Over the past six months, my calendar has become a battle zone. Networking lunches, coffees, drinks, dinners, and events compete for limited slots in the work week—I view the available slots as two per weekday, excluding Friday night, which I reserve for Netflix and sleep. On the weekends, I’m so burned out that I try my best not to make any plans whatsoever so I can spend time catching up on freelance work, Parks and Rec, and sanity.
When good friends ask, "Do you want to grab a drink and catch up this week?" on Sunday or Monday, the next available slot is usually two or three weeks out. Let’s not play the "Yeah, we get it Kelsey, you’re so popular" game, because that’s not what this is.
It’s a serious problem that instead of saying no to anything, I just keep scheduling weeks in advance. It’s a problem that at 23, I can’t make casual or spontaneous plans with friends. I love being busy, going to events, and meeting new people, but even I can recognize that I’ve gone too far. And since I know many similarly ambitious millennial women are facing the same issue, I thought it was time to ask some experts what to do about our overscheduling addiction, and how to be more selective about our time.
"It's imperative that you’re able to prioritize all of the opportunities in your life and career," said millennial performance adviser Porschia Parker. "Basing your priorities on your values is an excellent way to remove any guilt you may have about telling someone no. Making a list of your top five values (freedom, career growth, family, money, etc.) and comparing it with a list of all of the commitments (activities/events) you've made is a great exercise. If a commitment doesn’t match with any of your top values, ask yourself: Is this something that is moving me closer to my goals? If not, consider canceling it."
"Communicate your goals with the people in your circle who matter," said Career Coach Angelina Darrisaw. "In most situations, close friends won’t fault you for working late when they know you are chasing a promotion."
"Slow down and think before scheduling something," said millennial career coach Crystal Batya Marsh. "Many ambitious women have a tendency towards people pleasing and are afraid of how someone else will think or feel about her if she says no. It’s important to consider for yourself, am I doing this because I want to or because I feel obligated in some way? Am I truly obligated or am I creating a story about the obligation? We sometimes go into elaborate storytelling regarding why we must do something, but the story might not be true. We are imagining how the other person is going to react before we’ve even spoken to them. This is problematic because you can never know how a person actually feels or what is going through her head. Moreover, even if you could, it is not your responsibility to keep everyone around you happy."
"When someone asks you to do something and you begin to think, Maybe I can squeeze this in between my workout, meeting, and emails, it’s a good indicator you should say no," said Val Matta, VP of business development at CareerShift. "Tell the person you appreciate him or her for thinking of you, but you can’t help out at this time. Briefly explain the other commitments you have, and that you don’t want to say yes to something you can’t devote the amount of time required for you to do your best work."
Theresa Sintetos, a millennial with ADD who recently accepted her first full-time job out of college, said she had to learn this lesson the hard way. I couldn’t agree more with her tip: "Throw it back to a paper calendar. This may sound so passé, but buy an old-school agenda and write in pencil. Calendar programs and apps are great, but they often aren’t as flexible as your life is. Physical calendars allow you to write in the margins, create unimposing to-do lists, and literally see your life laid out in front of you."
Like I do with my Friday nights, millennial entrepreneur Bonnie Treece said she has learned that she needs to schedule "me time" into her calendar. Even though I am fully aware that that time block is for nothing particular, it allows me to say no to things I don’t truly want to attend because I can simply say, "I’m sorry, I am busy at that time" or, "I’m sorry, I already have other plans."
"Even if that time is spent taking a bubble bath—it matters and it counts! The key to managing your life this way is to keep that blocked-off time sacred. Do not allow yourself to book something work-related during that time, no matter what. It’s important to realize that you cannot perform your job to the fullest or be the best friend, mother, or daughter you can be until you have completely taken care of yourself."
This article originally appeared on Levo and is reprinted with permission.