Monday, December 17, 2012

The Deafening Sound of a Thousand Little Emails

One of the problems I have with email is that little dinging noise the computer makes whenever an email arrives.  No matter what I’m doing, I simply can’t seem to make myself ignore that little ding.  I know you can push a button somewhere in your system preferences and turn the ding off, but I don’t want to turn the ding off, even though it interrupts me all the time.  I feel a little excited every time I hear the ding -- I can hardly wait to open the email to see if it’s something good or if it will make me feel good.  And sometimes, especially after I’ve sent someone an email containing information that might not make them very happy, I feel a little anxious too.  Maybe it’ll be something bad, I think, and then I’m in even more of a hurry to see what the email says.  Every time I hear the ding I feel compelled to stop what I’m doing, open the email it’s announcing, read the email, and then answer the email.  (It goes without saying that the same is true for texts, which arrive with even more fanfare and are even more impossible to ignore.  I have pretty much the same issue with phone messages too.)
I think the real problem with email is that it’s scattered throughout the day and therefore makes us feel scattered.  There’s no sense of having completed a task when we email because just when we send one email another one comes that needs to be responded to.  It arrives in the midst of other tasks, interrupts our concentration, and calls out to us – Pay attention to me!  I might be saying something interesting!  I probably need to be responded to! -- if we try to ignore it. And it takes up time we’ve planned to devote to other things, either by crowding them with little interruptions or by hogging their time all together. How many times have you opened your email first thing in the morning and then found yourself spending much more time on it than you thought you would, or even ended up emailing instead of doing whatever else you had to do?
I know I’m not the only person writing about this, and I’m certainly not the only person struggling with it.  A Pew Research Center survey conducted last spring found that 67 percent of cell phone owners find themselves checking their device even when it’s not ringing or vibrating.   As far as being digitally addicted goes, I’m probably somewhere in the bottom third of the pack.  For me, at least so far, emailing/texting/phone-checking is mostly a problem when I’m supposed to be writing.
The other day when I was sitting at my computer, I was dismayed to find myself checking my email every few minutes.  I also felt pulled by my telephone, which I had turned off for the duration of my writing time, and a few times I actually turned the phone back on and listened to my voicemail.  (There was nothing interesting there, of course.)  Doing something compulsive to get away from the hard work of concentrating on writing isn’t new to me.  I used to eat during my writing time, and a long time before that I used to smoke during it.  Still, there’s something about this emailing and phone-message-listening-to that feels different.  I feel pulled off course by it in a way that’s stressful, somehow, at the same time as it’s compelling.  I’m not alone at my desk with my writing any more, I’m there with an infinite possible number of people who may or may not want or need something from me.   And the quality of my attention, when I’m emailing or worrying about phone messages, is different from the quality of my attention when I’m writing.  It’s scattered and sprinkled with anxiety about other people and their wants and needs.  And it’s watered-down – even when I was eating or smoking there were times when I wasn’t eating or smoking and during those times I could write without fear of interruption, and food and cigarettes didn’t pop out of nowhere to tap me on the shoulder and get my attention, the way email does.
 The obvious solution is to bite the bullet and put emailing (and texting and making phone calls and listening to phone messages and let’s throw in surfing the Internet and looking at Facebook too) in their place.   That is, find some spots for them during the day and do them then instead of doing them all the time along with everything else.  Timothy Ferriss, who wrote The Four-Hour Work Week, says in a recent book that he only checks his email twice a day.  A writer I know says he’s had good luck emailing only after one o’clock in the afternoon.  And a number of experts on time-management have been suggesting more or less the same thing – that you pick a number of times you’ll check and answer emails every day – say, four – turn your email off the rest of the time and let your clients, and whoever else needs to know, know when you are and aren’t going to be reading and responding to your emails.  All of which seems like very good advice. 
