Archive for March, 2012

As I turned off the projector, the students began to gather their belongings and exit the classroom. One student hung back, and as the classroom emptied she approached me with a smile. “I just wanted to tell you that the thing I needed to hear the most in your last workshop was, “It’s okay to say ‘no'”. She went on to explain that she was over-committed and her school work was suffering because of it. But, she felt guilty taking anything out of her schedule… and she felt guilty saying no to anything she was asked do. So, she thanked me for giving her permission to say “no” and said it was a huge relief just to hear someone say it was okay. It seems to be something that happens with a lot of students, but especially with the returning learner. Most of them are working students, and are overwhelmed with everything in their lives. In terms of prioritization, they put themselves at the bottom of the list. The problem is, a student won’t make it if they don’t learn to move themselves out from under the bottom of the stack. School must be a priority. If not the first priority, pretty darn near close!

Last semester, I worked with a student who had a packed schedule because she went to school, had a child, worked and went to church (which, for her, was an all-day event). There wasn’t much time left for her studies. Then, one day she came in and told me that she needed to rework her schedule because she started volunteering somewhere. I was shocked that she added something else to her schedule when her weeks were already so packed. I wondered if I should say something to her, or if I should just let her see that she didn’t have time. I decided on the latter. That way, I wouldn’t be the bad guy, the calendar would be.

I helped her work on a new study schedule, and she saw once she subtracted 12 volunteer hours a week out of her schedule, there was very little left to work with. I kept saying, “Your goal is to study ____ hours a week. Where are we going to find those hours?” Eventually she said, “I guess I don’t really have time for this volunteer work.” That lead to a conversation about the fact that it is okay to say “no,” even to good causes. We talked about setting priorities and then protecting those priorities. Hopefully, she “got it.” She seemed like a bright girl, with a great desire to get a degree so that she could provide a better life for her baby. However, her good-intentioned choices were self-defeating. Even though she was smart and responsible, she would never make it through college unless she raised her studies to a higher priority level.

If you recognize yourself in this scenario, I would suggest making a list of all of your recurring commitments. Then, go through that list and prioritize by numbering them. The things that have higher numbers may be perfect candidates for elimination. Think about it. What is the worst that could happen if you eliminated each thing? Is this something you could pick up at a later time? Is it possible that right now just isn’t the right time for this thing in your life?

Good luck, and please comment if you have any experience dealing with the issue of over commitment.

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