It's 9:00 AM on a Monday morning. Steve is arriving at work after a weekend spent relaxing and recharging with his family and friends. Steve is excited because he's ready to continue working on a big project that he truly enjoyed and will surely bring him closer to a raise within his department. Before Steve arrives at his workspace to start planning the day, he runs into a co-worker, John:
John: Good morning, Steve! How was your weekend?
Steve: It was great! How about yours?
John: Pretty good, I can't complain. Listen, I'm kind of blocked with my project, and it's due in a couple of days. Can you help me out before you jump into your work? I wouldn't want to interrupt you while you're doing that.
Steve: Sure, I don't have anything planned to work on immediately. I can give you a quick hand and get you moving.
Three hours later...
Steve: Well, that took a lot longer than expected... It's already lunchtime, so I might as well go ahead and take my break. I'll have all afternoon for myself.
After a delicious lunch, Steve is finally able to settle at his desk and begin checking his emails. There's a sizeable backlog of emails. Some clients emailed him during the weekend, so he'll need to get back to them. He begins typing away...
An hour and a half later of sorting and replying through his inbox, Steve's phone rings:
Boss: Hey Steve, did you get my email from this morning?
Steve: Just getting through my emails, I was helping John a bit with his project, and there were some quick responses I had to get to with...
Boss: That sounds good. I sent an email passing along a few of Jane's reports, she called in sick and won't be back until Thursday, and I need these reports completed by then. Can you handle that?
Steve: ... Sure, I'll work on those.
Steve opens the email his boss sent, and there are at least two days of work in them. At this time, Steve notices his energy levels and morale go down considerably since he didn't get a chance to work on the project he was so excited to do, and won't be able even to touch it for the next few days...
The above story is just a fictional account, but it doesn't sound far-fetched, does it? How many of you have experienced something similar, whether it be at work or home? You go about your day, thinking about all the things you want to do or need to do, when suddenly you get derailed and all of your best-laid plans - *poof* - disappear in an instant.
Despite your good intentions for moving your life forward, it's easy to fall into the trap of having others control your days if you're not careful. It's so easy that it often happens without us even noticing that it's happening right under our noses. It's not uncommon for people to be up to their necks with tasks from others and to wonder how the heck they got to that point where they can't do the things they want to do.
How to build the day you want to live
It's safe to say that the number one thing that people want for themselves is to be happy. A significant component of happiness is being able to do things that bring joy and peace to our daily lives. That won't happen if you don't take measures to protect your time and allow others to pull you in their direction. There are a few things you can do right now to help build your days just the way you want, regardless of your current situation.
Plan ahead and don't leave any space in your schedule
One of the main reasons why people get sucked into someone else's agenda is because your schedule is wide open and you don't have anything set to do. In the fictional story that opened this article, John grabbed Steve as he was heading to his desk to start planning his day. Since Steve didn't have anything scheduled yet, it most likely led John thinking that Steve had no work to do. And Steve didn't have anything to fall back on, so it made saying "yes" straightforward. Steve's time was already consumed by someone else.
Had Steve taken the time to plan his schedule and not leave his morning open, he could have been able to quickly deflect John's request for help by saying "Ah, I wish I could, but I have the next few hours of my day full of work already. Can I check in with you after 3:00 PM?" There's a chance John would insist, but that rarely happens. Instead, either John would agree to have Steve help him in the afternoon, or the more likely scenario would be that John went to seek someone else to take their time. In either case, Steve would be free to continue working on what he wanted and didn't let John drag him into his project.
The best way you can manage your schedule is to do it ahead of time. If possible, take at least 30 minutes during your weekend and plan for the week ahead. You don't have to fill in every possible moment, but getting an idea at how much time you need or want to spend on your goals is key to avoiding someone else squeezing in and taking your unscheduled time. At the very least, spend five to ten minutes at night planning for your next day.
Learn to say "no" more often
"No" is just a short two-letter word, yet it strikes fear in many. Why is that? There are plenty of reasons why most people avoid saying "no":
- It creates lots of discomfort. No one likes feeling uncomfortable, so instead of saying "no", we decide to say "yes" to avoid immediate discomfort, regardless of how it affects us long-term.
- Most people seek to avoid conflict, even necessary conflict. Saying "no" is one of the top ways to create disagreements, especially if you're the type of person who says "yes" all the time.
- One basic human need is to feel connected with others and saying "no" threatens that connection in our brains by thinking that others will reject us.
