How many times during the week do you find yourself agreeing to something you’d prefer not to do? It gets put on your to-do list, then pushed back time and again until it becomes a constant reminder of one more thing you didn’t do.
But the thing is, when we’re stressed about deadlines, overworked, or overwhelmed, we’re not just less likely to get things done. Our physical and mental health starts to suffer, too.
One of the most severe consequences of a packed schedule comes in the form of burnout. In the UK, one in three doctors suffers from burnout, while as much as 44% of all work-related ill-health cases are due to stress, depression, or anxiety.
And yes, mental health awareness, self-care, and asking for help make the most successful strategies against these issues. However, there’s one more thing you can start doing daily. You can start saying NO.
Setting your priorities straight
One of the main reasons people tend to agree to almost anything is that they want to gain acceptance and approval.
Let’s say a friend asks you to do something you’re not really keen on, like attending an event you have no interest in. Chances are, you will agree just to make them happy. And, up to a point, this can be OK. They’re your friend and you’ll get to spend some time together, so it may not be a complete disaster.
But what about your superior asking you to complete a project that has nothing to do with your position and won’t have an impact on your career? Will you agree, sacrifice your rest time during the weekend working on the project, then deal with low productivity for the entire following week? You see, in this case, you’re only setting yourself up for added stress and resentment by saying Yes.
If you really want to put yourself, your needs, and ultimately your mental health first, you need to think about your priorities.
What matters more? Being everyone’s go-to when they’re having problems? Or taking proper care of your mental health and being capable of solving the challenges you meet on an everyday basis?
Yes, the choice is much more complex. But in reality, accepting to do more things than you can objectively accomplish is taking away from the time you have for yourself.
In the beginning, you might skip a workout or stay home to work while your friends are getting together. But if you let things get out of hand, it can turn into something much more serious. If you’re sacrificing sleep, nutrition, relationships, or any other form of self-care, you’re setting yourself up for mental health issues.
How to eliminate tasks from your to-do list
If you want to pare down your list of assignments to free up your schedule, there’s one excellent method you can try.
Developed by Ryder Carroll for their book The Bullet Journal Method, the process involves writing down your entire list of to-dos, separated into three categories:
● Currently working on
● Should be working on
● Want to be working on
Any of the entries that don’t have an affirmative answer to the questions “Does it matter?” and “Is it vital?” are simply to be erased from your list of assignments.
Say no without feeling bad about it
So, if you’ve made the decision to put yourself first and eliminate time-wasters and distractions, there are a few ground rules you should try to follow.
1. Accept that you’re doing this for your good. Ultimately, you need to take good care of your mental health. Giving yourself the time and energy to focus on your wellbeing is going to be step one.
2. Understand that you’re not letting anyone down. Your worth as a professional or as a friend is not determined by how much you can sacrifice yourself to contribute to someone else’s goal.
3. Be firm but courteous. A simple answer like “I’m sorry, but I can’t take on this task at the moment as I’m too busy with other responsibilities” is direct, polite, and, most importantly, clear.
Reap the benefits
One of the best things about learning how to say No is that the benefits become visible almost immediately.
First and foremost, you’re probably going to open up space for rest. Whether you lack sleep or just an extra hour per day to relax, clearing up your schedule is going to allow this. Moreover, it’s going to have a and positively affect mood, creativity, and overall physical health.
Secondly, by only agreeing to work on projects you’re passionate about, you’re likely to experience much higher levels of motivation, engagement, and productivity.
Last but not least, taking control of your schedule gives you a feeling of empowerment. It helps you regain control over the areas of life that you’ve previously sacrificed to other people’s agendas. This means that you can choose how you want to use your time. Whether it’s by working on a passion project, spending more time with family, or working on new skills like learning a musical instrument, you’ll be in charge.
For many people, saying no to things seems like a scary concept. Yet they deal with an overwhelming number of tasks day in and day out.
Fortunately, we’re all growing more aware of the consequences of a tightly packed schedule and finding out about the effects of poor self-care. As a result of this growing awareness, it becomes clear that getting over that initial discomfort of going against someone’s expectations isn’t just a prioritisation exercise. It’s a necessity.