The only thing is, I suspect it may be easier to tell somebody to turn off their email (cell phone, et cetera) some of the time than it is to actually do it.  That it might be similar to telling an alcoholic to manage their drinking by only drinking wine from four to six in the afternoon.  That it might have about the same result – that is, it might seem like a solution has been reached but in the long run there won’t be much real change.  I’m not saying that every single one of us is a digital-aholic.  But I do think we – each of us, or at least most of us -- probably have to address or at least consider the compulsive, addictive element of emailing (texting, surfing the Internet, etc.) in our own situations before we can really get a hold of it.  I know I did, and I continue to have to work at it. 
I’ve started turning off my email while I write.  I have to turn it off --  I can’t just decide to ignore it, because I can’t make myself ignore those little dings.  It’s been hard, I admit it, to turn off my email and leave it off.  So far, during my one- or two-hour chunks of writing time, the longest I’ve managed to avoid turning my email back on to check my messages is fifteen minutes.  I’ve noticed that when I’m turning it back on I have a brief feeling of pleasurable anticipation. Getting a nice little email, it turns out, feels to me (and probably everybody else) like a little reward, like eating a cookie or something.  Usually the emails I get are not particularly nice – they’re either totally boring advertisements or humdrum communications about work or something else.  But there’s always a chance that one could be nice -- could make me feel good, accepted, loved, rewarded -- and every so often one does.  So I guess I’m like those research monkeys that kept pushing the bar to try to get an intermittent dose of cocaine.
So what can we do about all of this?  Do we all need to go to twelve-step meetings to deal with our addictions to instant communication?  I don’t think there are any such meetings, but maybe we can take a page from other twelve-step programs.  First of all, we probably need to admit there’s a compulsive element to the whole thing, that it might take a little more than just making a decision to change how and when we email (and text and surf and Facebook, et cetera), to actually make changes.  It might help to try to change, as I did, and then see what happens.  Try turning off your email (or your smartphone) for certain periods of time during the day and see how it feels:  Can you stand it?  Do you have to keep turning it back on just in case?  If you find it’s hard to keep away from instant communicating, then that information in itself may be helpful.  Maybe you can just sit with the feeling, acknowledge and accept it, notice how the compulsion to communicate is taking away from your ability to peacefully stick to one task at a time. (This is similar to step one in the twelve steps:  “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”)  Maybe that’s all we have to do for a while; maybe doing that in itself -- just recognizing what’s going on and accepting it – will make things better.  It did help, has helped, me.   
It might also be helpful to take a little inventory of whatever we’re getting from constantly checking our email (as in step four:  “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”).  Or we can make a goal, such as only emailing at certain times of the day, and then picture ourselves accomplishing that goal during our meditation or ask the larger smarter part of ourselves to help us accomplish it.  (Step three:  “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of a power greater than ourselves.”)  Or maybe all we have to do is make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to ourselves and our own lives, instead of turning them over to our computers and our cell phones and other people’s needs and communications.   And if worse comes to worse we can always try taking a digital sabbatical or attending a digital detox retreat, as some people are doing these days.
We can try all of the above, and then keep trying, until we find something that works.  We’ll know when we’ve accomplished what we wanted to achieve, whatever it was, because we’ll feel peaceful and productive – more peaceful than we ever have before, maybe – and we’ll find time – more time, stretches of time, all of our time -- opening up in our lives in ways we never dreamed of.
                                                                 -- Mary Allen

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Power of Ten Minutes

The longer I work with harnessing my time, the more I appreciate the power of time – power as a tool, as something you can use -- to accomplish just about anything and transform your whole life.  Today I was thinking about it in terms of blocks of ten minutes. 
