Jul 192013
START sign

So which part of ‘NO’ do I have so much trouble understanding?

No wonder I have more projects in the works than even someone with my energy level can handle. I have this real problem saying no.

New client? Check. Another ebook? No problem. Help a friend out? Absolutely. A chance to study, learn, better myself? All over that one. A part-time job or two or three? I’m on it. A music gig in a distant city? Ah’m your huckleberry. A dinner invite with friends? Whatcha having and time shall I be there?

See, I just don’t want to be the bad guy, and even if a) I simply don’t have time for your idea or b) your idea totally stinks, well, let’s see what I can do here.

Turns out I’m not the only one with this problem. It’s probably an occupational disease that’s not limited by occupation. Even the biggest jerk wants to be the nice guy sometimes.

A good buddy of mine (actually my brother from another mother) has that tendency sometimes. He’ll take on a whole lot more than he could handle. But he’s like me — not far behind me in age but with an insane energy level — and we’ve had talks on the subject. After a while we both reach that point where we have to dump something before taking something else on. But what? We both like to be Superman. He’s not happy unless he’s the groom at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. I totally understand that because, well … I’m kinda sorta that way too. Maybe a lot that way.

It’s kind of like loading your plate at a buffet. Now, I’ve eaten at my share of casino buffets so I know how to arrange the entree and side dishes, layer them just right and maximize every square inch of plate space. Much practice made me good at this. But there’s still a tipping point; for me it’s usually when I can’t see over the plate any more.

But at a buffet you can’t just put something back to accommodate the next tempting thing you see. It just wouldn’t be right. The only option I have is to eat something from my plate real quickly while in line (destroying evidence) and make room. That’s totally crude, but I’m not known for gentility.

Like a plate at a buffet, there’s a tipping point. But unlike the plate, you can always scrape something off. You won’t spread disease or gross someone out but you might hurt someone’s feelings, so there’s that.

I’m not always good enough to say that a person’s project is a lousy one, but I’m getting better at pleading lack of time.

“Gee,” I might say. “I have all these other things on my plate (list a few) … which one shall I throw off?”

I like how my Dad does it. He’s 85 now, a real intelligent guy and great American. But I remember what he’d say when he was busy and I had some childhood request:

“Whatever it is, no!”

Now, that’s so cool. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate and admire Dad more. When I grow up I want to be just like him.


What all this means

OK, so what does this have to do with creativity?

A lot, it turns out. I do much better when I have time to develop an idea, draw it out on a whiteboard, try a few instrumental licks before coming up with something. Doing great stuff demands attention, and chances are the more attention and time I give it the better the end result will also be.

But if my in-box is clogged, my time is likewise clogged and my attention divided. It shows up in the results, too. I’m launching ideas prematurely (this has nothing to do with dithering over a project to delay/avoid shipping it, by the way), giving them less care and generally trying to hurry through the process just to keep up with all those yesses.

I’m also not real good at multitasking. But then again, if you’re really honest about it, neither are you. I mean I can write while listening to music, something like that. Listening to music isn’t that demanding, unless I’m thinking like a musician by nuts-ing/bolts-ing a song. It’s in the background. But if I’m writing while trying to a) sound intelligent over the phone, b) digging up new sources, c) answering my email or d) all of the above, something’s gonna fall through the cracks. In truth, all of them.

What I’m hearing from scientific types these days is that multitasking is nothing but an illusion. The brain doesn’t absorb several things at one time, instead it switches back and forth. Often several times within a few seconds.

The general result: All these things you’re trying to multitask on are gonna stink.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a heck of a way to run a lemonade stand.

But multitasking aside, this juggling act merely creates more stress. Now, I still think my body is 22 years old and will attempt to climb mountains at 55, but this is different. While it’s true I’ve lost a few brain cells over time (don’t say anything … not one word) one can only take so much of this stress.

I recently came to the realization I don’t do stress well. Probably less so than most. OK, I can handle it on the short haul but after a week or so of this nonstop stress I start getting all squirrelly and my cop friends have to taze me again.

For me, the best way to handle stress is to burn it off regularly. Like daily. Get on the bicycle and pound out a few hard miles. Take a long walk.

Or better yet, practice saying no. Take care of the stress on the front end.

Let’s say it together, shall we?

Whatever it is, no!


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You tell me: Do you have a problem saying no? Do share. That’s what the comments section is for.