The ding on her cell phone startled her. Puzzled, Beth wondered why she was getting a reminder. Reading the short text, her heart sank. She’d completely forgotten about the meeting. She’d agreed to help Kathy weeks ago but only because she felt guilty. Beth didn’t really want to go to the meeting, let alone stay and help Kathy clean up. This was going to put her seriously behind. Tonight was the night she was supposed to catch up on all the things she hadn’t done over the weekend, like laundry and buying that baby gift.
One small ding and Beth felt close to tears. There was too much going on, too much she had to do. She never caught a break, never got caught up. Beth prided herself on being the go-to person, someone people could rely on, which is why so many people asked her to do things. Didn’t they understand how much pressure she was under? Now all she wanted to do was run and hide. Lately, she wasn’t motivated to do anything, which is why last weekend came and went without the laundry getting done and the baby gift is purchased.
Beth had thought she would have time tonight to find some breathing room. Now the time had run out—all because of this stupid meeting. She resented losing her evening and resented Kathy for having pressured her into saying yes in the first place. Checking the time, Beth started planning how to get out of the crisis. Forget the laundry; she’d make do.
Tomorrow was the baby shower and Beth had desperately wanted to find the perfect gift. Well, so much for the perfect gift; that would take the time she didn’t have. If she shopped through lunch, maybe, just maybe, she could find something acceptable to pop in a gift bag. Janice would just have to be happy with whatever she got; after all, it was a gift. Beth figured she’d put a gift receipt in the bag and if Janice didn’t like the gift, she could just take her own time to go back to the store and get something better.
Time always seemed to be running out and Beth always seemed to be running after it. When she wondered, was she ever going to get caught up?
Stress is not the ideal environment to make the best decisions. Stress skews your priorities and downsizes goals. Desperate, you make short-term decisions that have long-term consequences. Pressure starts to poison even the best of intentions. However, knowing what your priorities are and the goals you want to work to achieve allows you to take control of your time.
A stress-filled life can cause us to careen from activity to activity or distraction to distraction with little time to stop and think about what we are doing. We are so consumed with the what in our lives that we fail to recognize the why. Take time to stop and consider all of the whats in your life—what you are doing on a regular basis.
On a piece of paper, make two columns. On the left column, write down all the what’s. Next, assign each what a why, and write the why in the right column. Then, consider how your life would be if you stopped doing that. As much as possible, be truthful and realistic about those consequences.
I hope that through this exercise, you can begin to identify the truly important and necessary things in your life and begin to make choices about what to continue, what to modify (or ask for help accomplishing), and what to end.
I encourage you to recognize how much control you have over your choices. Stress has a way of creating its own urgency through manufactured crises. Once you take back control of the priorities in your life, you can begin to reduce your stress level.
Without the false urgency of stress, you’ll be able to evaluate when to say yes and when to say no. When each yes or no is in line with the truly important, you’ll feel better about and energized by your choices. Life will become less about what you have to do and more about what you want to do.
When you are actively engaged in doing the things that give you purpose and meaning, your life has moments of joy. Saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things becomes easier. Filled with these moments, stress has less room to maneuver in your life.