“Hey, can you help me with this thing that you probably have little to no interest in doing, because I procrastinated for too long?” No. “Hi, I don’t know you, but can you come to my kid’s piano recital?” No. “We’re starting this new bi-weekly community thingy —” No, no, no, a million times no. Sometimes the right answer is a simple, but polite, “no.”
We all have stress in our lives, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. Some good, some bad, some more or less than others, imagined, or very real and overwhelming. Stress creates undulating waves of pressure and unease that pervade our minds, and if left unchecked, our bodies. Its nebulous nature can make it hard to pin down sometimes. Ironically, the only way to conquer it is to do just that.
If we want more room to breathe in our lives, we have to eliminate stress while also adding a filter that selectively allows more good stress. This filter should prevent petty and unnecessary obligations from being added to our already busy lives, and preserve a comfortable pace of living that allows us to maintain a comfortable line of balance between life and work. However, this filter should allow opportunities that could benefit us and amplify our experience.
1. Identify the stress you already have.
The first logical step before taking on any additional obligations is to be aware of everything you already have going on. Half the time we’re so stressed because we don’t know exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, or when it needs to be done by. We need to organize the shitstorm we already have building in our brains before we let anything else in from the outside (that we have control over). The best way to do that is to make a list. Traditionally, I use pen and paper but recently I’ve taken a liking to WorkFlowy, a list app for the web, iPhone, and iPad.
2. Filter out petty obligations.
Stop doing things that don’t maximize your time and enjoyment. Stop doing things simply to please people who are barely acquaintances, let alone friends. It is absolutely not wrong at all to be selfish sometimes. We only have so much of ourselves to give, and we should choose wisely when faced with relinquishing even the smallest piece to someone else. The time you spent making a flyer for someone who “heard you knew how to use Photoshop” and didn’t want to spend money on a designer could have been spent reading a book.
3. Let in opportunities.
Some obligations can be life-enriching opportunities. The trick is taking the time to identify them before having a gut response to the person in the hallway asking something of you. Could I use the article this person wants me to write in my portfolio? Better yet, a “let me get back to you” while you consult the list you made earlier would be a great move.
I realize that this way of thinking sounds pretty selfish to a lot of people, but just think about it. You have one life. You should look out for yourself in that short duration instead of continually worrying about pleasing people that have no bearing your life.
Genuinely wanting to help someone is completely different. Helping someone just because you want to appear a certain way to them and others taxes your time and is disingenuous. It’s much easier and much less stressful to be honest with them, and use your precious time the way you choose to.
Obligations are one of several components that comprise the substance I call mental clutter. It’s trickier to get rid of than clutter in the physical realm because we can’t see it until we make an effort to be more mindful of it. Getting rid of it has the same freeing effects: more time, more energy, and room to breathe. So stop picking up the slack for others and spend that time creating, traveling, hiking, running, knitting, reading, partying, reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.