Monday, January 03, 2011

"The High Price of Saying Yes to Everything"

That headline jumped off the page yesterday morning, as though it had been placed there just for me.

I have been learning that "Saying Yes to Everything" almost always creates as many difficulties as it tries to solve.

Reflecting on how this tendency had gained ascendancy my own life, last spring I wrote:
The fact is, I've lost a great deal of time in the pursuit of an illusory productivity. I've become a victim of the myth of multi-tasking.
For instance, I carry two cell phones -- one provided by the radio station and my own personal/business phone -- a tangible manifestation of the dilemma I face, having more professional interests than the time to pursue them, more irons in the fire than I can effectively handle, too many conflicting deadlines and obligations.

Yes, I have only myself to blame. I've always found it easier to say "Yes" to people, when I should be saying "No, I can't. Sorry." Whether it boils down to a lack of self-discipline or a fertile imagination, take your pick. Both apply.
The progress I've made in the intervening nine months can be measured only in baby steps, but I'm pretty sure that "Yes" does not come out of my mouth as freely or automatically these days as it once did.

So, when I read today's "Yoder & Sons"—a bi-weekly column written by the San Francisco Bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, Steve Yoder, and his two sons, Isaac (19) and Levi (15)—I was more than a little interested in how they deal with this same challenge in their own lives.

College sophomore Isaac writes about coming to grips with overextension and conflicting commitments:
"In the end, we inevitably have no choice but to practice triage with our obligations—breaking promises, producing work below our abilities and letting our personal health suffer. We skim the readings for class, put off studying for fast-approaching exams, forget to buy more toothpaste and neglect to return Mom's voicemail..."
He resolves to pare down his schedule, dropping extracurricular commitments in favor of devoting himself more fully to his academic work, and concludes:
"This may end up being one of the greatest lessons I've learned from college: Take on few enough things to finish what you start, be on time, keep promises and produce the highest-quality work you can."
Admitting that he has been a "role model...for overextension," Steve responds that he will take Isaac's lead and "resolve to cut back on overcommitment this year. Just like last year. And the year before that."

The parents worry about the downside of saying yes to everything, but at the same time don't want to pass up valuable opportunities. Steve specifically cites his decision in 2008 to write the new column with his sons. His plate was already full, and this was "the kind of additional commitment I'd vowed to avoid. But it's been one of the most gratifying commitments I've made."

In the end, it's really a balancing act, isn't it?

I'm again reminded of the words of Steve Massey, a Hayden, Idaho pastor: "...we can choose to say no. Most of the decisions we make that lead to busyness don’t involve a choice between right and wrong. They’re usually choices between good things... Let’s exercise the freedom to say 'no' to good things; save 'yes' for the best things."

Read the full Yoder & Sons column ("The High Price of Saying Yes to Everything") here.

Read the full Steve Massey column ("Life Too Busy? Christ Offers a Cure for That") here.

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