Take Care of Yourself First

Self-care, the key to thriving not just surviving

Self Care in scrabble tiles by Tiny Tribes from Pixabay

In order to stay grounded, calm and patient in times when everything around us is crumbling or in upheaval, the first rule to follow is take care of yourself. I’m not just referring to a pandemic, but any situation that impacts you and your life. This could be an illness of a loved one, financial problems because a major project doesn’t materialize, problems with your partner or spouse, unexpected expenses because your car broke down. The unfortunate reality is, especially in stressful situations, we tend to “forget” how important it is to stay strong. There are so many things that seem far more important to think about, or to tackle… and we put self-care on the backburner.

I’m not thinking about vacations or hours of meditation, or whatever helps you relax and recharge. I’m thinking of a daily practice. It is far better to incorporate small bursts of self-care during the day to stay grounded and keep a clear head. It will help you process what’s going on no matter what life throws at you. It’s the first step to finding an answer, developing a solution, or determining your next move.  

What is Self-care

Let’s have a look at what self-care actually means. Skip this part if you’re more interested in some ideas of how to practice self-care and move to the headline “Practice Self-care.”  

Self-care is the deliberate choice of taking care of your own needs on a daily basis, regardless of commitments, responsibilities, expectations from others.

As the bare minimum we need enough sleep and nourishment for our bodies. But that would only ensure our physical survival. In order to protect our wellbeing, physically, psychologically and emotionally, there are more things to consider.

It means knowing who you are, what you like and don’t like, what gives you joy, what you aspire to, what you value, how to set limits, how to deal with difficult situations, how to relax and decompress after a stressful or demanding day.

Self-care is something that energizes and refuels us, rather than takes from us. […] It is the key to living a balanced life.” It helps us be patient, when patience is needed, show empathy when empathy is needed, and have a clear head, when decisions have to be made.

It means taking the time to reflect on yourself and your day. What are you proud of? What would you like to do better? Are there any changes you would like to make? If so, how will you make these changes happen? What steps can you take?

Practicing Self-care

Woman reading

What recharges us or allows us to let go of the day is different for everyone. Some prefer sweating and working it out, others prefer quiet and writing it down. It can also depend on your mood, the weather, or the people you are with. In summer, you may prefer walking in nature, in winter you may prefer sitting down with a glass of wine and a good book.

Do you know what helps you decompress after a stressful or demanding day? What can you do on the spot to feel grounded or keep a clear head?

Here are some ideas in case you need a little reminder or quick start:

  • Take 10 deep breaths
  • Leave the room for a moment
  • Close your eyes and feel what’s going on in your body
  • Walk around the block
  • Get a cup of coffee or tea
  • Practice your favorite sport
  • Play with your children
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate or pray
  • Go for a walk at the beach, in the woods, in the fields, in your town
  • Have a glass of wine and reflect on your day
  • Read a book or listen to one
  • Light a candle and write in your journal
  • Do a craft (sewing, quilting, crocheting, coloring, painting,…)
  • Work in your yard
  • Sit and allow the day to pass by in front of your inner eye
  • Take a hot bath or shower
  • Prepare a meal and eat with your family or friends

There are so many things you can do; be creative and give yourself the gift of time to find out. What helps you to feel grounded? What helps you to decompress? And then, most importantly, do it. You will be a happier mom, spouse, parent, you name it, for it.  

I can’t wait to hear from you. Until next time,
Regine

F.A.I.L. – E.N.D. – N.O.

As solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, small business owners, or…, we have to accept the fact that not all we do will go as planned and be successful. Especially if it is our first attempt in entrepreneurship or running a business. We navigate uncharted territory and it is more than likely that we will make mistakes, fail, get a “no” to a proposal. Everybody will agree with this statement. It only turns into a problem when it happens. Mistakes happen to others, not to us. Wouldn’t that be nice. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. In fact, I know it is crucial that we make mistakes, fail once in a while, hear a “no” to our brilliant idea or proposal. What’s even more important is how we deal with these situations.  

