Have you ever been overwhelmed by everything and everyone’s demands or poor time-management? Well, this post is for you. As usual, I give actionable items; however, they will only make much sense if you read the full post. Here is a summary:
Between 2018 and 2019, the first paragraph was me most of the time. Then, I was schooling full time, working part-time, volunteering at more than five organizations, and running an organization remotely. Between everything was the home and family responsibilities that were not an option.
Looking back now, I think the most frustrating part was the realistic but unpractical pieces of advice that people would offer when they see the lines and bags underneath my eyes or the raging acne on my face, a karma of my stress. They’ll say, “Relax, take the day off…” that kind of thing. Then, and to me, relaxing had consequences. Sometimes, it felt like if I took a second to catch my breath, something on my schedule was not being done and will pile up for another day.
I have been the “sleeping on my commute” type of tired. Miraculously, I never slept past my bus or train stop. Sleep was a luxury item during my transit hours if I found a seat, especially because after work at 5 pm, I would take a 1hr commute to school because my classes were 6 pm - 9 pm. After my class ended, it was another 1hr 30 minutes commute back home.
I still remember the day I came home so exhausted, and after locking the door, I just laid on the nearest sofa with my backpack still strapped on, my winter boots, jacket, cap, and scarf still on, everything intact. I was a train-wreck that night, and you would have thought I was drunk.
When I finally decided to seek help, I knew whatever advice I was receiving had to come from someone who knew me wholly. Not just someone who only knew my academic responsibilities because that’s the only part of me they see or my job. The only person I was sure who knew me wholly was my older sister, Ife.
To help resolve this issue, the first task Ife assigned to me was to write down every activity I was doing in this format.
I remember doing this task and ending up with over 4 pages in a word document, single-spaced, and a narrow margin. When I wrote it all out, it broke my spirit. I cried because I didn’t realize I was doing so much until I saw it on paper. I thought to myself, “No wonder I am exhausted.”
The next assignment was to rearrange that list in order of priority, putting the most important ones at the top, then the least important ones I could quit at the bottom; especially where I wasn’t getting paid or benefiting anything from the relationship or service, whether physical or intrinsically. When I looked at each task, I asked myself questions like,
After prioritizing my responsibilities, I drafted a formal message of withdrawal and resignation to the supervisors and organizations of the least important responsibilities where I was dedicating my time – even if it was just a couple of hours per week. The goal was to cut about a quarter of the responsibilities off that list.
Here is a sample message I had but tweaked per the situation:
Good day (insert name),
I hope this message finds you well.
I would like to discuss rescinding my responsibilities as a (insert role) with (insert organization). I am currently overwhelmed with the multiple responsibilities I am juggling, and it is making me ineffective at my work with (insert company’s name). I appreciate the experience of working with you for over (insert number of years or months). I apologize for any inconveniences this will cause. I am happy to use this coming week to complete any ongoing projects and help transition my responsibilities to someone else if needed.
Thanks for your understanding and I look forward to your response. I am available to discuss this issue in person or on the phone if needed.
When I quit the smaller, least urgent, relevant, and unfulfilling responsibilities, the next task was to update the new under-burdened identity visually. I updated my social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, because I needed a visual representation of who I was aiming to become, which could remind me of a significant positive change in my life. I also updated my resume and my Instagram account.
Dealing with the past and current situation was one thing; dealing with my future or anticipated demands was another. Without a doubt, I had a chaotic to-do list. My next task was cutting down the to-do list to a maximum of 5 items per day. To cut down my to-do list:
Recently, I cut down the items on my to-do list to 2 per day when I plan with 4 as a maximum and in case of emergencies or procrastination. I feel more positive about my day when my to-do list doesn’t reflect a sense of being overwhelmed.
As simple as they were, these steps changed my life drastically; or at least for that moment, gave me the relief and strength I needed to move on for the next couple of months. The other essential ongoing action item I did was to establish boundaries around my tasks and projects.