            I meditate every day for ten minutes.  During those ten minutes I try to quiet my thoughts and focus on the sounds around me.  It’s not always easy to do; in fact, it’s often just about impossible.  But every day, I put in those ten minutes and eventually during that little window of time I do stop thinking, if even for a few moments.  And during those moments my entire being feels infused by something lighter, happier, sweeter, than anything I ever normally feel.  It’s like I manage to plug into some power source, and that power shines a little light and a little clarity into my psychic being.  And then, having done that, a trace of that light and clarity stays with me all day long; my whole day is changed by that little ten-minute meditation.  The change is so subtle I hardly notice it.  But when I don’t do the meditation – that’s when I really notice it:  I feel crabbier, more rushed and confused and irritable, more crowded by the world and by my own and by other people’s needs.
 I could go on and on about what I get from my little meditation, but the point I’m making here is about time – the power of time.  Time isn’t a power like the power I plug into when I do the meditation.  The power of time is the power of a practical tool that you use to get something done.  But time is an important tool, maybe the most important tool, because it makes everything else, all other tool-using, possible.  Without it I wouldn’t be doing that little meditation everyday; time gives me the socket to plug into, the means or the chance or the opening or whatever to turn on the light.  We all have time in our living tool-boxes, but mostly we ignore it or forget that we have it – most of the time we don’t know how to use it or know that we can use it.   If we can pick it up and use it consciously, it will give us the power to do anything.  I’ve learned that through my own experience. 
But I started off talking about blocks of ten minutes.  Ten minutes is a nice manageable amount of time.  Everybody has ten minutes to spare; it’s the amount of time it takes to go to the bathroom if you include staring at yourself in the mirror, the amount of time it takes to make a cup of coffee or glance at the newspaper or do some other throwaway thing.  Nothing else will be lost or harmed or missed out on if you spend ten minutes doing something; no one’s too busy to fit something in for ten minutes.  It was that idea that helped me start meditating regularly.
For a long time I wanted to meditate a little bit every day but I just could not find time to do it.  Every once in a while I’d remember that I wanted to meditate, but then in the next moment the very idea of meditating, not to mention meditating itself, would get swept away by all the everyday stuff I had to do.  Then one day it came to me – like a little gift from somewhere, perhaps the same power I plug into during the meditation -- many of my best ideas show up this way – that nothing would be lost if I spent ten minutes meditating in a certain spot in my day.   And so I did, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Then it came to me that nothing would be lost if I spent ten minutes exercising on the Nordic Track I have upstairs in my house – exercising is another thing I have a hard time fitting into my days.  So I started doing that almost every day too.
I know ten minutes isn’t very long to exercise, the way ten minutes isn’t very long to meditate.  I know the experts and therefore the voices in my head all say you should do both longer to get the maximum benefit. But ten minutes each of meditating and exercising is better than nothing, especially because when I try to fit longer periods of both into my days, I usually end up not meditating or exercising at all.  And ten minutes every day adds up.  In ten minutes I can plug into that power source; in ten minutes I can get my heart rate going and break into a little sweat.  And I can always add another ten minutes somewhere else in my day. 
Recently it came to me that I’d like to start exercising for another ten minutes on top of the ten minutes I spend at it every morning, maybe in the afternoon in the spare moments between one coaching session and another.  (I make a living as a writing coach.)  And then I decided I’d like to start opening that little window inside me through meditation three times a day, maybe once before every meal.   I love that idea, because I love the feeling I get when I meditate, and I’d like to be getting more exercise too.  But so far I haven’t done either.  I just keep forgetting, the way I kept forgetting to meditate at all before I came up with my current routine.
Still, I’m optimistic that, having had the idea and the desire, someday soon I will put the plan into action.  Maybe I’ll get some extra power from my power source to do it.  Then again, maybe all I have to do is write those extra ten minutes down on my daily plan every day when I make it, and then when those times come, those extra ten-minute windows, I’ll remember to stop, sit down – or in the case of the Nordic Tracking, stand up, go upstairs, and get on the exercise machine – and turn my plan -- my wishes, my desires -- into action. 
All I have to do is put aside a little time, harness a little of the power that magical tool, time, and then I can do whatever I want to.