I’m definitely not a master in always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I need time to digest what has happened, turn it around in my head until I find the silver lining. Throwing a pity-party is so much easier. Blaming the world for what went wrong. I can do that too and admit I have done it in the past. The sad part about it is, it doesn’t change a thing. It doesn’t make the situation any better or go away quicker. Quite the opposite is the case.

It’s far better to get back on your feet, dust yourself off, and think about what to do to get out of this pickle, fix the problem. Think of the very next step you can take. It’s the best medicine you can take.

Yes, you do want to take a moment and figure out what went wrong and why it went wrong. This way you learn and won’t repeat the mistake. I know, it’s never fun digging through a mess or unpleasant situation. Allow me to be blunt, it sucks, but it’s soooo important. Think of it as growing pains, business growing pains. When you come out on the other side you’ve trained one of the most valuable and important character muscles: resilience. By the way, it’s also extremely useful outside of the business world.

This is why I find the three “acronyms” FAIL – END – NO so inspiring.

Acronyms by Dr. A.P.J. Kalam, past President of India

I hope you’ll find the meaning also encouraging and inspiring. Don’t let a roadblock stop you. Think of a way how to either circumvent or get over it.

In case you had a less than brilliant day and need a little pep talk, keep the meaning of these three words in your heart. If you know someone who could use a little encouragement, share them. They reminded me more than once that giving up is not an option.

See you in two weeks,
Regine

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 2

In part 1 of this two-part series “Make Working from Home Work for You” I talked about

  • The importance of your workspace and work environment,
  • Suggestions on how to combat loneliness while working from home
  • And some essential tools and/or technologies for your home office

This week I’ll cover the more subtle problems of working from home. The ones that we face every day, that are easily overlooked, and that may cost us dearly, even if we don’t want to admit it. Here they are:

  • Knowing your goals and planning your days
  • Taking breaks
  • Building your own good work habits

Knowing Your Goals and Planning Your Days

Choosing the right path is only possible you know your goal(s).
Foto: https://pixabay.com/images/id-1721906/
Kid at a fork of a path.

It sounds simple enough and straight forward: know your goals. But more often than not that is exactly what many, especially solopreneurs and creative people, tend to lose sight of in the course of their everyday work. There are so many ideas, so many things to do. We better roll up our sleeves and get started. Or should we?

Getting caught up in the everyday happens fast. It’s the little things that sneak in and eat our time. Think of your email inbox. You may be expecting an important email. You look for it and you respond, but that’s not where you stop, or do you? I at least didn’t.  Without even thinking I continued with the remaining emails and, two hours later, am surprised that the morning is gone despite the fact that I wanted to do something else.

Whatever your little sneaky time thieves are, stop them. The only way to do so is to know what your goal(s) are. If you don’t know, you won’t make the time. Write your goals down, vet them and make sure they align with your business and values. Break them down into projects, break the projects down into manageable tasks. It’s your roadmap to bringing your ideas and goals to life. Keep this list close and check it daily to make sure you’re staying on track.

That brings me to part two: planning your days. My daily planning is divided into two parts: part one is meetings, conference calls, etc.; part two are the “non-negotiables.” I don’t think I have to explain how meetings and calls end up in my calendar. But I’d like to spend a couple of words on the “non-negotiables.”

Non-negotiables are appointments I make with myself. These are time blocks I dedicate to projects I’m working on. Every day I pick at least one of my major projects and dedicate a certain amount of my time to work at it. I choose a time that allows me to bring the most energy and best circumstances to this work. That could mean picking a time of day when I’m usually undisturbed and which is quiet, or I arrange it that way (thanks flight mode). I set a timer that reminds me when “my time is up.” This way it’s up to me to continue or just finish what I’m working on.

Another equally important non-negotiable, for example, is my daily Yoga practice and meditation and my martial arts training twice a week.  

Lastly, if possible, I reserve Fridays for “housekeeping” stuff that I didn’t get to during the week, planning the week ahead, bookkeeping… you get the idea.

What I found by putting everything in my calendar is that I get a more realistic picture of the use of my time. If I need much longer for a particular task, I adjust my calendar entry and keep it in mind for future time approximation. Very helpful.

