One of the common themes I heard last week during the women’s network event I hosted was that there are a lot folks are struggling with being overwhelmed because life has become “so busy.” I get asked often how I “do it all” and I always laugh because…uh, I don’t. If I had a nickel for every time someone said “I don’t know how you do it with five kids, I can barely manage with two” I could retire, yesterday. While, I’m more work-in-progress than expert on any of this, it seems to come up often so I thought I’d share what has worked for me. I’m not suggesting that my way will work for you. But I’m also not exaggerating, not even a little, when I say it changed my life.
I, for one, am really over the whole “busy” thing and have been for a while. Grief has been an excellent teacher in that regard. Maybe you get this a little more so when you lose people you love and have to process that death is not a destination. It’s not somewhere, down the road, waiting for you to get there. It’s coming for us all. So, yeah, it’s cliché to say but… life is short. And I found myself in a place where I had to ask what was most important that I got out of it. The result has been (dare I say it) that I’m immeasurably happier now. I spend time doing more of what matters: I read more, I play more, I laugh more. And I love more. The best part of it all is that I also do “nothing” more.
Unfortunately, it’s popular in our culture and even celebrated to be “busy.” You know how it goes, ask someone how they’re doing and they’ll usually respond by telling you how busy they are. And while I have nothing against hard work, I believe busy is possibly the worst four letter word there is. “Busy” gives us an excuse to say someday to the things we really want. We’re too busy now, so we say next time, later on. Busy becomes an excuse for not doing what we know we should be doing.
The lie we tell ourselves is that we’re busy now so we can “have it all” later. When the truth is, it’s impossible to do it all and do it all well. If you aren’t enjoying the journey, my guess is you’re sure as hell not going to enjoy the destination. When I realized this, which like most lessons was learned the hard way, I realized that it was imperative to determine what my priorities were, say no to the rest, which meant letting go, and trust that I was doing the right thing. At first, it felt really strange. I even wrote about it this time last year.
If you want to get around the bullshit, cut through the red-tape and really get to know someone, try this, it blows minds. The next time you’re in a conversation ask the person you’re speaking with what they really want out of life. BUT only if you really care. And I do mean really care. First, this person will look at you like you’re crazy, then after you assure them that, yes, they heard you right and yes, you’re serious, they’ll usually offer up something arbitrary. But if you don’t let them off the hook, they’ll usually end by saying, well… in a perfect world_____. But since we’re most likely not ever going to live in a perfect world and because you’re going to need an answer when they turn the question back around on you (and they will) you’ll want to first ask yourself what it is you really want. And then begin each day by honestly answering whether or not what you’re spending you’re time doing is getting you there. It’s not easy. Being brutally honest, is scary. But so worth it, I think. For me, doing a few things really well feels a whole lot better than struggling to do many “just good enough.”
One of the greatest lessons I’ve ever learned was that if you take on more (and more and more) no one is going to stop you. They will let you do it. Have at it, they’ll say. This goes for bosses, spouses, children, and so on. The majority of people are not going to say “No! Wait! You know what…you have too much on your plate as it is. Let me handle that.” They’re just not. It’s up to us to set those boundaries. And it’s very hard to set them if you don’t know what your priorities are, if you don’t know what it is you want, what you’re working towards.
For example, this is how I determine what gets done on a daily/weekly/yearly basis. Every decision I make is made with my top three priorities in mind. Obviously, your priorities will likely be very different than mine– but I want to give you an idea nonetheless of how I broke it down to figure out what made most sense in my life. My top three are: my health, my family, and writing books. In that order. Health comes first because obviously if I’m not taking care of myself…I can’t very well take care of anyone else. For starters, exercise is very important to me. Not because I really like it but because I know that if I want to feel well (mentally and physically) and have the energy level I need to accomplish what it is I want to accomplish, I have to workout. I surround myself with people who are better, faster, stronger than myself (it’s motivating) and I schedule workouts like an appointment, an hour each day, at the same time, first thing in the morning. This way nothing else has the chance to interfere. Because if I let it, and I will, then it will. But this hour is my time and I’d be really annoyed with myself (and honestly everyone around me) if I couldn’t even take an hour for myself.
My family is my second most important priority, for me this means being there to pick up my children from school each day, spending the afternoon, evening, and weekends. This time is spoken for and comes before anything else I put on my calendar. Clearly, this may simply sound like motherhood in general–but what I’m trying to get across is that I (typically) don’t schedule work after 2:30 (at least not until they’re asleep) or on weekends. This way I don’t feel guilty over competing priorities. Work stays firmly in the work category. It also means that I have to be fairly smart about and extremely protective of the time that they’re in school.
Lastly, are my writing goals and running AWN. As far as writing goes, I have an idea of how much time it takes me to finish a book and I schedule writing time daily. Nothing else happens during this time, but writing. Unless it’s of greater importance–meaning it’s one of my first two priories. What works best for me is setting a daily word count goal by reverse engineering the number of words I need until completion and not letting myself quit until I’m there. Because there’s marketing and all the rest that goes along with writing–it’s too easy to do something else that is oftentimes less painful.
In terms of AWN and networking in general, unfortunately there’s a lot I have to say no to these days. It’s not fun– but I simply can’t have coffee with or accept every lunch invitation that comes my way, as much as I’d like to. The solution has been opening up a few time slots each month for this (typically before an event) and by attending at least one other large-scale event and inviting others to come along. It’s more fun that way.
The other thing I want to suggest, if you’re like me, and have found that you don’t have enough time for the number of people who want to meet with you and “pick your brain” then you may need to find a more effective way to meet their needs. Don’t be afraid to make it work for you, too. If you know me, then you know that I’m all for helping people. That is after all, why I believe that AWN has been as successful as it has. But again, this is where boundaries come in. You have to know where to draw the line, so to speak. If you find that you’re coming up against the same issue, the same questions, then it might be worth asking yourself if there’s a need (a market) for what you’re offering. Don’t be afraid to charge for your time. This could mean charging a consulting fee, it may mean setting up a seminar, or writing a book.
Long story short, it becomes a whole lot easier not to fall into the “busy” trap when you establish what is a priority and are ruthless in making sure what you’re doing is in line with that. It’s easy to say no if you understand that when you say yes, you’re often essentially letting something else go. And sometimes, there’s a higher price to pay than you realize…
P.S. In writing related news, I get asked a lot what is happening on the agent/publisher front (which probably deserves a whole blog post in itself) but for now I’ll just say that after really evaluating my options, my current and future goals, and then weighing all of that with the amount of freedom/flexibility I want to have, I decided to forgo the agent/publisher route and stick with what I’ve got going. In addition, the publishing landscape is changing so rapidly right now. But I won’t go in to all of that here. If you’re interested there’s a plethora of mostly decent information you can find on the interwebs starting here.