                                                         -- Mary Allen

P.S.  I welcome your comments!

Monday, December 3, 2012

On the Pleasure of Not Feeling Guilty

If you ever wondered why you feel guilty taking time off, even when you’re sick, you have no farther to look than the wrapper on your Hall’s cough drop. “A pep talk in every drop” is printed in small blue capital letters on the reverse side of each wrapper along with little “pep talks.”  Each cough drop has a different set of admonitions, the way fortune cookies have different fortunes:  “Be unstoppable,” my most recent cough drop said, as well as, “Turn ‘can do’ into ‘can did.’” And, worst of all:  “Push on!”
It’s easy to make fun of Hall’s cough drops, but of course they’re just mirroring the good old Protestant work ethic and what the whole society, from your bossy mother-in-law on down, has to say.  And I’m sure the people who came up with this promotion strategy think they’re helping people, the way your mother-in-law (not to blame mother-in-laws, but I have to pick somebody to use as an example) thinks she’s helping you when she tells you how to raise your kids, clean your house, or ask your boss for a raise. 
But still.  Do we really want or need to tell ourselves, “Push on!” when we’re coughing so much we need to open and eat a Hall’s menthol cough drop?  What we probably really need are cough drops that say, “Relax, take it easy,” or “Stop!  Go back to bed.”  Or, “You’re sick!  Don’t you dare go to work.”
A couple of weeks ago I spent the weekend hanging out with my friend’s nine-year-old son while my friend and her husband went out of town.  From three o’clock on Friday afternoon to ten o’clock on Monday morning (I was supposed to go home on Sunday evening but my friends’ flight was delayed), I did nothing but play games, read kids’ books, watch Phineas and Ferb episodes, eat, and go to bed early.  My friend’s son is normally allowed forty-five minutes of screen time a day but we asked for and received the special dispensation that he could spend as much time playing video games as he wanted that weekend if he was playing the game with me.  This was my idea.  It was also my idea to go to the video game store and buy a copy of Pacman, the original game, for two or more people, since that’s the only video game I know how to play or have ever enjoyed.  We played game after game of it, alternately shrieking with fear and joy, depending on whether our Pacman was getting away from or getting squashed by the red, pink, turquoise, and orange ghosts.  We also played Donkey Kong, Super Mario, and 2012 Olympic table tennis on Nintendo Wii.  I laughed so hard when we were playing virtual table tennis I almost peed my pants, because the ball that I was trying to virtually serve kept falling to the ground at my virtual feet while the virtual crowd in the cartoon Olympic audience stands roared. “I’m glad those people aren’t real so I don’t have to be embarrassed,” I said to my friend’s son and that made us laugh even more.
I rested and had more fun than I’ve had for years.  But at the same time I kept noticing myself feeling a kind of low-level discomfort over the fact that I wasn’t being productive.  I kept getting this queasy naughty anxious feeling and when I examined it I found it was about stuff I should have been, could have been, doing just then instead of what I was doing:  I actually found myself at one point feeling bad that I wasn’t sewing buttons on a fall jacket (which has been missing some buttons for years and for which I recently bought buttons and a little sewing kit).  I kept feeling guilty. 
So there it is.  Guilt.  In this case it was my guilt, but all of us have it to one degree or another.  It gets in the way of us resting, it ruins our fun, it makes us take on more than we can do.  It causes us to make promises we kill ourselves trying to keep.  It might be what makes us feel like we have to be busy all the time in order to justify our existences. Where does it come from?  It probably doesn’t really matter.  It comes from everywhere and nowhere.  It comes from the messages we received as kids, from TV ads and our role models and the Protestant work ethic; it can even come from the inside of our Hall’s menthol cough drop wrappers.
