Overscheduled? How to Carve Out Some Downtime This Summer

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Step 2: Just say no
Grab a red pen and slash activities rated 1 or 2 right off your schedule. Does this involve turning someone down? Just saying "no" is, hands-down, the most effective way to do that. "No" is a complete sentence. Really! And it doesn't give any room for doubt or push back.

But if that feels too hard to say—or the person you're turning down is really persistent—here are ways to say it and feel better about it, from the firmest to the mildest:

  • 'That's not really my speed.' A softer version of a hard no that still leaves no room for argument.
  • 'Let me check my calendar and get back to you.' "It's hard to think on your feet," Domar says. "This gives you time to reflect." It also makes other people feel placated—and lets you decline later via email, which often feels easier than doing so face-to-face.
  • 'No, but how about I drop off store-bought cupcakes another time?' Offering an alternative solution keeps you on the hook for the future, but it also puts you in control, so you're helping out on your own terms and not someone else's.
  • 'No, because I'll be away on business/this is my busy time/I have a conflict.' This type of no gives a concrete reason why and takes the blame off you, so it's a tempting response. One problem, though: It opens up a hole for comebacks like, "Then we'll wait for you to get back into town!" Save this one for situations where bad timing really is the problem.
Step 3: Peel the onion
Sometimes we agree to tasks rated 3 through 5 even though they add to our already-heavy load. Why? Brown recommends "peeling the onion"—digging deep to understand your true motivation. Often, it comes from a personal priority or strength: Maybe you're devoted to family, so when you agree to pick up your mother-in-law from the airport, you're expressing a value that's important to you. Or maybe you're a whiz with words, so when you say you'll edit your friend's resume, you're seizing the chance to shine! Tasks become less burdensome when you recognize that they feed your soul in some way.

Step 4: Aim for OK
Make this your goal for activities, rated 6 through 8, that you enjoy but don't have time to execute perfectly. "How good does something need to be?" Domar asks. "I'd rather have an employee turn in something on time that's just fine than turn in something a week late that's really good."

So host a party and buy appetizers at Costco instead of staying up all night cooking from scratch. Meet your old boss for lunch (and a little networking!), but go somewhere casual so restaurant service doesn't swallow up your day. "This frees you up to move on to the next thing," says Domar—even if that next thing is lying on the sofa zoning out to HGTV.

Step 5: Make the time
Taking a ceramics class, check! Meeting girlfriends for Friday happy hour, check! Activities rated 9 or 10 are things that give you true joy, and it's worth ditching the dead weight so you can make time for them. Don't ever feel guilty about these soul-nourishing activities: They'll see you through life's more tedious obligations, so even if you're technically super busy, your life will still feel light and full, all at the same time.

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