Having said that, I don’t plan 100% of my day. I always leave generous blocks of time empty. Don’t be a miser here. You’ll thank yourself when life throws unexpected stuff at you. If it does, at least you have the flexibility to deal with it without feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Or, as a best-case scenario, you have some additional time on your hands. I’m sure you have no problem coming up with something to do. There’s already enough stress and “catching up” in our lives; don’t add to it.

This is the perfect segway into the next topic:

Taking Breaks

Alarm clock and coffee beans reminding you to take breaks.
https://pixabay.com/images/id-1291381/
Red alarm clock and coffee beans.

I know it from own experience, heard it from peers, and read quite often about the fact that we as entrepreneurs or solopreneurs tend to forget to take breaks. The moment we have a free minute we start thinking what we can do to get another action item off of our To Do list.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with working hard to build or grow your business. Working hard only turns into a problem when you forget to take care of yourself, your family and your friends.

Like a battery needs time to recharge, your body and brain need time to recharge as well. Without rest you can’t expect to be at your best. You need enough sleep, food that energizes you, exercise that keeps you in shape. I know, you’ve heard it before, it’s old news. But especially in difficult and demanding times, when we actually need it the most, we readily throw these basics out the window.

We scarify time with our partner or with our kids for our business. We don’t take the time to be with friends. For a little while that’s not a problem. But it may turn into one if you stretch this time out too long. Your relationships suffer and so do you.

Step away from your desk and have a coffee or lunch with a friend or your partner. Play with your kids for a while. Call your mom and have a quick chat. It’ll take your mind off work, you give yourself a break, you reconnected with a friend, or it’ll make you feel good for having spent time with your kid(s). The result will be to return afterwards with more energy and often new ideas.

What is even more worrisome is sacrificing ourselves, or more precisely, not taking care of ourselves for the benefit of spending more time in and on our business. We tend to forget that self-care is the fuel for our body and our mind which in turn impacts our performance. It’s the little things during the day that you could do.  

A no-brainer for me is not to have your lunch or any other meal at your computer or desk. It’ll ensure that you know what and how much you’re eating, a plus for those amongst us who watch their weight, and you can “check out” for a little while. You may want to leave your phone at your desk to resist the temptation to check for emails, text messages, social media and the like. Enjoy your food instead and take a break.

Exercise. Whatever you enjoy doing, the operative word here is enjoy, do it. No excuses. Go to the gym, go for a walk, work in your yard, dance, practice yoga, whatever rocks your boat. I love my Taekwondo classes and Yoga. There is no better way for me to clear my head or work out any frustration (pun intended). Especially when I’m struggling with a difficult problem stepping away from it, doing something totally unrelated, gets my creative juices flowing. Have you ever had a conversation with someone and in the middle of that conversation, for no reason whatsoever, an idea strikes you that’s unrelated to the conversation but the solution to a problem you’ve struggled with? Has that ever happened to you?

Even if you can’t take or afford a vacation, there are so many things you can do without spending a lot of money that provide a change of scenery or a new experience that’ll help you recharge, feel more energized, and get your creative juices flowing. Your work and business will thank you for it.

Let’s take a break here. I thoroughly underestimated how much I would write about “knowing your goals and planning” and “taking a break.” I’ll move “building good work habits” to my next blog. I hope you don’t mind.

If you have any experience or suggestions to the above, please share it. I’d love to learn more and I’m sure others appreciate a reminder, a suggestion or word of wisdom as well.

See you in two weeks,
Regine

Make Working from Home Work for You – Part 1

Last year I wrote a blog about working from home. I described a couple of situations that may arise testing your productivity and ultimately your success. Since then I dug a bit deeper, did some research, and had more conversations with people who have first-hand experience on the work-from-home front. I learned about their set up, their tools, what kind of problems they deal with, how they avoid distractions, how they stay motivated, and what they learned along the way to stay productive and, yes, happy as well.  