I’m not suggesting we should try to make ourselves stop feeling guilty.  We probably couldn’t even if we tried, so let’s not feel guilty about feeling guilty.  But we can harness our time so that we don’t have to feel guilty about squandering our time, so that rest becomes something we do instead of everything we’re not doing, so that we pay attention to what we’re actually getting done instead of thinking we’re not doing anything, not doing enough, and then feeling more and more guilty.
                                                                         -- Mary Allen

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Incredible Power of One Day at a Time

For years I’ve known that living one day at a time is a simple, almost magical spiritual tool for solving just about all of life’s problems.  Almost all problems happen mostly on the thinking-feeling level:  Even if you’ve lost your job and are going to run out of money next week, even if you have a debilitating illness that’s going to get worse and worse, even if you’re going to die tomorrow, the real problem is how you feel about that today – it’s the fear, the dread, the projecting, the imagining, the things you tell yourself about how bad it’s going to be.  And almost always, when you ask yourself, Am I okay right now? the answer is yes.   Even when the worst thing that could happen is happening right here in this moment, there’s usually some part of it that’s not as bad as you thought it would be and/or there are usually things you can do to make it better.
That’s why living one day at a time solves almost all of life’s problems: because there are no real problems in this moment, in today.  The only thing is, living one day at a time isn’t that easy to do. I used to think it was something I had to accomplish with my thoughts.  I thought I just had to get my mind situated firmly in the present moment and keep it there.   I kept thinking I should be able to do that, would be able to do that, whenever I remembered I wanted to do that, but I couldn’t. I’d always forget and go right back to living in the future and/or in the past.  I’d go back to thinking I had to do everything all of the time. 
A few weeks ago my friend Bruce said that one of the things he’s gotten out of planning his days a la my harnessing time deal, is that he no longer feels like he has to do everything all the time.  (See “The Doing-Everything-All-the-Time Trap,” November 5, 2012.)  I thought that was brilliant, and that it captured how harnessing time works for me, too, in a nutshell.  Instead of feeling like I have to do everything all the time, and feeling scattered, burdened, anxious, confused, and kind of miserable as a result, now I’m able to focus on one thing at a time:  I know when I’m going to start focusing on it, whatever it is, and when I’m going to stop focusing on it, and as a result I know that I don’t have to focus on everything else.
One thing this has done for me is allow me to live one day, one hour, even one minute, at a time.  I might not be able to get rid of every single thought projected into the future, but I’m much more present in the day and in the moment.  I don’t worry about what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, because I know that I’ll figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow, tomorrow.  And if I need to figure out what I’m going to do tomorrow today – for example, if I need to decide today what I’m going to bring to a Thanksgiving potluck tomorrow – I put time aside to do that today.  Once I’ve put time aside for something, I can let go of it, and if I haven’t put time aside yet I know I will.  So I don’t have to keep worrying about whether I’m going to do it, whatever it is, or when I’m going to do it, whether I’m going to have time to do it, et cetera.  I don’t have to keep doing all that mental work, don’t have to keep doing the thing itself along with everything else in some vague, anxious, rehearsing-stuff-over-and-over way on the mental plane.
It’s the mental stuff that’s the problem, not what’s really going on in the world – I truly believe it.  It’s the mental stuff that makes you tense, anxious, nervous, miserable – or not.  And that’s the good news, because you can work with the mental stuff, even if you can’t change the outside circumstances at all.   And the even better news is that you can change the mental stuff by changing what you do – by taking certain small actions that you do have control over -- within the confines of the outside circumstances.  So you might not be able to change what you have to do, but you can change how you make plans to get done what you have to do, and doing that changes how you think about what you have to do.
There’s another way I’ve used one day a time very successfully with the help of harnessing time.  And that’s working on big, intimidating projects one little piece at a time, one day at a time, and then letting go of the rest.  Big projects like writing a book.  Big projects that might otherwise make me go crazy if I even thought about trying to do them, having to do them, to the point where I’d get so uptight I’d give up after a few days or never even get started.  
