There was an article in The New York Times recently by Tim Kreider, called “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” It described the prevalent problem of people today being overly busy. In modern America, it’s almost a badge of honor to be stressed-out and so busy you can barely hold it together. The more you can accomplish, the more you are admired (supposedly).

Adding to this problem is our tendency to do whatever people want us to do, particularly when it comes to business. A client wants to meet at an inconvenient time, a customer wants a product or service in an unreasonable time frame. Our natural instinct is to say, “I’ll make it work,” even if it means that we neglect our family or damage our health.

What’s the root of this problem? We want to be admired, we want to please people. That’s really the reason we rush around and say “yes” to too many things. We care too much what other people think. Sometimes we care so much that we don’t believe we have a choice.

We always have a choice. We need to prioritize the things going on in our lives, reprogram our inner GPSs, and take control. Here are some ways to help that reprogramming process:

  1. Realize that being admired isn’t fulfilling. Frequently we say “yes” when when should say “no” because we want to be admired. We need to realize that living according to our priorities is much more fulfilling than being admired by people that don’t really matter to us that much in the grand scheme of life.
  2. There are very few “musts.” Our default is to assume that we have to do what we’ve been doing, or what’s on our to-do list. Stop and evaluate if each thing is really important or really “must” be done. Could you make better use of your time, your life, by doing something else?
  3. Realize that by saying “no” to someone’s request, you’re not saying “no” to the relationship. Sometimes even people we love will ask us to do things that we know shouldn’t be on our plates at the current time. Just because you decline a request doesn’t mean you love someone less. Figure out how to communicate lovingly that what’s being asked needs to wait.
  4. Choose to work with people who share your values. It’s going to be more difficult to say “no” to a client’s request that you work through your son’s soccer game if that client is a workaholic. If you make strategic decisions to work with people who understand your priorities, it will be easier to say that you will need to work around the soccer schedule.

It’s possible to take control. It requires reprogramming, but you’ll find yourself much happier and more fulfilled as a result.