I'm Perpetually Overcommitted: How Do I Learn to Say "No"?

I stopped keeping a calendar when I ran out of room to write down commitments.
Publish date:
March 28, 2014
boundaries, overcommitting, doing too much, can't say no, limits

I am not generally one for musical theater, but I helped out doing hair and makeup for a production of "Oklahoma" this one time. The songs are pretty much branded into my long-term storage memory, including one (called "I Can't Say No"), sung by Ado Annie, who has a hard time not making out (or more) with her suitors.

I'm jist a girl who cain't say no,I'm in a turrible fix. I always say "come on, le's go!" Jist when I orta say nix!

My problem is not entirely like Ado Annie's -- I'm not making out with random folks just because they tell me I'm pretty. But I sympathize, because, damn, it's hard for me to tell someone no when they ask me if I can do something.

This has always been a problem for me. I don't think it's the whole fear of missing out thing so much as it's just that I don't like turning people down.

Good things come of the habit -- extra responsibilities at work, being able to help folks when they need it, good times with friends. But so do more difficult things -- exhaustion, double scheduling, chores that go undone.

Plus, sometimes, I hit this wall and then have to last minute cancel plans because I'm not going to be able to make my brain work enough to even fix myself dinner, much less go out and enjoy the company of others.

That totally sucks. I don't want to be that person!

I realized a thing about myself (which you'd think I'd have realized a long time ago but, eh, whatever) the other day -- my default answer really wants to be "yes." My natural state is expansive, like the universe (*insert fat joke here*), which might actually win for the most ridiculous New Age hippie shit thing I have ever said. Seriously, I'm having a hard time typing because I'm rolling my eyes at myself.

But it's also true -- I always want to do more and be more and see more and learn more and on and on. And while I am working to find my own personal idea of "enough" (I've talked about this before), I'm also trying to balance that with my own inclination to take more on.

Right now, I work a full-time day job, write for xoJane, occasionally freelance other places, and am selling prints via my Etsy shop. But at the end of the day, I don't feel satisfied. I feel angry at myself that another day has gone by without me finishing my novel. I feel upset that I haven't reached out to talk to more friends. I stress about not reaching the bottom of my reply-to letter stack (which is a little overwhelming right now but I'm working my way through it and it's still awesome). And even then, if someone were to text me and ask if we could do some random thing, I would be all about it.

People are more important to me than whether or not I've done my laundry. I don't even want that to change.

But the reality of the world is that sometimes -- even when we really don't want to -- we have to say no. Because we can only stretch our time and energy and resources so far and because we have to take care of ourselves, too.

This is the whole healthy boundaries thing, y'all. It's like having boundaries is a necessary skill or something, right? Of course, just because boundaries are necessary doesn't mean they're easy -- and it's often hardest to enforce them with ourselves.

So I've dragged my calendar planner back out. Actually, I've got a couple. I'm refilling them with calendar pages for this year and I'm writing things down again. My Google calendar is great for reminders but I still need that physical book I can look at and get a sense of the scope of my commitments.

I'm also blocking time out for myself. And instead of filling that time with things I SHOULD be doing, I just let myself chill. Thus far, it's mostly highlighted how bad I am at sitting still -- because I don't generally let myself do that. But last night, while Ed was off at a role-playing game, I sat on the couch and hung out with the dog and watched I don't even know what on Netflix. I painted my nails.

And it was really great.

The laundry still isn't put away but I've got it on a list. And when some other thing comes up, I can put that on my calendar. Or I can say no. And that will be OK, too.

Do you overcommit? How do you keep yourself from double booking? Do you schedule time to relax? Teach me, xoJaners, please.