I have been having this conversation a lot lately. That usually means life is trying to tell me something.
In the past few weeks I've talked with several friends who are struggling to get through their to-do list. Regularly. To the point where they are feeling tired and overextended and sort of missing out on enjoying life because they are so busy going going going. And it's not that any one thing on the list is unmanageable, or that everything on the list is necessary. It's more of a failure to prioritize the important stuff, and a need to get comfortable with saying no. It happens to the best of us. Me too.
I call this the SHOULD disease. Sometimes it's putting pressure on yourself to write x blog posts each week. Sometimes it's saying yes to three different toddler birthday parties in one two-day weekend. Sometimes it's letting a friend/relative/whomever guilt trip you into doing something you'd rather not do. It comes in many forms, but essentially it is letting your calendar get overrun with things you feel you SHOULD do, but don't really need or want to do, and to the exclusion of taking care of yourself.
The solution? Don't should on yourself.
I am no expert, but it seems to me the first order of business is to prioritize one's time. First add to the calendar those things that absolutely NEED to be done: work, doctor's appointments, grocery shopping, etc. Then add some ME time, whatever that means for you. Running, yoga, scrapbooking, journaling, a long phone call with a good friend -- any activity that leaves you feeling revitalized is great ME time. Taking care of yourself is important and right up there with NEEDs. Then block off plenty of quality time for family and sleep and a little extra for the unexpected. Now add a few things that aren't necessities, but that you really WANT to do. Dinner with friends. Birthday parties. Working on a new blog. A weekend trip to the beach. I'm pretty sure the week will be plenty full at this point. But even if it isn't, it's still okay to say no to the SHOULDs that clamor for your attention. You'd be surprised how refreshing it is to say no and to feel the weight of an unwanted obligation flutter right off your shoulders and make room for the good stuff.
It's okay to agree to a SHOULD once in a while when you find yourself with extra time. In the process you might discover a new WANT. The goal simply is to not let SHOULDs take over your calendar to the point where you aren't enjoying life. Real friends will understand if you're too busy to meet for a drink this Thursday. Children will not suffer if they go to one birthday party and not three this weekend. Readers will not abandon you if this month you post twice on your blog, and next month not at all. As you start to say no to SHOULDs and embrace taking care of yourself and your family, life will slow down in a good way. You will be busy only with things you need to do, things that help you take care of yourself, and things you want to do. Which makes a lot of sense, right? Sometimes less is very much more.
So right in the middle of having this epiphany, I realized I needed to say no myself. I had let my calendar get out of hand, and overfull, and I was starting to feel tired, run down, and on the verge of getting sick. I had a 5-day commitment scheduled that weekend, and I felt like I SHOULD go, no matter what. I felt so guilty cancelling. But it was the best decision I could have made. I can't remember the last time I didn't set my alarm, or even slept in. I got the rest I needed to avoid getting sick. I enjoyed dinner with a close friend. I ran every day. I got ahead on my to-do list. I went to my favorite three year old's birthday party. I had a blast helping with party preparations and hanging in the bounce castle with my favorite five-year-old. It was wonderful and refreshing, and much-needed. And best of all - it turned out to be dreadful weather at the event I ditched, so I was even more grateful not to be there. I am so glad I was able to say no to the SHOULD monster. I'm on my way to learning my lesson.
Have a lovely day! And try to remember not to should on yourself.