Commit to doing (just a little bit) less this year

After leaving behind another challenging year, we are all hoping for better days ahead. With the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and now boosters, there is good reason for optimism. You might be tempted to commit to a new year of goals and resolutions that will enable you to seize all the opportunity ahead.

There’s nothing at all wrong with that. And I have plenty of resources to help you bring all your goals to life (such as how to make SMART goals smarter, the 3 Cs for shifting behavior, rewiring your brain to help habits stick, ideas for a resolution reset, and more.)

But I wonder if this year might be exactly the right time to commit to a different kind of goal. One that will serve you no matter how smooth or choppy the waters of your life become.

Try UNcommitting – just a little – this year.

When time and energy run out

I recently hit a wall. When I left my role in academia a year ago, I intended to build a maker’s schedule for myself. I would continue to coach and grow my business – work that I truly have a passion for – but I would also make time to write, plan … and rest.) Yet about two months ago, I found myself deeply exhausted and overwhelmed. One morning, I looked at my calendar for the week and saw a sea of meetings. And I simply could not face it all.

Fortunately, the people I work with did not hesitate to give me the support I needed as I started reaching out and asking to reschedule meetings and put nonessential tasks on hold. I realized I had been preaching time and energy management to clients but failing to give myself the same grace.

Much as I might wish otherwise, time and energy are finite. When I hit a wall, it was because I had exhausted my energy stores and overwhelmed my schedule. I didn’t have much left to give – to others or myself. So, I stepped back and took a break. I didn’t really have much choice.

Overwhelming yourself until you have no choice but take a break is certainly one way to do time and energy management. But it’s definitely not ideal for you or your commitments to those around you.

Instead, I recommend making uncommitting a regular part of your life. Routinely pruning your schedule will enable you to avoid a mini-crisis like mine. Here’s how I would approach it.

Uncommitting, one meeting at a time

Start by reviewing your schedule for the upcoming week every Friday before you wind down the workday. This habit will give you peace of mind for the weekend by ensuring you are prepared for whatever Monday morning holds. It’s also a nice time to plan your week before you are mired in it. But I like this habit most of all because it is a great opportunity to uncommit.

Every time you do this, identify one thing to take off your calendar for the coming week. Some things will have to stay. Meetings with your boss, perhaps, along with anyone who reports to you. But we all get roped into meetings we won’t contribute to or touch-base updates that could happen by email. Here is a great article outlining questions you can ask to determine whether you need to attend a meeting. If at all possible after you analyze your schedule, take one of these meetings off your calendar and block the time off for something restorative instead.

I used to do this when I worked at Duke University School of Medicine. I was lucky to have an office within walking distance of the beautiful Sarah P. Duke Gardens, and so when I pruned something from my calendar, I often replaced it with “meeting with Sarah P.” I learned it was best not to overexplain my cancellations. I simply owned the fact that I needed the time back, and I took it.

Your more manageable schedule

Uncommitting from one thing a week will not erase all the frustrations and challenges of work, nor will it make the pandemic go away, bridge our political divides, or otherwise make this year the shining season we all could use right now. But it will give you a little more resilience than you might otherwise have. It will also help you begin to assess the things that make it onto your calendar before they land there. And it’s certainly a more efficient practice than waiting until you hit a wall.

Whatever your goals for yourself in the weeks and months to come, I hope you achieve all you hope for. Most importantly, I hope your life is filled with friendship, love and all the things that give you joy.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.

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