I read a story recently about an artist in Italy who was commissioned to create a mosaic in a cathedral, involving millions of tiny different-colored pieces that had to be placed, just so, along the lower part of the cathedral’s entire wall.  It was an enormous backbreaking job, and someone came along and asked him how he had the courage to take on such a difficult task. “It’s easy,” the artist said. “Every day I figure out how much I can do comfortably that day.  I mark the area and I don’t think about how much I have to do beyond that point. Before I know it the whole job will be completed.” 
When I read that story, I thought about harnessing time – how harnessing time is my way of figuring out what I can do comfortably every day, marking the area, not thinking beyond that point.  I’ve been doing that for years with writing too – in fact, it was writing that helped me come up with the rest of my harnessing time practices.  Every day I write for a certain amount of time and when that time is over I put my writing aside and don’t even think about it until tomorrow.  And, with the help of my harnessing time tools, I do that now with many other big goals too.  I don’t let myself think about how far I have to go, how little I got done today, how much there is left to do, how I have to hurry up if I’m going to reach the deadline I’ve set for myself.  I just do what I’ve set aside to do today and then I stop, feeling happy and peaceful because I’ve made some progress toward the goal.
I haven’t written the whole book, haven’t gotten into perfect shape physically, haven’t decluttered my whole house or accomplished whatever other big goals I’ve got.  But I know that I will.  I will because I’ll harness time to keep at it, doing a little bit every day.  And so I relax and feel good about myself.  Good enough to keep going, to tackle my big project tomorrow and every day after that, until it’s done.   And that’s what counts.
                                                           -- Mary Allen

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The People-Pleasing Trap

Last time, I wrote about how time anxiety is at least partly caused by feeling like you have to do everything all the time, and how one solution to that is to consciously put time aside for whatever you need to do.   This time I’m going to write about something else that makes us feel crazy-busy no matter how much we’ve got to do.   It’s what we call people-pleasing in the twelve-step program I belong to.
When I agreed recently to do an extra hour of editing that I didn’t have time for (see my post, The Doing-Everything-All-the-Time Trap, November 5, 2012), I was thinking of my client’s needs and wants more than my own.  Of course, since my client and I have a business relationship, it could be said that everything I do to help him with his writing is about his needs and not my own – my need is for the money he pays me for my services.  But I wasn’t going to be making much money for that one hour of editing and if I had been thinking about my own needs instead of his I would have passed.  But I thought the client wanted me to do it and I wanted to make him happy so I agreed. 
Because I hadn’t fully taken my own needs and wants into consideration when I agreed to do that one hour of editing (or when I agree to anything, really; I’m just using the one hour of editing as a simple example, the way I’m using my own experience as an example of what can happen to anyone), I had mixed feelings about it.  It wasn’t clear to me that I wanted to do it, but I felt like I had to do it. Right there, those mixed feelings, that little inner conflict, added some weight, however slight, to my time anxiety.  I felt guilty too – somehow, I was worried about what that guy was going to feel if I didn’t do the editing (or maybe I was worried about that when I initially agreed to do it and I just continued worrying), and I felt a little resentful too.  All those feelings added up and caused stress and used energy, in the same way having to make decisions (remember that study about decision fatigue; see my post Avoiding Decision Fatigue, October 17, 2012) uses energy.   I kept putting the thought of that editing out of my mind (after all, it was just one hour), but every time I remembered that I was supposed to do it, all those feelings came back along with a little stab of guilt and anxiety – time anxiety, that nuts, I’m-too-busy, I-don’t-have-enough-time-for-everything feeling.  A good portion of my time anxiety, I realized, was actually all those other, mostly unconscious feelings I was having because I was people-pleasing. 
Plus, it was true – I was too busy.  I was too busy because I had all the regular things that were scheduled on my list every day -- and that one extra thing that was making everything else feel crowded.  Once again, I felt like I had to do everything all the time – or at least I felt like I had to all my regular work and that one hour of editing all the time, which added up to the same thing. 