Since there is quite a lot to cover, I decided to split this topic into two parts. Part 1 will focus on:

  • The importance of your workspace and work environment
  • How to combat loneliness while working from home
  • What tools and/or technologies support you

And part 2 will focus on:

  • Knowing your goals and planning your days
  • Taking breaks is important but easily forgotten
  • Building your own good work habits

Of course, it very much depends on your personality and your type of work, what problems or challenges you may face. So, let’s have a look and talk about ways to deal with them. The following suggestions may not be the (ideal) solution for you, but I hope they’ll inspire you to try and test them, experiment with your own ideas so that you’ll find out what works best for you.

My home office

1. The importance of your workspace and work environment

For some it is a no-brainer, for others it may be a revelation, that your workspace and work environment should support you, inspire you, and make you want to spend time there. It should be designed for the work you want and/or need to do and be free of interruptions and distractions. It should allow you to concentrate, be free of distractions and have undisturbed video conferences, phone calls, or whatever you need to do on a regular basis. Everything should be right at hand so that you can focus on your work instead of tools, technology, materials etc.

You don’t want to go chasing for a quiet space or a stable internet connection shortly before an important video call. This would be stressful and may have a negative impact on the conversation you’re going to have.

Loneliness working from home

2. How to combat loneliness while working from home

As much as you may love not having to commute, at times you may feel very lonely working from home. There is nobody to chat with, go to lunch with, bounce an idea off, have a cup of coffee with when you are stuck, or ask about a movie or a game.

The typical recommendation to this problem is a coworking space. Yep, that may be one solution if you find the right coworking space. Right in terms of location, right in terms of people, and right in terms of how much it cost. But there are other options.

Another very common suggestion is the café. However, this comes with a caveat. Usually cafés are noisy places with lots of distractions. If you can’t block out the noise and distraction you won’t be very productive (noise-cancelling headphones come to mind). You also may fight over the few power outlets or feel guilty because you sit there for several hours and only consume a café latte. In short, you trade one evil for another. If you happen to know a nice, quiet café ignore what I have just said.   

Moving to the next option. One article I read suggested to start a Meet-up group and arrange coworking days once or twice a week at a convenient location. I haven’t tried it, but it sounds like an idea worth pursuing. The issue here could be finding a suitable location especially if we are talking about a group.

This brought the idea to my mind that you could ask other home workers if they would like to “co-work” once or twice a week. Two or three people are much easier to accommodate in a café. If you have found the right people for your co-working day(s) you may even invite them to your home if you have enough room.

Have you considered checking out your local library? It’s a quiet place, distractions are at a minimum, and libraries have desks or tables to work at. Could that be an alternative to working at home?

If you have any other ideas, please share them so that other “home workers” can benefit from them.

3. What tools and/or technologies support you

Tools and/or technology are also a big part of supporting you when working from home and connecting with the world. It is no secret that there are a myriad of tools, apps, and programs out there with the intention of making your life and work easier, faster and more productive. And that is why a word of caution may be in order. Don’t fall into the trap of having to try each and every one. Before you make a decision, if that decision is up to you, take some time to gain a clear picture of what kind of tool is really useful for your particular situation. Don’t be afraid to ask others about their experience and why they chose one app, program or tool over another. If you have narrowed down the options, do your own research, look at You Tube demos and check out trial versions if available. Then, make your decision. It may take a bit of time to find the perfect solution, but it will pay off in the long term.

As a simple example, some people love an electronic calendar that synchronizes with their phone, others still prefer a paper version. If you have a choice, pick the one that you feel most comfortable with and that’s easy to use. Just because something looks nice, is new and fancy doesn’t mean it’s meant for you. I’ll come back to the calendar in part 2 of my blog. It’s a simple but also important tool when it comes to your planning.

After this short detour, let’s get a little more specific. I do believe it’s a no-brainer to have a reliable phone and computer. Remember, it’s your work that’s on the computer and you don’t want to lose any of it just because it dies at a critical moment.  

A stable internet connection is also mandatory, especially if you make video calls.