Often, when we think of establishing boundaries, we only think of things that protect us from other people infiltrating our space, values, or choices. I soon realized how my goody-two-shoes and people-pleasing personality was my enemy. I observed how I was that person always offering myself up before people even asked. Now, I had to stop that. I decided to stop offering myself up, except if it was a dire situation that needed me without any alternative present. To relive myself of guilt every time I said no to people, I would ask the following questions:
Additionally, when people asked me for something, I began to realize that the main question wasn’t if I could do it or not. The real question was, “does the time I have, allow me to meet this request at the time and the way the other person wants?” If the answer is no, especially after checking my to-do list for the upcoming 2 to 3 weeks, then I would decline the request or the offer.
Still on the topic of relationships, there was the flip side where I had to re-evaluate the kind of people I associated myself with and how they aligned with the time-led identity I was evolving into. I realized several things. The first was, “anyone that I am too afraid to say no to is the kind of person I shouldn’t be saying yes to.” I affirmed that anyone who saw my boundaries and practices of mindful timeliness or time-management as a threat to them rather than a reason to celebrate me is one I didn’t want to serve with my time. I stopped deferring people when they asked for something, and I wanted to say no. Before this new culture, when someone asked something and I honestly didn’t want to do it but was too afraid or ashamed to say no, I’ll say, “Let me get back to you,” and stall until the situation or request was no longer relevant. I started practicing saying no upfront. I even drafted a “boundary message” and saved it on my phone so that if at any moment, I was struggling to say no, I could just copy and paste the message to the person.
Here is my boundary message:
"Hello, thank you for reaching out to me. I apologize, I can’t attend to your demands at the moment because I am very occupied with plans that I have for myself. Please consider reaching out to someone else to assist you with this, or you can reach out to me again in a week or two. If my circumstances change and I am available to assist you then, I will inform you.
Then, you can follow up later with them, saying, “I hope that you were able to get the problem solved.”
Sometimes, the message would need tweaking, but having it ready, made me confident in responding to the person or request immediately.
These steps improved the quality of my lifestyle and proved even more beneficial after graduating from college, getting a full-time job I could focus my attention on, and leaving behind some family responsibilities. My relationships with people have evolved since then; however, it hasn’t always been a good evolution. I had to let go of certain relationships because I was unwilling to either over-explain myself to anyone determined to not-understand or misunderstand my new priorities and self. I was also willing to let go of certain relationships that belittled my faithfulness to myself in this experience. As I let go, I discovered and connected more with people whose time priorities, values, and boundaries aligned with mine.
As a person who makes careful thought about time-related decisions, I have helped the people I am still in relationships with to understand my priorities. They are aligned with my new values and understand that if they ask for something and I say no or that I can’t do it, my response is not out of spite or vengeance. They understand that if they send me a message and I don’t immediately respond, or I tell them I’ll come back to reply, it isn’t disrespect to their own time either; maybe I just need a little more time to think about it. Or perhaps, my current emotional capacity can’t allow me to respond well to them at the moment.
The last part of a value and culture that I have kept and reciprocated in my relationships is the understanding that people grow. I am growing and so are the people around me. I began to realize that I was most successful in relationships whereby the people understood that as times and seasons change, I will transform and adjust for my new expectations, experiences, or time-bound demands. I failed in relationships where people expected that who I was to them in any order or capacity for years or months is who I have to forever be to them. Or who I have always been to them is who I’ll always have the capacity to be for them, or even myself. I was willing to let such relationships go and forgivingly.
The final and most crucial part of this transformation was reciprocity. I learned that I had to support people in their time-bound and relative decisions the same way I wanted to be supported. I stopped being angry if someone told me no, they couldn’t do something I asked. If someone took a little longer than I expected to respond to me, I shut down the part of my mind that wants to cook up scenarios. I practiced patience and communication. I started to cheer for people to prioritize themselves. Even if I became upset and if indeed, they did something unfair, I became curious to see their perspective of the situation, quicker to understand, forgive, and move on. I gave them chances because I didn’t get this lifestyle right the first several times I tried. Gifting others what had blessed me was my most significant sign and the manifestation of being a better person in managing my time.