But the people-pleasing trap made me feel like I had to do everything all the time on a much deeper level.  I felt like I had to worry about that other person and his needs and wants and feelings at the same time as my own.  I couldn’t do what I wanted to do because I had to do what I thought he wanted me to do, but I couldn’t do what he wanted me to do because I had to do what I needed to do.  My needs and wants were crowded in with his needs and wants, and there wasn’t enough time and room for both.  And it all added up to a lot of work – thinking work, feeling work, on top of regular work.  All because of that one stupid little hour. 
Of course, for most of us, it’s never just about one hour or one person.  And if just one hour for one person can make you feel that busy, just think what you feel like when it’s all your time and your whole family and three or four friends plus your employer and who knows who or what else.
Of course, we have obligations to other people, to our children, our friends, our spouses, our employers and clients, to our parents and our community.  It’s normal, sane, and ordinary to put our own needs aside sometimes and do things for others, and everybody, unless they’re a narcissist or a sociopath, does and should do a certain amount of people-pleasing.  The problem comes in when we’re doing it in a compulsive knee-jerk way; when we’re doing it more often than not; when we’re taking care of other people’s needs so much we’re not even paying attention to our own. 
So what’s the solution to that kind of people-pleasing?  I can only share what I’ve learned over the years about what works for me.
First of all, I try to stop and think before I agree to something.  I ask myself:  Do I really want to do this, or do I just think so-and-so wants or needs me to do it?  Am I really just wanting to make so-and-so happy, or maybe even trying to keep so-and-so from getting mad at me?  I try to say things to the person like, “Let me think about that and get back to you.”  
And then I do think about it:  I listen to what my intuition is telling me about whether I want to do the thing or not.  I ask myself what I would do if there was nobody else in the picture (this is a good way to get disentangled mentally from other people’s wants and needs); I look at my time and consider whether I can fit the thing into my plan and still feel relaxed and sane or whether it’ll make me feel crazy-busy.  And then I make a decision and communicate it. 
If I’m going to say no to something I say it as nicely as I possibly can.  I used to be afraid that people would get mad at me when I said no to something – hence, the urge to say yes even when way down deep I wanted to say no; sometimes I even convinced myself I did want to do something just so I wouldn’t have to say no to it.  But I’ve learned that what people react to isn’t whether you say yes or no.  It’s how you say whatever you say.   If you say no in an abrupt, rude-sounding way – which you might do if you’re not comfortable saying no – they’re likely to get a little offended.  But if you’re really nice about it, if you offer an explanation and perhaps suggest an alternative, people are always really nice.
I don’t always do all of the above.  I’m always nice when I have to say no – I even work on that a little, think about what I’m going to say beforehand, or maybe talk to a friend who helps me figure out what to say.  But I don’t always figure out right away whether I do actually want to say yes to something, and I often seem to forget to take time instead of rushing my decisions.  Even though I’ve worked on this issue for years, there’s still a part of me that wants to jump in and solve everyone’s problems and make everyone happy – and that part still sometimes succumbs to people-pleasing.  Invariably, when that happens, I end up getting time anxiety – I end up feeling too busy, like I’ve got too much on my plate.  (Yuck.)  
As soon as I’ve figured out that that’s happened, I employ the magical harnessing time tool of flexibility, and change my mind.  I call the person up (or send him or her an email) and say, as nicely as I possibly can, in a friendly tone of voice, that it turns out I can’t do what I said I would.  I apologize profusely, I offer a reasonable explanation, and often I offer an alternative suggestion or two – a different time when I could do it (whatever it is), or another person who might be able to do it instead of me.  The person on the other end is always absolutely fine with my changing my mind, and somehow everything always works out, often better than it was going to before.
And I go back to feeling peaceful, to harnessing my time in all the ways I do on a day-to-day basis.
                                                            -- Mary Allen