Since we are talking about video communication… It’s one of the most recommended services and tools for “home workers”. I don’t know anyone who is working from home who doesn’t use a video communication tooI/service. It doesn’t replace face-to-face meetings, but it certainly makes working together much easier. You can have team meetings, client meetings, share your screen, record conversations, give presentations, or simply reach out and have a chat with someone to keep in touch with. Especially if you’re working in a team that’s scattered all over the country video communication is always mentioned as being a vital tool. Team members feel more connected and build stronger relationships which usually translate into better cooperation and work results. I couldn’t agree more.

There are a couple of video communication tools/services that I used over the years. I’m now mostly working with Zoom because it is well known, has a calendar add-in for scheduling purposes, has a recording option, is easy to use, and it works. Other tools/services are Skype, WhatsApp, JoinMe, Telegram, Duo, Facetime, to mention just a few. Depending on your needs, pick the one that works for you.

How do you keep track of your action items and projects? Do you know when you should reach out to a client or customer and follow up on a proposal? Are you part of a team that needs to stay informed and on the same page or are you a solopreneur and keep all threads in your own hands? Like with video communication there are many tools to choose from. Some are more designed for one-person use and others are designed for teams.

Most of the time I keep control over my action items and use a simple task manager such as Microsoft To Do, Wunderlist, Things, Todoist. They are intuitive and simple to use, exactly what I like about them. I have them on my phone and on my desktop, which allows me to add action items whenever I need to. No lost notes anymore, everything is in one place and always accessible.

If you prefer a paper version you could use the Bullet Journal method, Filofax, or any of the systems available in office supply stores or online. The market for analog productivity tools has exploded over the last couple of years and offers a huge variety. Every single one claims it will help you get better organized and keep track of your work and tasks. It sounds a little bit like a miracle cure. Keep in mind that it’s still up to you to use it and make it work aka keep it easy and simple.

If you are part of a team determine what exactly you would like a cooperation management tool or project management tool to do for you and your team. This is not my strong suit and I only know a few such as Trello, Asana, Basecamp and ZOHO. But if I had to decide which one to use, I would ask around, watch online demos, and test-run the ones that fulfil my requirements and are easy to use.

I know I said it many times, but ease of use is always the highest priority for me. I want all the tools, programs and apps I use to support me and make my life easier – not the contrary.

If you have found a system, tool or app that works for you, keep it. There is truth in saying never change a running system. Except if you absolutely have to.

Having said that, change is the most reliable constant in life. Your work or work environment may change. That’s a great moment to check in with your habits (more about habits in part 2 as well), tools and systems. Do they still serve you or is it time to have a closer look and make some changes?

That’s it for today. If you have any wisdom to share, please do so. I’ll continue with part 2 of “Make Working from Home Work for You” in two weeks. Until then,

Regine

Accomplishing Silence – Happy New Year

As mentioned in my last post of 2019 I took a couple of days off to reflect on and review the last year. By doing so I came across a downloaded blog from Rob Hatch about silence. To be honest, I don’t remember who Rob Hatch is and where I downloaded the blog from but I found it in my folder of “things to remember” and thought it is the perfect practice to welcome a new year. It may feel counterproductive at first, but the results I’ve had prove that the opposite is actually true.

With this short introduction and before I hand over to Rob Hatch…

And with no further ado, here are Rob’s thoughts on silence:

“Last week I found myself with a block of “waiting room” time. It was the type of waiting that required you to be nearby for an undetermined duration, just in case. And it might last an hour…or three.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not terribly patient in these situations. I prefer a little definition to my day.

Of course, I immediately began thinking about ways to make use of every minute. What could I accomplish with all this time? After all, I wouldn’t want it to go to waste.

My list grew quickly as I contemplated running a few errands nearby, squeezing everything I could out of the moment. And then I just stopped, let all of it go, and took some of the time to enjoy the silence.

Silence and stillness are not unproductive

That’s the way we tend to view silence. We’re often uncomfortable with it. Try spending 20 minutes in your car with the radio off. Better yet, count how many times you reach for the knob. Try leaving your phone in your pocket while you stand in line at the store. Or just try waiting, in silence, for anything for more than 15 minutes.

