When I set out to write this post, I intended to call it, "Why You Should Say 'No' to Tasks and 'Yes' to Relationships." Although this message came directly from someone who all but lost her sanity and health while pouring herself wholeheartedly into tangible products rather than relationships, as I've started to shift gears, I realize you should never feel pressured to choose between the two. In fact, if anyone is asking you to do so, you should run. Run fast.
Like anything else, tasks and relationships are not an all-or-none scenario. Just like it wasn't working for me to sit in front of the computer for hours upon hours each day doing task after task in warp speed, you can't throw everything on your to do list to the wind either. I've learned that with both tasks and relationships, it comes down to realizing it's about saying no to the good things, so you can say yes to the best things, just as much as it is about striking a balance between the two. While my own balancing act remains a work in progress, here are 10 important steps I've deemed vital in the process of choosing and attempting to balance both tasks and relationships in this fast-paced, deadline-driven world.
1. Decide What is a 'Yes,' and What is a 'No'
The truth is, even if you can do it all, you cannot do it all at once. I am certainly guilty of getting excited about opportunities that come my way, only to grow immediately overwhelmed by the stress that it takes to bring each one to life. Every time a new anything pops up, I've started asking myself, "Is it a good thing for me, or is it the best thing for me?"
The more you say yes to tasks or relationships that simply sound good, without considering if each one is the best thing for you at the present time, the more directions you allow yourself to be pulled, the less your boundaries hold up, and the more you, and anything you have at hand, suffer. In turn, you deprive yourself of the necessary amounts of time and energy to properly handle any task or relationship fully, much less all of them.
2. Define an Emergency Versus an Urgency
You might have heard the phrase, "Your urgency is not my emergency." It's one I happen to think highly of. Unfortunately, in the same breath I've heard individuals utter this phrase with confidence, I have witnessed them barking orders at their supporting staff like a building was burning down. Yes, some deadlines are carved in stone, or at least hardwood, and perhaps your livelihood depends on them. However, I can bet, with a reasonable level of assurance, not everything you have on your plate right this minute constitutes an emergency, or even an urgency.
Personally, I like the idea of creating three lists: one for true emergencies; one for urgencies; and one for everything else. You will be surprised how quickly the third list fills up.
3. Determine What Can Afford to Wait
Speaking of everything else. Guess what? Most things on your everything else list can wait until you can breathe easily enough to take them on, one by one. Imagine that. While I am someone who tries with her might to meet deadlines, as mentioned above, not everything warrants a state of emergency, or is even as urgent as it seems.
Just because you would love to get something done on your day off, doesn't mean you should push to do so and compromise other parts of your existence. Instead, why not choose this time to do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with tasks? Perhaps something that has to do with you, or your family, or friends. Maybe even a creative project that you are assigning to yourself.
4. Designate Uninterrupted Task Time
When it comes time to "get things done," whatever these tasks may look like, carving out time to do so and making a list of enough, but not too many, items to accomplish in a given period of time will help you get the job done. This uninterrupted task time may very well demand you not open your emails until this time period is over.
This goes back to the idea of what constitutes someone else's urgency versus what should or should not become your emergency. Getting wind of someone's urgency, or simply getting brought into a back and forth dialogue that is time consuming, may immediately derail your focus, and result in a less than productive task time.
5. Accept There Will Always Be Interruptions
Once you've designated uninterrupted task time only to be interrupted minutes later, you must learn to accept these interruptions. This is probably the one I struggle with most. If I have it in my head that I am going to wake up, sip some coffee, and take time to get my creative thoughts on paper, it never fails that something else diverts my attention.
While some days may demand you take the interruption in stride and get back to your tasks promptly, others may be begging you to give yourself a break. If the phone rings and it's someone asking you to grab a cup of coffee, although your first inclination may be to get bogged down thinking of everything on your list, assuming the coffee shop isn't miles away, consider some brain recharging and rejuvenation time. Your tasks will be there when you get home, and the added coffee just might give you the boost you were looking for.
6. Change Your Relationship With Tasks
When a task can be seen as an opportunity, rather than a burden, it suddenly becomes much more invigorating. The second your work or otherwise seems like a chore rather than something that holds meaning or value to you, things start to take a turn downward. That story you have to report on that isn't a subject you find especially captivating, and feels like pulling teeth? Think of it as a chance to learn something new.
That budget report that is looming? Consider it a chance to dust off your math brain and understand the benefit it is serving your organization. Ultimately, if you can create meaning in your task land, you will begin to see your tasks take on an entirely new light.
7. Carve Out Time for Relationship Building
I used to be someone who was an avid road-tripper. And now, since I manage my own work schedule, after weighing my workload, funds, and feasibility, I have reintroduced these road trips into my life, and am allowing myself to take breathers that involve going to visit friends in various parts of the country. Yes, it takes what I like to refer to as some serious "task-busting" leading up to time, but the freedom that comes when you arrive at your destination and are disconnected from tasks, and connecting with scenery and faces instead of screens, makes it worth the intense time of busting.
Of course, you don't have to go across the country to do this. This relationship building time can be as simple as catching up with a friend on your home turf. The important thing is to allow yourself the time to turn your task brain off, and enjoy the present moment in your surroundings. Still, keep in mind, this time can quickly get as overwhelming as the tasks if you start saying yes to all invites. Use the same principles from number one to help you determine what warrants a "yes," opposed to a "no," when it comes to social time.
8. Be Selfish With Your 'You Time'
For some, the idea of 'you time' may look a lot like an adventurous day spent exploring new territories alone. For others, it may be spending a day or two strictly focused on a creative project you've been putting on the back-burner. It is great to get outside of yourself and do something for and with others, and spend time fostering community, but if you are someone who demands ample alone time and suddenly find yourself not getting it, you are not going to be of good use to a community of people if you can't even be of use to yourself.
Likewise, if you have set aside time for yourself and someone asks you for something, unless it is an urgency or emergency, stay focused on your own plan. It takes a healthy amount of selfishness to bring any dream, or major goal to fruition. Don't let even a seemingly irresistible offer tempt you to change your tune, no matter how much money is on the table.
9. Stop Falling for Guilt Trips
As someone who at one point in time avoided letting others down at all costs, it's no surprise I have spent years allowing myself to feel guilty when I say no to things. It's hard to not feel bad when you turn down partaking in someone's event because of opting to stay home to work on your blog, or put off lending your writing services to a friend because you've already taken on more than you can possibly handle in a give time period.
But at some point, I had to stop feeling bad, and so do you. Feeling bad wasn't helping others, and it certainly wasn't helping myself. In short, don't fall for guilt trips that anyone else places on you, and especially don't fall for the ones you try and pull on yourself. While it may seem callous, or otherwise cold, it's simply life, and a matter of preserving your well-being.
10. Go With the Ebb and Flow
Some days, weeks and months will be filled with everything, all at once, in both your professional and personal life. Any point in time I find myself facing the tough stuff professionally, the personal life goes haywire. Then other months, there's nothing at all. Nada. No hurries, and certainly far less worries. The sooner we can learn to find balance when we are amid a season of nothing, the easier it becomes to transfer this idea of balance to handle both tasks and relationships during a season of everything, especially when all hell breaks loose.
Of course, we aren't superhumans and there will always be times that life seems to be speeding faster than we can keep up. Just remember, pace yourself. The second you start looking at your list of tasks, or the invites and requests from work, family or friends piling up on the table and begin to feel cold sweats, take a deep breath, revisit this list, and remember you can do it all, but it doesn't have to be all at once, and it certainly never has to be all or none.