I am a “yes” woman — but not in the conventional sense. Instead of blindly agreeing with the policies of my superior, I agree to do absolutely everything that is within my skillset. Write copy for someone’s startup? Sure. Make a logo for a school organization that needs rebranding? Yeah, of course. Need someone to review your code? I’m on it.
However, this pattern has become a problem. Oftentimes, I would schedule events for the same slot without noticing (and then perform some sort of sorcery to be at both events at once). Additionally, I never felt like I had a minute to breathe. I stopped practicing mindfulness as a result and felt constantly overwhelmed.
So I’m here to say it (and remind myself) once and for all: Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. To be productive, you have to say no once in a while.
Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should. To be productive, you have to say no.
I realized that I had developed a reputation for being a flaky person. Because I often had too much on my plate, I pushed deadlines until they were months out from the original date.
This kind of reputation gradually limited the number of opportunities I was offered. And these opportunities lost were potentially much more rewarding than the work I was backed up with.
Because I was so overwhelmed with work and tasks, I turned in work I wasn’t proud of just to get it done and move on to the next thing. For example, a lot of the design tasks I took on for practice were not as helpful in developing my own design skills. I found myself just throwing together posters and pamphlets for the sake of finishing them and not reflecting on what actually looked good.
Taking the Joy Out of Activities
When I did have the time and energy to do the work I had agreed to, I found myself not really enjoying it as much as I would have usually. I’d be stuck working on tasks during my downtime, and thus had effectively eliminated any sort of space for relaxation in my packed schedule. I felt like the work I was doing was just that — work.
As Victoria Huynh, a rising junior at Brown University, puts it: “I think overscheduling myself and being busy all the time takes away from focusing on the individual things that I really enjoy though. Overscheduling myself means I can’t focus on any of them I’m just worried about getting as many things done as possible.”
When to Say No
However, I don’t think overscheduling is an unsolvable problem. In fact, I think this issue can easily be solved by knowing when to say no. While I am still very much guilty of overcommitting, I’ve picked up a few tricks to help me decide what is worth putting on my to-do list.
If you’re overscheduled, ask yourself these questions:
1. Can I benefit from this task?
Because I have so much on my plate, I have to determine whether the task I might take on will benefit me. For instance, I will weigh whether I have a good relationship with the person who asked me or whether the potential task is interesting.
2. Does the deadline for this task come at an inconvenient time?
Naturally, I don’t want to take on more work during finals week or the peak of intern recruiting season in fall.
3. Will I be happy during or after I complete this task?
Aside from the benefit I will gain for this task, I try to evaluate whether I will feel accomplished, fulfilled or just plain happy from the work I’m about to take on. This particular question has been especially important for me as a growing designer. Before now, I would take as much work as possible — unpaid or not — just to work on my chops. But the number of requests I’ve gotten has forced me to be more selective in evaluating whether that work is either challenging or enjoyable enough for me to take on. I’m no longer making posters for the sake of making posters; I want to do work that will make me proud of myself or that will challenge me.
With these guidelines in mind, I’ve learned to take more off my plate and enjoy what’s already on it.
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