Imagine this: You are at a meeting with your supervisor and your student. The meeting is to look at the student’s past year of work and make a plan for the next few months. You are the person who is responsible for guiding the student through the next section of their work. You need to be totally present, thinking of all the options and issues that may appear in the future.
The meeting starts at 1030am and you have scheduled a coffee with a friend at 1130am. The meeting should have only taken half an hour but things are difficult to understand and nut out, conversations go around in circles, and any time you try to clarify, another option/issue rears its ugly head. As the clock ticks on, you become more and more distracted, wondering if there is a way to get a message to your friend without looking bad. You cease to concentrate on the job in hand, you are now doing bad work as well as feeling stressed.
Or here’s another example. You pick up your mother each Friday morning at 9am, have a coffee with her and drop her off at her church for her prayer meeting at 1015am. That works well most weeks but this week you have a doctor’s appointment in town at 1030am. Once again, sitting in the cafe with your mother you are constantly checking your watch, the problem is not getting from the church to town, the problem is parking. If it all goes smoothly you’ll be fine, but if there are a lot of people in the multi-storey carpark you’ll be ten minutes late for the appointment and who knows? They may just cancel, assuming you’re not coming. You don’t hear a word your mother says as your brain visualises the car park, the parking meters near the surgery, the road on the way there. You hustle your mother out of the car at the prayer meeting, your stress levels through the roof.
These two situations are situations I have narrowly avoided.
Marcia Ramsland, a professional organiser, suggests strongly that we put margin around our appointments. And I agree with her. In fact, this idea of margin is such a great one that I’ll talk about it more next week.
Here’s how I solved my problems:
When I found that I had a 1030 meeting before a regular appointment with my friend for coffee I messaged the friend. I told her that I would be in a meeting and I had no idea how long it would take. I asked if I could have a bit of flexibility as to when we met for coffee – if I could send her a message when the meeting finished and then we could meet up after that. She was totally accommodating. That way I could concentrate when I needed to and I could still meet my friend.
My mother came up with the answer to my second situation. I told her about the doctor’s appointment and she suggested that we go into town and have coffee near the surgery. Then she took a taxi to her prayer meeting – easily done as the taxi stand was near the cafe in town and the taxi didn’t have to find parking.
I try to give my self at least ten minutes between appointments. Half an hour if possible. As much wriggle room as I can. Travel takes time, meetings go overtime, parking isn’t always available close to the place that you need to be.
There are always little jobs that you can squeeze into the half hour between appointments. I take my journal with me everywhere so I can write in it. I also tend to take my kindle so I can read if I have time. Or I’ll take a research article that I need to work my way through. (I have a large handbag – can you tell?) That half-hour can be used to give you time to think about life for a bit, time to ponder and dream.
But overlapping appointments are going to cause you stress as well as annoying the person you are late for. It’s not worth it.
What does this have to do with saying no?
Again, it’s having those rules in place for yourself. If someone asks you to attend a meeting, come for coffee, or do a task that will overlap with another meeting or appointment scheduled on your calendar then the answer just has to be no – or at least not today. Don’t try to squeeze the most possible into your day. Give yourself breathing space. It will make your life better.
I am saying no to things this year in order to spend more time on my writing. This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.
I am also writing a cosy mystery and it’s coming to the pointy end now. If you would like to hear more about the writing process, and see the cover reveal, drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are chatty, with a writing-focus, and only come out monthly so they won’t clog your in-box.
You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42