Part 2/6: “Why do I feel like I’m always behind?”

Have you ever found yourself saying as you look at your to-do list and feeling that tenseness in your chest: “I just need to get more organized?”

Somehow, we feel like everything’s gotten out of control–between putting out fires at work, your kid coming into your bedroom at 5 in the morning, and you coming down with a cold–and we wonder: How did I get so behind?

Of course, because we want to fix the problem as soon as we can, it’s natural that our first thought is: What kind of planner, system, or calendar reminders do I need to make this all WORK?

It’s like when I found myself so overcommitted and overbooked–because I could not BEAR the thought of saying no–that I was finding it harder and harder to breathe. It almost felt like checking one thing off my list didn’t matter–all it did was create another set of ‘to-dos’!

I feel we both know that not only is this not sustainable–if you haven’t already felt your energy depleted yet–but it’s also no way to live.

But I’m also not going to preach about how we need to have ‘work-life’ balance–because that’s not necessarily true, either.

In fact, over the course of working with one of my clients, she came to realize that as much as she wanted to separate ‘work’ and ‘personal life’—who you are at work is who you are in your personal life. And who you are at home is who you are at work.

While it may LOOK different–you do the same things,in the same way. You think about the same things, in the same way. When you try to separate these things, that’s when all the problems start.

So what’s the answer? How can you NOT get to a point where you’re overbooked, overcommitted, and overwhelmed?

Here’s the first ‘secret’: We must–however long it may take us!–get comfortable with HOW to decide what our priorities are, and say  YES to them–while saying ‘no’ to other things.

I know this is common sense. But do you know how many people actually practice and do this?

It is a number that stays between the number of fingers on both of my hands.

And there are ALL kinds of reasons for it!


  • We hate letting people down
  • We’ll feel guilty
  • We’ll feel like we left someone high and dry, or abandoned them
  • We feel like a bad person (especially if we’re taught that being a ‘good person’ means helping people)
  • We’ll say no, but then let other people pressure us, and we fold–feeling like we don’t have control anyway, so why bother?

And the sneakier, ‘invisible’ myth that’s underneath it all, is that our entire lives so far have been focused on achievement. Our personalities are based on it, and our self-worth is based on it. Achievement has gotten you this far, hasn’t it?

But this isn’t about not focusing on achievement. This is about 1) Having a better relationship with achievement and ambition so you don’t go so far off the deep-end and actually achieve less and 2) Integrating into your life–along with achievement–the right ways to rest and recharge so you can actually do more.

So today I want to help equip you with a framework you can start to use as you start to get more comfortable with the idea of doing this: The ‘Yes, And’ Strategy

See, many people recoil when they even hear the words “say no”, because it has a negative connotation. It is no wonder we have so much resistance to it.

But when you say ‘no’ the right way–you actually don’t have to use the word ‘no’ at all!

If you’re not already familiar, there’s a great principle in Improv called “Yes, and”. It means that when you’re doing a scene with someone, you are not allowed to say “no” to what your partner brings to the table. You go along with it no matter what, instead of trying to have a plan or force things to be your way. It also  helps keep the scene going without any awkward pauses.

So if your partner, Bob, says: “Honey, did you take out the trash?”

Instead of saying a flat: “No”…which ends the scene right there…

You say: “Yes, honey, and on my way out there I watched our dog get kidnapped by the neighbors”

Bob: “And you just let it happen?!”

You get the point. Now you have a scene, instead of a dead fish in the water.

So when you think about HOW to say no…here’s how to use the ‘Yes, And’ Strategy:

  1. Always start with positive acknowledgement. “I’d love to”…”This sounds great”…”I’m so glad you came to me”. This frames everything you’re about to say next in a much more easy-to-digest light.
  2. Lead into the reason why you can’t do it, or it can’t be done right now. “Right now, I’m not free. At 2:00PM, I can get started on X.” or “I’m going to pass for now” or “I’m not interested” or “I can’t make it” or “In one hour, I can definitely do that”. Notice how you’re not really saying “No, bye!”. You are giving a firm, polite statement about your availability.
  3. Last…say nothing, or just ‘thank you’ if you’re writing a response! At this point, let’s take a page out of Julia Child’s cookbook: “Never apologize, make excuses, or give explanations”. And this was regarding if you cooked a bad meal.

If you have to say no, you don’t owe *anybody* an explanation. Once you start apologizing and explaining, you know what’s going to happen? People will pressure you, and you’ll fold. The reason is apologizing and explaining is another way of saying to someone: “I said no, but I didn’t really mean it.” People can sniff out how serious you are.

Remember, this is HARD.

If you’re so used to saying ‘YES’ this is going to feel a little bit like walking outside at 5am in the middle of a blizzard with only shorts and a tank top on. But that’s the point.

If it were easy, you’d be doing it already!

So for your second part of this productivity challenge, here’s what to do:

  • Use the ‘Yes, And’ Strategy to say ‘no’ to just ONE thing before Friday. It doesn’t matter how small or inconsequential you think it is. The point is to start the practice
  • Once you do it, reply back to me and tell me you did it! I’ll be sharing how other people did it, so you can learn from them, too.

Talk soon!



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