Clearing My Plate.. the Cure for Self Imposed Busyness.

I have a problem with commitment. The problem being I commit to too many things. I’m the quintessential “yes” woman. Or I have been..  But a body, a mind and a soul can only take so much before life starts to feel like an unending “to do” list. And since I’m an advocate of a balanced and meaningful life, I have decided its time to take inventory of my own commitments and “clear my plate” a bit.

Too much of a good thing? Time to clear your plate..

To do this involves honest introspection and answering some telling questions.

How many commitments are too many? At what point does a person reach the tipping point? When is “doing good” not so good for your own health?

And when do you finally realize that there’s too much on your plate?

  • Is it when you no longer look forward to participating in groups that used to fill your heart and head with enthusiasm and creativity?
  • Is it when you look at your calendar for the week and realize that there is not one day that you can squeeze in a birthday lunch for a good friend?
  • Is it when your mother (who hardly ever asks for help) calls and asks if you can accompany her to a doctors visit and you realize you are on your way to a board meeting and you hesitate, because even though you know your mom is the priority (duh) you hate to be seen as unreliable for (fill in the blank with meeting).
  • Is it when you start getting irritated with people who go “on and on” when you have somewhere to be. “Get to the point, already! Can’t you see, I have places to go!”
  • Is it when you find yourself driving somewhere and you briefly forget where you are going because there are literally six places you need to go on that day?

In my case, the realization happened gradually as I started feeling that every day, every week, every month was jam packed with meetings, work, classes, volunteering, housework, managing pets, and on and on.

To be fair, my busyness is in part self imposed. I’d always believed that being “productive” was necessary to be valued. So the more boards I served on, the more I volunteered, the more clubs and activities I participated in, the further along life’s path to productivity I would be.

Or so I thought. In reality I became more and more overwhelmed, exhausted and unable to focus. And irritable. Because when you pile so much on you’re plate, nothing tastes very good after awhile. There’s just too much.

I asked myself “how did I get to this point?” For me, as it is for many women, it started when my kids were young. I’d volunteer for field trips, room mom, Girl Scout leader, etc.  Then as the kids got older and the school requirements started to wane, there were invitations to join philanthropic groups, local boards, and various other organizations and clubs.

And these are all good things. The problem is, there are only so many hours in the day, only so much energy and brainpower to contribute.

And I do have an actual “office” job as well. Being the Marketing Manager for my family business is a job I truly do love – but since it is a family business, I always needed some other source of identity. A way to be my own person. Hence, I teach exercise classes and I volunteer. I try to give back to the community.

And I am know I am not alone or even the “busiest of the busy” when it comes to this crazy multi-tasking and “doing more is better”mentality.  There’s a lot of us with this affliction and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But there comes a time…

For many years, I thrived on activity and involvement and belonging because it made me feel valued and needed and worthwhile. All the buzzwords that ultimately translate into “I want to make my mark on this world and if that means I’m going to run myself ragged getting there, then so be it!” Yes, I’m one of those.

But, as I soften into my fifth decade, I’m realizing that no matter how capable I think I am, there is a point when your body and your mind (and your soul) say “enough”.

And so I started to take stock. I started to analyze some of my commitments and activities and put them  into categories: Things I had to do. Things I wanted to do (the things I found enjoyable) and things I no longer wanted to do  (things that had become a burden or no longer fit into my life plan).

And then I started to clear my plate. I let go of a few things that just needed to be let go of. I made a list of what’s in and what’s out. For example..

  • Out: Golf Club Board of Directors:  I initially liked the involvement, but when the complaints from other members started ruining what was supposed to be a fun and relaxing outlet, I knew it was time to let another member to step up. Everyone gets a turn!
  • In: Mentoring a high school student. Rewarding for both parties.
  • Out: Board Member for local mental health/substance abuse NFP. This was tough decision to make but after twelve years, it was time for fresh ideas and new enthusiasm.
  • In: Renewed focus on my job. Contributing to my family business in its 60th year and honoring my father who started it all.
  • Out: Expecting my home to be clean all the time, devoid of evidence of two adorable but sometimes naughty dogs.
  • In: Finding time to walk said adorable dogs! The best therapy ever!

And this is just the beginning of what will be an ongoing process.

I am learning to say “no” to volunteer requests so I can spend more time with my family, my aging parents, my husband and our young adult children who aren’t around as much but still need my advice and availability from time to time.

I’m learning that it’s better (for me at least) to have fewer, but more meaningful philanthropies. I particularly like to stay involved with an orphanage I visited in Haiti. It’s different than the “guilt pressured” type of involvement, when you say “yes” for all the wrong reasons.

I’m still busy, but it’s a better busy.  I work part time. I still enjoy teaching exercise classes. But I also know that I won’t become irrelevant if my schedule is not packed with back to back activities or “important meetings”.

We all have the freedom to really choose how to spend our precious (and not unlimited) free time.

Take the time to think about about how you can make the most of your time. Figure out what your true priorities are and let the rest go.




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