(Not So) Common Sense
Sorry, I’m (over) booked
By Carole Townsend
Are you good at multi-tasking? Are you one of those people who can rise at or before dawn, work a full day, handle family business and finances during lunch or on the road, return phone calls during a grueling commute every evening, then attend or host one or two meetings a week – then get up and do it all over again the next day?
Do you enjoy being on this committee or that? If so, my hat’s off to you. I got tired and anxious just writing all that.
It seems we live in a world that not only encourages multi-tasking; it demands it. I’m going to blame this on “smart” phones. We are always available. We have a world of information (and misinformation) at our fingertips, literally. No matter what else we might be doing, a ringtone, beep or electronic flutter diverts our attention to our “smart” phone. Gotta check. Always have to see whether someone else is grabbing for our attention, and for some reason, we now feel free to give it to them on demand.
As you may have surmised, I am not a multi-tasker. Give me one mission, one cause or project, and I’m dynamite. Unstoppable, so focused it’s scary. But interrupt me while I’m being fabulous, and I get derailed. What constitutes an interruption? A phone call, or a pop-up notification that I received an email while I’m writing. The doorbell is my least favorite of all these interruptions, because not only does my focus skip a beat, but my dogs also go nuts for a solid five minutes when they hear it. I boycott any product that features a ringing doorbell in its advertising. Makes me crazy.
Once I get derailed, my attention swerves dangerously left, then right, but it always ends up in the same place: nose-down in a ditch. I can straighten up and stay between the lines if I really work at it – salvage my day until the next interruption barges in - but frankly, I’m tired of working at it. I know my strengths and just as important, I know my weaknesses. Instead of trying to make myself good at something I know I never will master (let’s face it, I’ve had more than half a century to fix it, and it hasn’t happened yet), I have decided that the answer is, rather, to simplify my life.
I’m not talking about the New Years-y kind of simplifying, either. I’m talking about a necessary life change, one that’s necessary to my sanity. I’m going to use the “n-word” like I never have before, with determination and repetition.
Relax. I’m referring to the word “no.”
I have a wonderful life, and I make a point every single day of it to thank God for everything that makes my life wonderful. My loving, kind, funny and generous husband is a blessing to me, every day. Our children are my pride and joy; I love them dearly. We have a comfortable home, plenty of everything we need, and three dogs who bring me joy beyond measure. We have a church home in which we are able to worship freely and without bounds. We have friends and family who are treasures. I enjoy a modestly successful and deeply enjoyable writing career. I am thankful for every one of these things and more.
But I’ve learned something over the years. With relationship comes involvement, and with career and success – even a little bit of it – comes responsibility. Unless one learns to be selective about what one agrees to do (or volunteers to do, or is coerced into doing), one could quite possibly lose one’s mind. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about. As a person who prefers quiet surroundings and an even keel, and as a person who has a level of focus that can be positively disconcerting when it’s full bore, I come unglued when my soft, quiet bubble gets popped.
My husband is amazing - a brilliant, multi-tasking machine. I’m not just saying that because word otherwise might get back to him. He can carry on two phone conversations at the same time, a “smart” phone in each ear. I’ve seen him do it many times. His work has him all over the city managing nearly twenty other very busy men. He is on committees and boards and in groups. And he manages to keep everything straight, very rarely dropping the ball. To watch him in action is a thing of marvel and beauty and for me, a thing of exhaustion. He says “yes” to just about everything he is asked to do, and I admire that. However, we are living proof that opposites do, indeed, attract.
For years, I have tried to make myself be more like that. I have said “yes” to more asks in the past ten years than I did in the forty-some-odd years that preceded them. The result? Disastrous. I forget meetings. I forget to complete tasks (sometimes, I forget that I ever agreed to complete a task in the first place). I embarrass myself by forgetting names (that never used to happen), commitments and meetings. I have always been a stickler for being ON TIME, usually early. The more I said “yes” to people, the more I violated my own rule about punctuality. I was becoming an anxious wreck.
Therefore, I am starting with our house. I’m de-cluttering. I remember when we moved my dad to a retirement community, and then his eventual passing in 2013. Everything he had accumulated in his ninety-three years on earth amounted to exactly nothing. How sad is that? If it couldn’t be sold, it was thrown away. So I’m getting rid of the stuff that we don’t absolutely need, and I’m doing it now, while we can enjoy the simplicity that will come with it.
I am steeling myself to begin saying “no” when people ask me to be on a committee, or to volunteer for this or that, or to organize something else. I’m not good at it, period. I don’t like doing all that. The things for which I volunteer and that I really want to do, I have been doing for years. They are things about which I’m passionate and to which I am dedicated, and I will continue to make them part of my life for as long as I am able. I don’t need to bring attention to myself by being on a committee, or a phone tree (I detest the telephone), or in meetings every night. I pressured myself to do these things, to help share the load. In my corporate career, I heard many times the old adage about twenty percent of the people doing eighty percent of the work. Sometimes that’s because people can be just plain lazy; other times, it’s because people like me just aren’t good at the “social” part of helping.
If you are a multi-tasker, I am in awe of your abilities. If you’re not, I get it. Like the late, great First Lady Nancy Reagan told us, “Just say no.”
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published in 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her previous three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South.
Published April 2017, Gwinnett Citizen