We are always looking for distractions to fill the silence. So we pull out our phones and check…something. I do it all the time. I’ve even advocated using these moments to be more productive by replying to a few emails for example. But sometimes silence is an accomplishment.

The fact is, our brains need this time. We need moments where our minds wander and our focus gets a bit fuzzy. That’s where connections are made and ideas emerge, in the quiet spaces in between. And they come when we stop looking for every distraction available to us to fill a void.

Just Do What?

My good friend Sheri’s favorite phrase is, “Don’t just do something. Stand there.”

The key to the phrase is that we are always looking to ‘just do something’. Nike’s famous tagline, “Just Do It”, isn’t particularly helpful if we get stuck on ‘Just Do’ when we aren’t terribly clear about what ‘It’ is. And that’s where silence comes in because when we stop doing, even for a few moments, “it” tends to reveal itself.

Maybe your silence is prayer or meditation. Maybe you just focus on your breathing. Maybe you stare in wonder at a spider web or the night sky in late summer. The goal is to stop. The goal is to sit and wait in silence.

When we’re constantly told to hustle to be successful, it can be hard to allow for those moments. But I promise you they are as important as anything on your To-Do list.

My waiting room silence didn’t last the entire time. It didn’t need to. But the time I did spend, felt good. It cleared my mind and eventually I eased back into a few simple things. I emerged less harried and grateful for those moments.”

I’d like to repeat my invitation and ask you to find the time for silence in your day in the hopes that you will feel calmer, more focused and more purposeful in your actions. You don’t need a fancy practice. Allow yourself to do nothing for a little bit. Close your eyes if you find this helpful and “listen” to what happens. You may be surprised and grateful because thoughts and ideas have emerged that otherwise wouldn’t have found their way to you.

Regine

Photo by Anna-Louise from Pexels

End of Year Reflection

Journal with notes

To say it up front, this will be my last blog for this year. I’ll take a break over Christmas and the New Year and will return in January 2020.

I’ll take a break to take the time to look back at what has happened the past 12 months. I like to look at my achievements, what I’m proud of, what I’m grateful for, what made me happy or sad, what I’ve learned and what I’d like to focus on for the next 12 months.

Everyone who knows me knows that I keep a journal. It’s part of my daily routine. Before I get to work, I take a couple of minutes to write. It sets the tone for my day and reminds me of what’s important. I decide about one major task I’ll work on and check what other tasks are on my list. At the end of the day I frequently add what I call “Insights & Actions” especially if I haven’t done what I had planned to do. I take a moment and write down why I didn’t do it and what I will do about it.

I take these notes from the past year and go through them. Some pages I fly over, but some I read thoroughly. The pages I spend more time on are the ones holding the information about what I’ve learned, what I’d like to eliminate from my life or what I’d like to focus on the next year. They work like a compass guiding me on my business and life journey.

To give it some structure I use questions that I find relevant and that help me make decisions for the next 12 months. When I first started doing my yearly review, it was quite chaotic. Over time, I came across many different ways on how one can do this reflection exercise and picked the questions and ideas that I found most useful for myself.

Step 1

I created some focus areas that are relevant in my life:
* Business
* Development
* Family/Friends
* Finances
* Health
* Personal
These categories are not in order of importance and not comprehensive. It’s my personal list and may differ from yours.

Step 2

I take stock of what has happened the past year in these focus areas. What have I done/accomplished? Did I give it the attention and focus it needed (if not, why not)?  How did it go? Did my effort lead to the desired outcome? What have I learned (I use the answer to this question to adjust the course or make necessary changes)? And last but not least, why it is/was important to me?

Even if my effort or work didn’t lead to the desired outcome or result, I take it as an opportunity to learn something about myself, my business, or my approach….

Step 3

After I have finished Step 2, I have a pretty good idea about what has worked for me and what hasn’t. Marie Forleo writes: “If you know the things that have made the biggest difference in the quality of your life, you’ll be able to make wiser decisions as you plan the next ten years.”  (1)

And that’s exactly what I do. I use these insights to determine what I’d like to keep, what I’d like to change, what I’d like to add or what I’d like to eliminate in my business and/or life and write it down.

