prime time

brightly colored paper clocks

First, let me say … Happy New Year to you! I do hope your holidays were happy and that you are filled with hope and purpose as another year begins.

Leading up to the holidays this year, I’ve been thinking more than usual about time (and for me, “more than usual” is saying something, because I think about time a lot).  I’m tempted to divert from course here and interject some witty or pithy anecdotes about time as I see it; but I’m afraid that, by the time I finally finished my meanderings, I’ll have lost focus regarding what I really came here to say.

So let me get right to it.

My first book was released in print in May of 2015, and it was enjoying positive traction even early on. I was talking often with close friends, dreaming and scheming, plotting our individual courses and buzzing with the unlimited possibilities that lay on the horizon for all of us in various areas. The future was looking bright.

Prior to this, I’d been protective of my creative time, because I knew I’d need to be if I were going to accomplish on time all that goes into the monumental event of releasing a book, particularly one such as The Best Advice So Far, which was not primarily designed to be a point-of-sale item, but rather a precursor to live speaking engagements, a conversation starter – a way of life. I went to bed each night (or, rather, early morning) tuckered out, but happy.

I was investing time into meeting new and like-minded people regularly and cultivating those relationships, both live and through social media – building real connections with others equally passionate about their own quests for adding positivity to the world.

And, of course, I was exploring and experimenting daily with how best to let the world know about the book, the blog and the potential for change that the power of choice can bring. I created engaging media daily, posted often to social sites, and engaged in meaningful conversations with people the world over regarding their experiences with the book and blog.

But somewhere back about late June, something in me shifted. To this day, I can’t really say exactly why or pinpoint the specific details. It wasn’t one event and it didn’t happen overnight. But it happened nonetheless.

I began to be less diligent in guarding my time.

Leading up to that period of time, I’d been investing concerted energy and focus into finishing the book, and that milestone had been reached. Truly, there was never a time during the day when there was nothing left to do in that regard. But I’d succeeded. The book was finally out there. And, as I say, the initial groundswell was encouraging all around.

Maybe in the wake of it all, my system wasn’t used to having free time with no structured “next thing to do.”

Maybe I was just worn down and didn’t realize that my mental defenses were weakened, a state occluded by all of the positive energy swirling about.

But, whatever the reason, I began allowing other things to creep in and take over that newly found “free space.”

I started saying “yes” to a lot more requests from people all of a sudden. As I look back, it was seemingly small stuff at first. Things that would “only take an hour or two.”

Or five.

Things that started as a “yes to a couple of hours” somehow turned into “… oh, and just one more thing, if you don’t mind.” And before long, I began to realize that 9 out of 10 times people were contacting me, it was to say, “Hey, Erik, I was wondering if you could just [fill in the blank] for me.” Somehow, I’d forgotten my own advice:

“No” is a complete answer.

As the cool kids say, here’s the sitch.

Let’s say a new person texted to ask me “could you just …?” The habit I had allowed myself to get into for the latter half of 2015 was that I would open my schedule on my phone. I would scroll through and see all the times that were booked. Monday – booked. Tuesday – no dice. Wednesday – nope. “Oh, OK, well I guess I do have a two-hour slot that isn’t booked Thursday night from 8:00 to 10:00,” I’d think, “so I suppose I could do it then.

Notice that what I haven’t been considering as a viable thought is, “I’m stretched too thin. I’m going to have to tell this person I can’t help them. I need some time to rest.” Instead, the trap I’d gotten myself into was looking at any slot in my calendar that wasn’t already claimed as “available time I could fill with helping another person out.”

This sounds nice of me. I’m sure it makes me seem like a good guy. But it is bad.

Very, very bad, in fact.

In thinking this way – that any unclaimed real estate on the calendar is up for grabs – I’ve let my own pursuits fall by the wayside. I’ve become unfocused, pulled in twenty unrelated directions. Many days, my head hurts, not with a headache, per se, but with a sort of feeling like my skull is stuffed with wet towels. And while I’d been peripherally upholding the truths of the first three chapters of my book – “You always have a choice,” “Misery is a choice” and “Practice positivity” – I had to face the fact that I’d begun to choose helping over happiness.

The Best Advice So Far: Are you choosing helping over happiness?

Let me stop here and make a few things as clear as possible.

First, even in the worst of this cycle I’ve let myself fall into, I have not blamed anyone else. The problem here is not with other people. The problem is with me. Anyone who knows me and has seen glimpses of the burn-out will tell you that I’ve consistently said, “I chose this. And only I can un-choose it.”

Now, if I were to say “no” to you and you were to stomp off in a huff or throw a tantrum or never speak to me again because of it, then the responsibility would fall to you. You would have chosen your reaction. But as things stand, I’ve chosen to say “yes” more times than I should have; and that was no one’s doing but my own.

I also want to say, I love helping! I love my friends and family. I love people. What’s more, I believe as much as ever in looking for opportunities to foster others-centered moments over perpetual me-centered moments. I often feel honored that people believe in my input and skills and would turn to me for help. And, on an individual and isolated basis, being able to have a positive impact in someone else’s life – helping them reach a goal or move toward a dream – is fun for me. What isn’t quite as fun is the cumulative effect of doing so for dozens of people simultaneously.

So, please – if you have asked me to help you and I’ve said “yes” in 2015, don’t fret or email or call saying, “Did you write that blog post about me?” I didn’t. I’m not. Again, this isn’t about individuals or incidents. It’s about me. It’s about patterns and about the compounded effect of forgetting that taking care of myself is every bit as important as taking care of others.

So here is my plan moving forward:

I am refocusing on my own goals and dreams and making them a priority.

I am allocating blocks of time for myself and my own dreams, pursuits, enjoyments and restoration, treating them as immovable and protected “scheduled time.” And I am choosing to make those times “prime times” rather than whatever is left over for a towel-stuffed brain in the waning hours of a non-stop day. In fact, I am going to actually add these times to my schedule, so that they are colored in and therefore, visually, not treated like “open time.” (It’s got me feeling like the trickiest of tricksters, I tell you.)

I am going to graciously say “no” more often, toward achieving the above goal – even though that means that people may choose to be mad at me.  If that happens, it will be a bummer … but not as much of a bummer as perpetually feeling like a pincushion rag doll.

This doesn’t mean my days of helping people are over. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. But I’ve lived the truth of things, that you can’t really take care of others unless you are willing to take care of yourself. When I am chasing my dreams, seeing them come to fruition, and feeling focused and fulfilled, it radiates to others. And so, moving forward into this new year, those additional things to which I do say “yes” will once again be able to be undertaken wholeheartedly, energetically and with positivity.

Anyone out there know what I’m talking about? Have you been feeling that you’ve painted yourself into some corners lately? Or do you have your own strategies or approaches to protecting prime time for your own goals and wellbeing? Share your thoughts and let’s help each other stay on track in 2016.

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