Going back to the initial story, Steve immediately said yes to John's request to help. There's an excellent chance he couldn't bring himself to shoot down his co-worker due to one of the reasons mentioned above. Whether it be to avoid feeling bad, avoid creating conflict, or think that John would no longer trust him, Steve just went the safe route, causing his time to be taken up entirely.
Unfortunately, it's not as simple as just saying "no" and moving on. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting trapped in someone else's time and stay on your schedule:
- Take a brief moment to assess the situation and how you will feel if you reject the request. We often go for instant gratification and want to end the discomfort as soon as possible, leading us to say "yes" just to get it over with. Instead, ask if you can have a minute to think about it. Don't use that as an excuse to avoid the topic - make sure to get back to the person and reply to their request, whether it's a "yes" or a "no".
- Avoid the urge to explain yourself entirely. One reason why people don't reject others is that they feel like they have to justify to the other party why they're being rejected. If you keep your reasons brief, it'll be a lot easier to say "no".
- Don't get caught in the trap of peer pressure. Some people will try to get you to do something you might not want to by mentioning that others have agreed already. Even if it's true, that doesn't mean that you're obligated to join in. Ignore the thoughts of being left out and remember what most parents tell their young children at one point or another in their lives: "If all your friends jumped off a bridge, then would you jump off too?"
- Remember, saying "no" now doesn't mean saying "no" forever. Sometimes you do want to get involved in what the other person is asking you to do, but the timing is not right for you. You can handle this by saying that you would like to accept but can't at this time, and offering a specific time or day to get back to it.
Plan for unexpected events
We can fill our schedules with activities that we want, and we can reject all irrelevant requests thrown our way, but life will always find a way to throw a wrench in your perfectly-laid plans. Unexpected events can and will happen, leading you to have to set your goals and dreams aside.
To help handle this, start by making sure to always have in mind that despite careful planning, there's still the possibility of something happening that will cause you to pause everything you wanted to do. It can be something as simple as your car not starting up in the morning, or something a lot more serious like an injury to a loved one. The point here is not to think of what can go wrong, but to know that if something goes awry, you won't get frustrated or upset by the sudden change.
You also need to make sure you have some backup plans in place if you had to stop working on a goal for any reason. Momentum is one of the keys to achieving your goals, so make sure that during unanticipated moments you'll have a way to get back into your plans as soon as possible. Of course, due to the sudden nature of these types of events, we can't plan for absolutely everything, but at least have something in the back of your mind to use if necessary.
Using the initial story as an example once more, Steve's boss completely sidetracked him when he sent over days of work, causing his motivation to plummet. If he had thought about the possibility of having more work thrown his way, he probably could have avoided the feeling of frustration altogether and could have already taken steps to keep his project moving along, like taking an extra hour after work to further his progress.
Everyone can take control of their day
If some of the tips mentioned above sound challenging to accomplish, you're not alone. Everyone has responsibilities to take care of, like work and personal issues. You will need to work to support yourself and your family, and you need to take care of yourself and those around you. You already might have a lot of your time used by others because it's necessary for your life.
However, these responsibilities shouldn't prevent you from living the life that you want to live. So many people use this as an excuse to justify why they aren't doing the things they want, and end up doing the same things day in and day out, never fulfilling their wants and desires. You should never use this as an excuse.
If your responsibilities are holding you back from working on your own goals on a daily basis, you always have a choice to reassess your situation and find another way. It's not a simple choice most of the time, but it is a choice nonetheless. If you're expecting someone to give you a break, unfortunately, you'll be waiting forever. You - and only you - are responsible for shaping how your days will go.
Small steps for your Practical Good
If you're ready to reclaim your days and prevent others from sucking you into their world for their own needs, here are a couple of steps you can start taking to keep control of your valuable time and do the things you want to do the most:
- This evening, spend 5-10 minutes planning how you want your day to go tomorrow: Sit down with pen and paper, or open your electronic calendar, and think about how you would like to shape your day. Think about the tasks you want to accomplish, and while taking into consideration your responsibilities, start writing down how you'll use your time the next day. Try to fill in as much as possible. The goal here isn't to get everything done since there's always the possibility of unexpected events that will change your schedule. But by having a plan, it will allow you to stay focused on what you need and want to do without getting sidetracked.
- Practice saying "no" the next time someone asks you to do something that will throw you off track: The next time anyone asks you to do something small for them, whether it be your friends, family, or co-workers, practice saying "no" to their request. It takes practice so don't worry if you still feel the urge to accept despite your plans getting ruined. At the very least, ask to have a minute to think about it instead of accepting immediately. By thinking about saying "no", your brain will start to get used to it and will eventually make it easier for you to reject the things you don't want to do and stay on your path.