Why is saying ‘no’ so hard?

I confess. I’m a workaholic.

I do not do well when bored, nor do I do well when I don’t have deadlines and to-do lists. Perhaps because of those other truths, I’ve never been particularly adept at saying ‘no’, particularly when it comes to work. Perhaps those leaner days now leave me simply reluctant to not take advantage of opportunities when they come my way.

As it is, ‘no’ doesn’t feature much in conversations related to work at the moment, although that is about to change. It has to.

I admit that I’m struggling. I’m not exactly falling behind so much as keeping *just* ahead. As much as I’ve worked harder to manage my time better and more efficiently and not begin tasks just before deadlines and maintain a steady stream of crisis management, currently the pace seems unrelenting. I love my job. But the combination of an unrelenting work schedule along with various other stressors in life have left me exhausted. As a consequence, I feel like I’m not doing my best. Either in my job or in life. It may be perfectly fine for others, but this is not fine for me.

More than anything I need to find moments to step away from it all, and, if necessary, schedule sufficient time to rest, recover and simply decompress. A walk with my husband on some days has proved impossible. Finding 20 minutes to sit and sip a cup of coffee whilst reading nonsense is difficult, let alone finding an hour or so to kit up and hit the running trails for an hour or so.

I’m nearly halfway through a particularly tough week, tough because I can’t simply say ‘no’. I know that the busyness will pass soon enough.

For now, if I seem distracted or scattered or simply not ‘present’, forgive me. In all honesty, I’m learning to say ‘no’.

Sunset over Munkkiniemi

 

Summer ‘schedule’

Summer. That glorious time of year when the days are long, the birds sing loudly and the sun stays high in the Northern sky for more hours than you can imagine. I welcome summer and the glorious green and long days. But, I also dread it.

I’ve never been good at managing my time in the absence of a schedule. I need structure; I need a plan. If there is no plan, I’ll make one simply to ease the inevitable anxiety of not having a plan. When we’re on holiday and not confined by the schedules of work or others, I force my husband to come up with a ‘plan’ even if it goes to hell within days if not hours. Planning relaxes me.

As absurd as it sounds, I keep three calendars on my desk. These are separate from my weekly to-do list(s), which complement my electronic calendar and to-do lists which annoyingly pop-up on various devices reminding me to procrastinate another half hour. [Just writing that out makes me cringe at how absurd it all is. But, well, what can I say? I like my calendars and lists and procrastinating.]

It’s a relief to be free from my lecturing schedule at the University of Helsinki. With the end of my classes last week, Monday morning—day before yesterday—brought a bit of weirdness and a mild panic. Seeing so few items on my calendar and to do list this week left me somewhat disoriented and bereft. In fact, my deadlines for Tuesday this week were all met before 9 am on Monday, representing perhaps the first time in months I’ve delivered early rather than late.

This is not to say that I don’t have things to fill my time. Just the opposite in fact. As a freelance contractor, I’ll never not panic when I have no work in the pipeline. Alas, this summer is already proving vastly different from last. And, this is a very good thing. But, all of those others things I’ve put off for far too long also await.

June is booked. Even if I wanted to take on more work, I cannot. The rest of this week is oddly devoid of deadlines. Yet, my to-do lists are filled with various items simply prioritised as ‘ASAP’ or ‘eventually’. This is where I typically struggle. I need a ‘complete by’ date. For everything. The most pressing issue aside from cleaning my desk and the windows (yes, those are on my to-do list) involves sorting through multiple assignments my students sent during the last month or so, and which have sat patiently in my inbox. (I’m a weebit behind—don’t judge; my students worked entirely too hard!) But, without my own self-imposed deadline of ‘the next class meeting’ procrastination takes over. Little by little, I review their work and send feedback. I will get through my inbox and back to zero. And, I will endeavour to do better next year.

But, distractions and ‘other stuff’ seem so much more pressing or necessary.

So, scheduling. I must schedule when I work on my inbox. And, then, when I can, go for a run (ideally every other day) and clean my sodding windows. Spend a bit time daily peripatetically bonding with my husband. And, sort through all of the other things I want and need to do this summer.

It’s only 12 weeks; but, those 12 weeks leave me restless and somewhat unsteady, particularly without milestones and goals and a plan. I need a plan. My summer schedule may be less structured than that during the academic year, but the structure it takes will either leave me desperate for a schedule or empowered by it. And, I’m determined to be empowered come the end of August. [Where does that fall on my to-do list?]

Calendar

One of three calendars I keep — this is my master class schedule / academic calendar calendar from several years ago.