dear-dr-donna

Dear Dr. Donna,

I love fixing things—fixing problems, leading committees, volunteering for the needs of the community, etc., etc. The problem is everyone knows this and I can never say no. I am way overextended because I keep seeing things I know I can do and I keep either volunteering myself or when they ask for help I agree to help because I just can’t seem to resist. I’m not afraid to say no … it feels more like I just can’t help myself. And now I have way too much on my plate and I’m not doing a good job on anything and my family complains that I’m too busy all the time. I’m not happy. Nobody is happy. HELP.

Sincerely,
Overextended

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Dr. Donna Says …

Dear Overextended,

When I was in 8th grade my teacher had a poster on the wall that said, “If you want something done ask the busy man. The other kind has no time.” (Note: I have seen this attributed to both Elbert Hubbard and Benjamin Franklin). In my youthful naïveté, this bit of insight did not make sense. Since then, I have learned the subtle wisdom of paradox and encountered numerous examples of this adage played out in real life.

In short, everyone asks you to do things because you are the kind of person who gets things done. And of course, there is satisfaction in accomplishing things and being the competent one that everyone turns to. Until, that is, as you describe, you become overextended and end up sacrificing the quality you are known for, as well as the satisfaction it should bring to your life.

Dr J. Roscoe Miller, president of Northwestern University, once said I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent. Later, Dwight D. Eisenhower quoted this in a speech and it famously became known as the Eisenhower Principle. Stephen Covey further popularized the concept in his longstanding bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, where he urged categorizing tasks in a matrix that compared their respective levels of importance and urgency in order to prioritize those that would truly add meaning to one’s life.

Basically, the fundamental message is to focus on “the right stuff”—the old quality over quantity adage. This is a challenge in our modern society. As Westerners, we have idolized doing over being to epic levels. It’s all about what is on our to-do list, our resume, our certificates of achievement. A packed schedule, overachieving and even workaholism have become badges of honor. Throw in a dose of FOMO (fear of missing out) exacerbated by social media brags that sum up life as a competition of accomplishments to check off our bucket lists and you have the perfect formula for a too-busy life—one that is supposed to bring satisfaction through all that accomplishment, but instead engenders stress and exhaustion where we forget that the point of all the activity is ultimately supposed to be enjoyment.

Think about this … we are all consumed by our to-do lists. What do we stack them with? Things we want to DO that day. What if instead of focusing on what we wanted to DO, we focused on how we wanted to FEEL or what kind of person we wanted to BE at the end of the day, and stacked the schedule with things that would support that. How would the lists differ?

Don’t get me wrong. We all have tasks we like less than others but have to accomplish nonetheless—laundry and cleaning out the litter box top my list. And we should take pride and pleasure in our accomplishments. Some of our doing makes us feel good. After all we have been conditioned to feel good about action and achievements. But just spinning our wheels doing in order to do more, well, that is the definition of the proverbial hamster wheel. We need to be in control of our busy-ness, not be controlled by it. And sometimes that means saying NO—to the requests of others and the tyranny of our compulsion to be ruled by busy schedules and all the tasks we feel we “should” do.

It’s definitely a temptation of the modern world to take on too many things to do, especially when we are competent and have varied interests. But remember, part of the pleasure should be in the process, not just the end product. It is the journey, after all, and not the destination, that makes up the bulk of our lives.

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Someone Once Said …

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
—Socrates

Recommended Reading

For more info on these topics take a look at these titles (synopses from Amazon.com):

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey

One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of Presidents and CEOs, educators and parents—in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations.

Too Busy for Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time—With Even More Energy by Connie Merrit

Connie helps people and organizations make vital adjustments in their personal lives and careers to manage the multiple decisions and requests being placed in all areas of life—especially during these “do more with less” times. Busyness—when unmanaged—can destroy our balance in life … our health, relationships, finances, and career. It scrambles our priorities and all too often in the wrong order, leading us into stress and a cluttering of our lives.

Connie has a reputation for delivering breakthrough information for tough times to get that spark for life—including timely research gathered from top leaders in medicine, business and brain-response studies. Her programs draw upon her vast experiences as a registered nurse, researcher and business professional.

Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe

BUSY is divided into four digestible sections—Mastery, Differentiation, and Engagement—that will teach readers how to switch from managing time to managing attention, how to transition toward a career strategy that doesn’t hinge on productivity, how to think differently about success by re-engaging with what matters, and how to create the impetus, energy, and clarity to put all these changes into effect. Crabbe draws on entertaining psychological studies to show why we’re getting it wrong at the moment and to develop a fresh new approach to taking back one’s life from chaotic outside forces.

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And On a Lighter Note …

Dear Dr. Donna,

I have a great boyfriend. I really, really do. He is wonderful in so many ways.

There’s just this one thing. This thing that drives me crazy. He is such a chatterbox. He just won’t shut up … like EVER. He goes on and on. Even when he has already made his point. Even when there is nothing more to say. He just. Keeps. Talking.

blah, blah, blah…

There is no end. I can’t get a word in edge-wise. He is like the Energizer Bunny for repetitive conversation. And many times, he actually doesn’t say much of anything. It drives me nuts.

blah, blah, blah…

I just can’t shut him up no matter what I do. I’ve tried to talk to him about it. I’ve been sweet. I’ve been direct. I’ve even been rude. But nothing seems to work. Nothing seems to quiet him. He’s like a babbling toddler. It’s the same thing over and over. It’s like a broken record. It’s…

blah, blah, blah…

Sincerely,
Frustrated Honey Pot

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Dr. Donna Says …

Dear Honey Pot-Calling-Kettle-Black,

SSSHHHHHHHHH . . . . . .

Someone Once Said …

Schweigen ist golden (Silence is golden)
—Thomas Carlyle, 1831

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Questions for Dr. Donna? Send them to

carriage.2

Donna Roberts is a native upstate New Yorker who lives and works in Europe. She holds a Ph.D., specializing in the field of Media Psychology. When she is researching or writing she can usually be found at her computer buried in rescue cats.