On Time Management and Saying No

Lately my life’s been a little bit of a spiral. Not entirely downwards, not entirely upwards, but more of the all over the place kind of spiral that is euphoric one moment and devastating the next. At times like these, everything tends to pile up on itself and start to take over everything. Stress from one task bleeds into my ability to complete the next, and I suddenly find myself doing a million things half-heartedly. I don’t like doing things half-heartedly. So when I notice that this is all going for a loop, I begin to fall into a pit of guilt and I get nauseous and force myself into a kind of dull depression.

It’s times like these that it’s important to remember that one little word: ‘no’. When people ask me to help out, to volunteer or make posters or come take care of their pets, what have you, it’s so hard for me to say ‘no’. I’m the kind of person who wants to be able to help. I want to be able to do what I can to make the world a better place, even if that just means alleviating the stress of the people around me.

Stretching myself out paper-thin doesn’t accomplish that, though. Sure, it may be a little spot fix for the person who needed me right then but what about everyone else? What about the kids I watch who will take the brunt of my stress at work the next morning? What about my family, who get brushed off by my so that I can take extra time to de-stress after work because I didn’t want to punish them for my life? What about my significant other, who I will make feel less loved because I decided to help everyone else and then no longer have the time or emotional capability to attend to him come the small amount of time we have together a week? When I’m helping out with a million different tasks, I end up not being able to focus on any of them to the extent that they deserve. My contribution is slighted, the project as a whole is slighted, and the opportunity for something amazing, the opportunity for grace and light, is wasted.

I’m not one to say that my own self-care takes precedent over other things, or that I shouldn’t try to do as much as I can for others. But in the past couple of weeks I really have come to a greater awareness of the need to know one’s own boundaries. The need to trust that other people will be there to help. That saying ‘no’ when I have become overwhelmed is not a bad thing- and is, in fact, necessary if I am to function to my own best ability. And functioning to my own best ability will, in the long run, enable me to do more for others than if I run myself ragged for a short amount of time.

So for the next month or so, I’m going to be practicing my ‘no’s’. I’m going to practice being honest with people about my capabilities (directly saying ‘I can’t make this commitment’ versus my normal ‘I’ll see what I can do). I’m going to practice being realistic about what I can fit in on my current schedule (being able to help for large events, rather than weekly commitments). And I’m going to pray that the needs I cannot fill myself will be filled, while also praying to alleviate my own anxiety and guilt about not being able to carry my community on my shoulders. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back into a healthy rhythm in my own life, and increase my capability for contribution. Because the point of saying ‘no’ should never be to simply release yourself from all stress and constraint in life, but used in order to better prepare yourself to give an enthusiastic ‘yes’ to things you can accomplish in the future.

How do you do with ‘no’s’, readers? Has it always been easy for you? What, or who, do you have a hard time saying no to?

Things I Do To Stay Sane: Working Out

For awhile now, I’ve had a series of posts called ‘Why Do I Write’. I haven’t updated those posts in awhile, even when I promised to post one after the publication of ‘Word Sexual’, but I haven’t yet had the time or the emotional stamina to do so. However, the other day when i was at the gym I got the brilliant idea of posting some of the routines and physical things that I do in order to become a better poet and person. Unlike with my ‘Why Do I Write’ series, however, these posts do not have the purpose of better explaining me or my writing. Instead, it is my hope that sharing my own processes for writing, from the mundane to the bizarre, will jump start other writers and readers who are stuck in their own ruts, emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually, by showing different ways of getting through things.

So why not start with the incident that made me think of this series?

My work outs don’t seem all that intensive. Because of issues that my body has, I cannot do much that is high impact or requires major lung capacity or stamina. So I walk for an hour around the track at the recreation center near my home. Sometimes, if I’m feeling a little adventurous, I will do so outside in a four mile loop around my neighborhood (usually because I need to get the sun). During these work outs, I play the same songs over and over again, taking care to select songs that are different in genre, tempo and type. Then, while I’m walking, I will mouth each song. I take care to ensure that, if I were speaking, I am mouthing the words so clearly that enunciation would be nearly perfect. Heck, when I meet someone I know while I’m working out, ninety-eight percent of the time they can tell what song I’m listening to because they can see the words on my mouth. Most of the time, this elicits some pretty weird looks from people who do not know me. Doesn’t matter though- I’m doing it for my poetry.

Mouthing the words to songs as I walk aimlessly around the track in front of a bunch of strangers helps me prepare for readings. Weird, I know, but man is it effective. You see, I don’t need to work on the volume of my voice or my projection- I’m a naturally loud person. What I do need to work on, constantly, is my speed and my enunciation. Mouthing the words of songs that I love helps me to internalize their rhythms. I focus on the tone of the song- is it angry? is it a love song?- and I begin to associate that song’s speed with it’s feeling. I become aware of how much I need to breathe in order to make each word heard. I take on a less robotic feel in my reading because, in my head, I’m ‘singing’ at a speaking tone. And seeing people staring at me as I mouth the words, I become more confident. I’m not actually speaking to them, and their attention is usually fleeting, but it gets me acclimated to having eyes on me while my mouth is moving. It may seem like a mighty stretch, but honestly it works.

Sometimes the key to prepping yourself for the most daunting parts of your writing career (which for me is definitely readings) is by fitting in your preparation into things you already do. By using this method of mouthing along to songs while I’m working out, I’m essentially giving myself something to do while I work out so I don’t want to quit my work out early. I’m also tricking myself into working on my stage presence and reading ability without psyching myself out by saying straight out to myself that I’m preparing for a reading. It’s something I’ve forced myself to do habitually, rather than last-minute.

It works, too. When I was starting out, people clapped politely when I read and then friends told me later that they could barely understand me. Now, I get complimented more often on the way I speak than on what I’m even saying. I honestly think its a testament to finding ways to improve yourself that are complimentary to things you already have to do (or already enjoy doing), instead of stacking stress upon stress on yourself.

That being said, it’s about time for me to go do my walk for the day. Why don’t you comment and let us know one way that you deal with a stressful obligation in a complimentary way?