What is wrong (or is it right??) about us that we believe we have to be Super Woman, Superior Mom, and Superlative Worker? Is it drive and ambition or the blind belief that if we don’t do it all, no one will, and so nothing will ever get done? See the redundancy of this sentence? It is frightening. Maybe if no one does it, it never needed doing to begin with and so since it never will be done (without you and your vigor) no one ever will know that it didn’t get done because apparently it never needed doing to begin with.
Multi-tasking is a way of life, a human condition of current living. With a finite number of minutes in a day, to maintain the “Super” status that we love wrapped around our shoulders, we have forced ourselves into a burgeoning box of bulging obligations and the overpowering pressure to accomplish everything imaginable with barely a noticeable sign of any extreme exertion energy. And where does this all supreme-ness transport us? To power and importance, sometimes, to a sense of well-being, occasionally, to exhaustion and possible despair, quite often.
You may be thinking, “She’s nuts! I can do everything and be all things to everyone. Despair never! There is no time for such a silly emotion. Exhaustion maybe, but I cover it up so well!” The loud voice within is shouting SAVE THE WORLD, but it is the soft spoken murmur from our souls that may give us the best sense of who we are while protecting us from the drive to accomplish all things in 29 seconds or less.
I will tell you, as multi-tasker of vast experience, that doing it all is fun. There are few events more exciting and fulfilling to me than starting my morning at 5 am and then discovering that by 9 that I have cleaned the house, mowed the grass, weeded the garden, washed/dried/folded six loads of laundry while writing two articles and editing three others. And there are still many hours of the day to unfold and be filled with one hundred additional tasks. What a terrific sense of importance and value. It makes me feel powerful and omnipotent.
It is then that I realize that I had a conference at 8, right in the midst of my morning flurry, and I failed to dial in. Admittedly, 62 tasks have been completed in exemplary fashion, but the one of the greatest significance, the one that was a deep commitment and obligation, was shoved beneath the escalating waves of Super-dom. That is when despair begins its stealthy creep into my mind. Even if it were not an earth-shattering matter to have failed to connect with the people on the conference call, it feels like a profound failure of my ability to multi-task. It is at this low point that I finally am able to recognize that this was not multi-tasking. It was quadruple multi-tasking and that is a whole bundle of tasks squeezed into a minimum of minutes.
So what is the difference between multi- and quadruple multi-tasking? Unfortunately, multi-tasking has become an expectation. As women we have donned the crown of victory by demanding too much of ourselves. Instead to delegating as necessary, we self-egate. With the belief that “No one can do the job like I can” we have packaged ourselves into a signed, sealed, delivered collection under the guise of “I can – and will – do anything.” Somewhere in the midst of this quadruple multi-tasking fiasco we must for ourselves to screech, “Stop! I want to get off!!” And we have to mean it. To say stop with the inability of letting go, we are only leading ourselves to a more vulnerable state-of-being, one in which we not only QMT (Quadruple Multi-Tasking; Quite Mentally Totaled; Quivering with Many Tiptop-Actions) we contemplate the possibility of quintupling or deca-dupling (that’s 10X) our juggling act of actions and responsibilities.
Some of you are shaking your heads as you read this while determining that this in no way reflects your behavior. Others, those whose mouths are drooping and drool is dribbling forth in semi-delicate droplets, recognize the accuracy of these words. The more you do each day has become a sign of worth and to you, to admit you cannot do and be everything, is a sign of ineptness and incompetence. No one wants to feel either of these even for the most fleeting of moments and so we forge on with super powers.
Is there a cure for this disease? The wonderful news is Yes! But it is not easy and it will definitely take time and repeated reminders every time you or a friend you trust catches you slipping back into “I can do anything-icity.” As with all addictions, confronting the fact that there is a problem is Step 1 to a cure. Step 2 is realizing that makes changes is critical to yourself and your healthy mental and physical survival. Step 3 comes in (surprise) multiple parts. Step 3 requires that you divide your responsibilities into four sections. A visual will help you truly tackle this.
