak up when meetings linger for too long. Discussing unimportant issues or gossiping wastes everyone’s time. Don’t be afraid to say, “I have an appointment in half an hour, so can we finish up?”

9. Try to under promise and over deliver. Instead of promising results in two days, commit to a week. If you finish early, great. If not, you’ve limited your stress.

10. Don’t allow guilt into your life. Define what contributes to your unique and necessary life balance!


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