Do I really have to?

November 2, 2016 Comments Off on Do I really have to?


I had a friend over yesterday for a long, thought-provoking chat. She’s one of those formidable, straight-talking people, and manages to stage an intervention all by herself, but remains calm, kind and compassionate in the process. And lord knows, I needed an intervention – I’ve not had the greatest two weeks of my life.

We chatted for a few hours, and nailed down what I needed to do next to sort myself out. And as she climbed into her car, she left me with this parting shot: “Most things are optional. Don’t forget.”

And as I stood in my front garden, I had a little lightbulb moment. Because I am the mistress of the very long to-do list, which I wield like a baton for the purpose of self-bludgeoning. And actually, at least half of the things on that list – which, in my head is really an “I have to…” list – at least half of them are optional. And if they aren’t fully optional, they really don’t have to be done today.

The problem with “I have to…” is that it removes the choice. And then we feel resentful and rebellious and angry – because we may not always want to do that choice. They say that’s one of the best ways to manage a toddler, for example – by giving them a choice. Although, in their case, it’s a controlled choice: “Do you want to wear the red shoes or the blue shoes?” Not, “Which shoes do you want to wear?” But the point is that when you give a toddler a choice, they’re less likely to throw a tantrum. And if you’d see me slamming doors and screaming at the dogs the other night, you’d understand why I’m using toddlers as an analogy.

So I’ve decided to change my language to introduce more choice into it. “I have to make a slip cover for that sleeper couch,” becomes “I choose to make a slip cover for that couch.” And actually, some days it might be “I choose not to make that slip cover today.” Or even, “I choose to get someone else to make that slip cover because I just don’t have the time.”

Because I do have a choice a lot of the time, and I haven’t always exercised that choice. And so I’ve run myself ragged in the endless pursuit of those elusive have-tos, and found myself so depleted as a result that the simple act of climbing a ladder to change a light bulb has the power to reduce me to a sobbing, incoherent mess.

I read an article the other day on time management that made this stunning observation: often what we call time management is actually energy management. That was another lightbulb moment for me. It’s about working with your energy levels instead of against them, doing the tough things while you have energy, and most importantly, prioritising.

And for me that means deciding if I really have to do something, or if I can choose to do it another day – or not at all.




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