Take piece of paper, fold it in half, and then quarters and at the top of each section write these labels: Box 1 – Obligations; Box 2 – Oopsligations, Box 3 – Delegations; Box 4 – Deletions. Box 1, 3, and 4 are headed by familiar terminology that you must now examine with new eyes. Obligations are all about and necessary to you. If baking cookies for a social is something you love to do because mixing the dough builds strength, sniffing the aroma as the cookies bake expands power, and decorating the cookie box for delivery maximizes your artistic talents, then it is an obligation, a responsibility that also multiplies the worth of you. If, on the other hand, baking the cookies is a trial, a responsibility that makes you want to bite off the hand that flew into air to volunteer for the cookie-caper you must relegate this responsibility to another section of the paper.
This may make the cookie baking an “Oopsligation”, something you promised to do but now are most unhappy, even disgruntled, about doing? Learn from experience that although you want to do your share, there is absolutely no reason that you must be on cookie detail yet again. Next time volunteers are sought, sit on your hand, refuse to oblige, release yourself from the responsibility. This is hard work because as a QMT you know that everyone is counting on you and that no one, and I mean no one, can bake Peanut Blossom Cookies with quite the pizzazz that you possess. But you know that you must relinquish some duties and this is one that Sue can do (even though it may mean a packaged product instead of homemade).
If your Oopsligation came about as a result of a phone call, saying no may be even more difficult than resting your fingertips beneath your rump. While some will say that the impersonality of the phone is an automatic liberator of responsibility, as a QMT you know that this is not so. With a live request you can see it coming through the demeanor, actions, and tone of voice winding their way to you. On the phone you are most likely caught by surprise. For this you must plan ahead. Grab a note card of hardy stock (as you will refer to it frequently). Boldly write: I am unable to bake cookies [or any other task] because I already have obligations [no lie, you do]. Call me next time and I will try to help you out. I realize that you wanted to allow yourself to be banned from all cookies forever, but this is not healthy for a QMT. Since you thrive on helping others, your psyche does not want to be crossed off the cookie list for all time, just for now, as you build strength in avoiding Oopsligations.
Delegation. The cookies may fall into that role. Your daughter or son (niece, nephew, mother-in-law) loves to bake and as a QMT you have always been afraid to surrender control of the kitchen. This is your chance to not only guard your own health and power but to permit others in your life to flourish. Caution: Once you have delegated (an extreme complicated and thorny task) stay out of the kitchen. You may help in recipe selection and the gathering of ingredients and utensils before the process. You may offer a limited number of parting words of advice as you exit the kitchen, but you may not, under any circumstances, stay in the room. Within shouting range is all right the first couple of bakes as an oven fire is an ugly event, but after that you must step away as you step into new-found freedom. The power from this will be multiple as you are released from duty and someone you love gains responsibility and skill.
Finally there are the Deletions. These items are responsibilities you detest. You cannot continue to discover yourself bound up in tasks that sap your energy, drain your power, tax your talents, and empty your fuel tank. Deletions are the most difficult of all. It can be likened to a captain abandoning her ship. When you delete you erase, trash, and eliminate a responsibility forever. If you know and can admit in your heart that one more cookie request will send you over the edge of sanity and break you into a thousand irreparable crumbs you must discharge a deliberate and decisive NO as you delete cookie-dom from your life forever.
Again a note card may help, especially if as a QMT you do not want to hurt feelings, even the feelings of arch enemies or eternal foes. Most QMT have enormous, giving hearts where “No” translates to inner collapse and failure. The delete button is most likely your toughest rival, even more so than the individual to whom you are about to refuse duty. As you jot your message on your note card be sure to include words such as never, impossible, unworkable, in no way. You must make it clear that on no account will you be available now or in the future to bake cookies.
With written note in hand, practice saying it aloud again and again. As a QMT myself I know that refusing someone’s request for help is practically as impossible as it is improbable that I will stick to my word. It is far easier to fold than to stand tall, sit tight, and escape an unwanted and unneeded duty. That is why I can share with you so freely, realizing my own personal weakness. I will tell you though just writing about refusal is empowering. I fully realize that if I could delete even one responsibility from my daily list valuable minutes would explode and then could be poured into other activities that revitalize and maximize my strength.
Remember, you are as super as you want to be if you believe it to be so. I do not think there is a judge who when assessing your life will notice that you only baked cookies for the bizarre (oh, what’s in a word! I mean bazaar!) 919 times instead of the 920 times you were asked. What will be remembered is the joy and radiating personal love that you brought to every responsibility whose joy then spread to those with whom you worked.