Listen to this lesson:
In order to gain traction on your neglected work, you’ll have to stop overcommitting (to others, and to yourself) so you can take control over what you actually do every day.
What does your current list of commitments look like? Think about it: your personal, creative, professional, familial, friendship, and community commitments? Chances are, the list is LONG, and you’re stuck multitasking in an attempt to alter the space-time continuum and add more hours to your day.
But multitasking and having a thousand different commitments floating around in your brain are massive drains on your ability to focus on and actually finish any of the projects you’re currently working on.
It takes significant mental energy to juggle everything you need to do, want to do, could potentially do, should do (BTW: according to whom?), and wish you could do.
You’re here because you’re ready to say YES to your ONE creative project.
Saying yes to one thing means—by default—saying NO to a lot of other things.
I’ll say it again: if you want to stop overcommitting, you’re going to have to learn how to say NO. With some frequency.
After all, you’re already doing SOMETHING 24 hours a day. So adding a new thing necessarily means taking something out.
Saying yes to an hour scrolling Instagram is saying no to an hour on your novel.
Saying yes to half a day volunteering at your kids’ school is saying no to getting in solid painting session.
Saying yes to always cooking your family’s dinner from scratch is saying no to 90 minutes every single day on…something else that isn’t currently getting your attention.
Some of those are commitments you want to preserve. Some you might want to renegotiate.
But they are ALL dilemmas, and if you are going to make time in your life for the creative work you’re dying to finish, you must face those dilemmas and make hard choices.
On Day 1 of the challenge, we talked about competing trade-offs and having to sit with the discomfort of making them (which you’re totally capable of!).
That’s what I’m talking about when I say, “dilemma.”
What does streamlining your commitments look like?
saying “no” to other people
- rejecting paid work that isn’t immediately necessary and doesn’t realistically fit into your schedule
- renegotiating family responsibilities
- rejecting underpaid projects from friends
- not caving in to social pressures for events you don’t want to attend
saying “no” to yourself (and, as hard as saying no to other people is, this one is a LOT harder!)
- not working on one of your 1,000 other exciting ideas
- living with a less-than-spotless home
- closing off a path to yourself (for now!)
- confronting your vision of your future
Saying “no” is a lot harder than saying “yes.”
There’s a lot of resistance in the form of emotional baggage like self-doubt and perfectionism.
You might hear a lot of, “But you SHOULD be able to do ALL of these things” from your inner critic.
If you’ve been trying to create new work of any kind, it inevitably bumps up against some hard feelings that other things are “more important” or that other people needs should come before yours.
The decision to carve out time and attention to make your work is a breathtaking act of ego. You’re saying, “I don’t care what everyone else thinks I should be doing with my time. I know this is what I need to do.”
How to say “no” and stop overcommitting yourself
- List all of your commitments to other people
This includes your commitments to your family, like cooking dinner, or weekly chores, childcare, eldercare, and bonding time. Understandably, some of these are non-negotiable! And some are things you definitely want to stay committed to. Also, obviously, some people have heavier caring-commitment-loads than others. But there’s still often room to negotiate responsibility.
Professionally, this could include collaborations, paid projects, or marketing activities.
- List all of the ideas nagging at your brain
Past projects, works-in-progress, ideas for a new podcast, books you’ve totally “half-written” in your head already, new artforms you’d like to try, the project you feel the most guilty about never finishing, the one that you’re currently trying to finish — get them down!
- Say “no” to yourself:
- Things you thought you wanted to do, but on review, they don’t motivate you.
- Things you feel like you “should” do.
- Things that you might do in the future, but not now.
- Say “no” to other people
On your list, there are no doubt things other people want you to do that you don’t. “Not wanting to” is a complete, unassailable reason to say no.
Why is NO so hard?
Saying no is really hard, emotionally. We tend to fear provoking what we imagine will be an enormous disappointment and even anger on the part of the asker.
Here’s the thing: if you’ve ever asked anything of anyone, or proposed a project, think about what that felt like.
Were you thinking, “This person I just asked should feel LUCKY I asked them! And they better come through, or ELSE!”
You were probably a bit nervous that they’d say no, or you might have feared they’d think you had no right to ask, or possibly you really needed someone to help with something and hoped you’d solved your problem.
What’s the worst case, as the asker? Is it a no?
Unless we’re talking a marriage proposal, probably not.
The worst case is…no answer at all.
Leaving someone hanging is way worse than saying no. It means they can’t move on and solve their problem some other way, which what they need to do if you’re not able to help.
The second-worst answer is MAYBE.
If you put off the no, and say something like, I can’t now because I’m just so busy…what you are doing is leave a big, fat open loop in the middle of your relationship with this person. They may circle back, or they may even move on and never ask you again, but I can pretty much guarantee that you will never forget.
You’ll be thinking about it every time the person crosses your mind, feeling guilty, wondering how you can get out of this…so unless you actually mean maybe, never say maybe.
Bite the bullet, and say NO, quickly and definitively.
Your decision to stop overcommitting is a service both to yourself and to others.
How do you say no?
- Make it clear
- Do it fast
- Do not open the door to “maybe in a few months”
- Make no excuses
- Be kind
What does that look like?
Try the Yes-No-Yes sandwich!
Start with a little kindness. Send a little yes to the person’s idea or request:
Wow, what a fantastic idea! I’m really impressed. Sounds like such a great project. Such a worthwhile challenge! Etc.
Then add a filling of very clear, very definitive NO.
Unfortunately, due to my existing commitments [or, in order to honor my existing commitments], I won’t be able to participate, join, contribute, help out, or make it.
This is so important: Do not go on to say what those commitments are, or suggest that they might ease up in the future at which point you might be able to consider whatever it is. This creates a painful “maybe”! It does no service to you or to the other person.
Top it all off with a soft, delicious yes.
I am so excited to see what you do with this project. Please keep me posted!
It’s possible that I’ve sent you a yes-no-yes sandwich. I send them all the time. And honestly, almost every time, I really do hope the best for the project and would welcome more news about it! I just can’t get involved myself.