Adding the “why” helps me stick with my decision(s) or, if necessary, put them to the test. I’m likely to change, circumstances are very likely to change. Unexpected opportunities may present themselves. This exercise is my guide that helps me determine if what I’m about to do is aligned with my goals and values. In other words, is it really worth making adjustments and embracing an opportunity or is it just a “shiny object” that will lose its luster?

That’s it. That’s my way of reflecting on the past year and using what I’ve learned to apply it and set my goals for the coming year.

Give it a try and learn more about yourself and your business. If you have a hard time getting started, call me and we’ll work through it together. Besides learning a lot about yourself and gaining clarity, it’s a fun exercise and absolutely worth your time.

Let me know how it went.

Candles with Holiday Ornaments and wishes for a Merry Christmas

Regine

(1) (Marie Forleo: https://www.marieforleo.com/2019/12/decade-in-review-10-year-plan/?uid=47c2579a2c95b74b9c792a63fc6f9656#part-2/)

Darn, why did I say yes…

 

Yes-No w Person 3100993

Do you know this feeling? A friend, family member or colleague asks you for a favor or help and without even thinking about it you say yes. Five minutes later you get an unsettling feeling in your stomach and you regret it.

Truth be told, you have enough on your plate as it is, right? Who doesn’t? We all have obligations and commitments at work, with our families and with our friends that more than fill our waking time. So why do we add more and more?

Yes, we want to be a good friend. We like to be helpful. We can’t let our family down. Therefore, we give up the time that we so desperately need to recharge our own battery, sleep a couple of hours more, or work on something that is important to us or our business. As a result, we feel stressed and overwhelmed – we over-committed. We oblige to do more than we are capable of (Oxford Dictionary, paraphrased).

In an article of Psychology Today over-committing is described as the “consequence of poor limit setting”. It particularly mentions women who “…are socialized to be helpful, accommodating, and polite in groups. If they can help out, they are taught that they should, even if it pulls them away from something they’re already doing or something they really wanted to do.” If they don’t, they are considered heartless and selfish.

Let’s turn that around for a second. What would change if we looked at it as an investment? I got this idea from a Harvard Business Review article that mentioned a book titled “How to Invest Your Time Like Money”. I thought this is a fabulous title because time, like money, is a precious commodity.

With this in mind, how can you avoid over-committing yourself?

I found the best way is to train yourself to take a moment and engage your brain before saying yes. Don’t be offended, but that is exactly what we don’t do. Most of the time internalized patterns rule our response. Engaging the brain sounds simple, doesn’t it? But the devil lies in the detail, because as we all know, old habits die hard.

I made it a rule to defer my answer to a later time, especially when it is a bigger time commitment. It is easy to say, “I’ll get back to you later, I have to check my calendar or with my spouse, children […]”, fill in the blank. It’ll break your ‘yes-pattern’ and allows you to ask some simple questions to help you make the right choice.

  1. Is this really one of my priorities?
  2. If I say yes to this commitment, what do I have to kick off my list? What do I have to give up for it? (I wrote a blog about this late last year.)
  3. Will it be a “hell yes” or at least a resounding yes?
  4. Do I have the time and energy to do it?

If you find out that it is not what you should say ‘yes’ to, there is always a gracious way to say no. Or you may be able offer a different solution?

Now you may come back and say, hold on for a sec. If a friend is in need or a family member needs a hand I can’t say no. I absolutely agree, there are situations when you feel obliged to help, no matter what. But, be honest with yourself, that is only a fraction of the many times you are asked, right?

Remember: “When you give a knee-jerk ‘yes’, all the time you’re valuing the time and happiness of others over your own. Ultimately, it’s the recipe for resentment, exhaustion, and burnout.” (paraphrased: Dr. Frank Lipman, Be Well Blog) And that doesn’t help anybody, least of all you.

Take good care of yourself and say ‘no’ more often.