by Kathleen O’Beirne
The British essayist G. K. Chesterton once said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing badly.” I sometimes wonder if Chesterton wasn’t perhaps an extrovert, because this is exactly the kind of thinking that lands me in too many activities.
I don’t know if over-scheduling is necessarily a problem unique to the extrovert, but I often blame my tendency to put too much on my plate on my extroverted, sanguine side. Sanguines traditionally get pegged as both sociable and impulsive — and that, my friends, is a recipe for one crazy calendar and one burnt-out mama.
This fall, I began working part-time as a teacher for the first time in seven years. I also found myself trying to homeschool one child, send the other kids to two different schools, advise students at yet another school, host a monthly book club, take a class on the weekends, volunteer at church, and keep some semblance of order in my house. New moms needed meals, my kids needed rides to music lessons and birthday parties, library books needed returning, and bills needed paying.
By the first week of September, my head was spinning. I can’t remember whether it was the third Back to School Night or the sweltering heat from the 500 hotdogs I volunteered to grill at the parish picnic, but somewhere in the chaos I had a come-to-Jesus moment: I realized I had ignored all the things I normally consider before taking on a new obligation. As a result, I felt like one of those sheets of phyllo dough — you know, the ones stretched so thin they might break at any moment.
I don’t know if you’ve ever found yourself smacking your forehead because you just hastily agreed to host one of those Stella and Dot parties during the first week of school while your spouse is out of town (I wish I were making up this example), but I thought I’d share my hard-learned lessons just in case:
Embrace the power of “maybe.” Often I say yes when asked to make a commitment in order to avoid saying that uncomfortable word “no.” When I tell someone “maybe” or “let me think about it,” I give myself time to consider the matter fully and avoid rash decisions.
For every new obligation, there must be either a delegation or an elimination. New commitments will always eat into the time and energy given to other activities, and as the old adage goes, “Something’s gotta give.” When I take on a new task, I try to either remove another commitment or delegate it to other family members or outside resources. When I went to work part-time, I knew the bathrooms would turn into Petri dishes for new and interesting types of bacteria if I didn’t rework our current cleaning system. I decided to budget for a cleaning service twice a month and put my kids to work in between those beloved visits from the cleaning fairies. On another front, my daughter wanted to try piano this year, so we dropped soccer. Making cuts can be brutal but freeing!
Drop the junk. Sometimes I really want to take on a new and noble cause or some fun activity, but I feel too overloaded. I find it helpful to look at my day and make sure I’m giving my time to things I find truly enjoyable or necessary. Is Facebook and blog reading (except SlowMama, of course) keeping me from opening a new Etsy business or meeting my neighbor down the street? Whenever I take an honest look at my how I spend my day, I’m always amazed at the random time-sucks that routinely clog my schedule.
Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. I know there are many worthwhile ways to spend my time, but I try to remind myself that I cannot do it all.
What do you do to streamline an ever-expanding schedule?
Image: Kathleen O’Beirne. Kathleen is a wife, mother, teacher, and extrovert writing from Arlington, VA.