What if Prioritization isn’t the problem with your time management? If you’re like most of my clients (and me!), you probably need to Learn to Say No, to Say Yes to the right things!
Here’s what I mean…
Each of us has a Finite pool of time, energy and bandwidth. I often say that those are your three most precious resources, and my job is to help my clients use those three precious resources in the most efficient and effective ways, so that they have more of them left over for the things that matter most—the things that bring meaning to their lives.
What I really do is really help my clients learn effective Resource Allocation!
And one of the things I’ve learned from doing that with thousands of professionals with ADHD over the years (who are just like me), is that most of us have this underlying perception that those resources are much more “stretchy” and elastic than they really are. And that gets us into big trouble!
Here’s the cold, hard truth…
Every single thing you agree to and every single thing you take on, takes time, energy and bandwidth (aka focus) from that limited pool of resources. Sure, you can learn to use those resources more efficiently, but you’re still working with a hard limit to those resources.
Every single thing you allocate time, energy and bandwidth to, is taking it away from something else.
Please read that again!
You’re metaphorically robbing Peter to pay Paul. All day long. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year.
Every time you say “yes” to something, you are literally saying “no” to something else in some way.
Every single time you allocate time, energy or focus to something, you are taking it from something else.
Most of us have a natural tendency to take on more than is realistic, until we learn how to manage it. And that seems to be a lesson I continue to learn in surprising ways myself! It’s one of those things that I’ll think I have down pat, until I realize it’s shown up in a new, unexpected way.
It took me a long time to figure out but, the better I got a handle on my own time and productivity, the easier it was for me to recognize when I was feeling that old familiar urge to take on something that just might tip the scales from manageable to overload in my commitments, and to make choices that were in line with what’s really most important to me.
Many of you know that urge very well! It’s that feeling that can show up like…
“Ooooh! I can see the possibilities! I’m all in!”
“I could totally rock this! I could ____________, and then I could ________________, and make it really great by ____________, and it’s right up my alley! And….”
“Yessss! This would be a great way to [insert your personal value here]!” (Like… “This would be a great way to serve others/solve X problem/create something really fun/make a difference in the world/master a new skill, etc.”)
That genuine, visceral excitement and jolt we get when we can see the potential in something and make connections (often in ways that others can’t/don’t) and that almost-effervescent optimism we feel in the moment to do this thing—whatever it is—and to knock it out of the park, gets us in trouble.
Don’t get me wrong! That energy and that optimism and that natural curiosity are all really great qualities on their own. That’s what makes us interested in and good at so very many things, and that’s what gives us our great out-of-the-box ideas and ways of doing things that are the stuff of ingenuity.
BUT…. Those same qualities can be the things that really destroy our quality of life (and, eventually, our confidence in ourselves) and get in the way of our fulfillment.
Those same qualities, left unmanaged, are the root cause of your overwhelm and over-working, that wake of unfinished projects behind you, and that feeling that you never quite live up to what you know is possible.
Until we recognize those urges, get a handle on managing what we already have on our plates, and learn to pause to see how what we’re considering jumping into impacts all of that, we’re destined to find ourselves in the same position, over and over again.
And it doesn’t have to be that way!
You have to change your perception of those resources, and learn to recognize that urge/impulse for what it is, so that you can Make Choices you’ll be happy with. Choices that will keep you on the path to the life you want for yourself.
Once you get a handle on your commitments, your time and your to-dos (the practical stuff that is time management systems, tools and strategies), and you learn to hit your own “pause button” when you feel the urge to jump in, you’re in a position to CHOOSE how you will allocate those three precious resources of time, energy and bandwidth.
It really is that simple! (but not necessarily easy)
So, here are some practical steps to keep in mind to help you start moving away from overwhelm, overworking and over-commitment and moving toward the life you want for yourself:
- Notice. Pay attention to that urge to say yes. Notice (or remember) what it feels like when you feel that internal pressure to say yes, take something one, or start something, and get curious. What are you feeling in your gut? What are you feeling in your body? What are the thoughts that come to your mind? What do you hear yourself saying? What do you notice yourself doing?
- Acknowledge. When you notice those feelings/signs that are connected to that urge, acknowledge them consciously. Simply say out loud or think consciously, “there’s that excitement feeling.” Caution: Don’t ignore those feelings/signs or try to dismiss them or tell yourself you shouldn’t have them! There’s nothing at all wrong with that feeling or the urge itself! It’s a wonderful thing, again, when it’s harnessed well. (The problem is not about the feelings, it’s about what you do with them!)
- Pause. Once you’ve noticed and acknowledge those feelings, consciously, just simply let them be for just a moment. Take a pause. It can really help to intentionally take a breath—literally. A deep diaphragmatic breath or two slows down the rush and my brain just enough to help me think, rather than re-act. (It’s that reacting that gets us over-committed and in trouble!)
- Analyze. Now, you’re in a better position to engage the logic and reasoning part of your brain and make some choices. Now, you can look at how much of each of those three precious resources this new, possible commitment would take, and from where you will pull those resources. (You’re looking at how much time, energy and focus you need to commit to this thing so that you can do it in the way you want to do it, and from what other commitment you will take those resources.) And if you can be honest with yourself and admit that you don’t really know what and how much you would be committing, that’s an opportunity to hold that pause button down, and give yourself the space and time to figure that part out! Simply saying (to yourself or someone else), “Let me take a better look at what I have on my plate before I commit” can be quite empowering!
- Ask. Now, you can Ask yourself,
“What will I Choose Let Go, to make room for this?”
Here’s the deal. If you don’t ask yourself that question and make that choice intentionally and consciously, you’re left in reactive mode—literally stealing time, energy and bandwidth from yourself, the people you love, and your quality of life.
That’s probably what you’ve been doing for years if you’re still reading this!
And… this isn’t one of those once-and-done kind of changes. It’s not like quitting something cold-turkey. It’s a natural tendency that became a way of behaving for you over a lot of years, and that’s not something that just goes away all at once. I often say these kinds things can be like that “whack-a-mole” game at the carnival. You think you’ve got it handled, but it comes out sideways somewhere else!
No matter how good I’ve become at pausing and analyzing what’s on my play and saying “no” or “not yet” to the opportunities, ideas, and commitments that come my way, once in a while I find myself “suddenly” off course and out of balance. (I put the word “suddenly” in quotes because it’s often a gradual slide that gets me there these days. It just feels like the realization is sudden sometimes!)
Every now and then, we need to reevaluate where we’re spending those resources.
So, keep in mind that, just because you’ve already “committed” to something (whether it’s to yourself or to someone else), doesn’t mean you’re stuck with it for life (or at least in the same way and to the same level).
Any time I notice that I’m not taking good care of myself, feeling like I’m “squeezing in” doing the things that restore me and the things I love with the people I love, I know it’s time to reevaluate.
Honestly, I’ve just found myself there again, after all these years. And I’ve had to hit my own button and answer those all-important, reorienting questions for myself again, so I’ve made some different choices to stay in line with the life I want for myself.
What about you?
Where do You need to Say “No”, in order to Say “Yes” to what really matters to you?
Share your thoughts below.
Until next time,
Lynne Edris, ACG
Productivity & ADHD Coach
P.S. If you need help getting your ducks in a row with sustainable systems, tools and strategies to help you know where you’re allocating your time, energy and focus, check out my 90-Day Time Management Mentoring group for professionals at www.UnleashedPotential.group Let me help you unleash your potential!