Saying “No” Gracefully

Saying “No” Gracefully

A great “no” not only cleanly removes the burden you are trying to avoid, but also doesn’t cause collateral damage.

Without the ability to say “no” at times in a way that’s respectful but purposeful, your life and life balance can quickly spiral out of control. Your boundaries end up being defined only by the little gaps of time left over after you’ve fulfilled other people’s requests. It’s easy enough to say no in some situations and with some people, but in cases where there are power dynamics and real feelings at play, even if your goal is to simply turn down plans or decline to attend a meeting, it can be very difficult to do so.

Since stomping your feet and screaming “no!” at the top of your lungs is rarely effective unless you’re a three-year-old on the linoleum floor of a busy supermarket, it may instead be helpful to keep a few simple guidelines in mind as you face social, personal, and work situations that you’d be better off politely declining.

Elements Of An Effective “No”
A great “no” not only cleanly removes the burden you are trying to avoid, but also doesn’t cause collateral damage. It doesn’t leave a bad taste in the recipient’s mouth, and it doesn’t result in more work or obligation for you, long-term. If you’re after avoiding more trouble, follow these simple rules:

Be kind. Remember that you are turning a thing down, not a person. Even if you are declining a social engagement, you are not rejecting the entire soul of the host; you’re saying no to their invitation. Maintaining a compassionate perspective, even as you are turning something down, is more important and more helpful than it sounds. Since our gestures and our expressions speak as loudly as our words, separating the “thing” from the person can help you avoid giving off unintended signals that speak to larger issues. Further, we’re all human and could all use a little extra kindness.

Be simple. There’s probably a straightforward reason that doesn’t require a long-winded explanation. Start there. Pare down to what the recipient needs to hear, not all that you might want to say. Clarity is more important than descriptiveness. Complexity invites further probing and opens the door to debate. When it’s true, citing your schedule is simple enough – “I’m sorry, I can’t accommodate this given my current workload/schedule/social calendar.”

Be truthful. This means no little white lies. In an age where many of us are deliberately choosing to track our movements and minutiae on Facebook, FourSquare, Gowalla, and Twitter, now more than ever your little lies will catch up with you. The Internet is forever, and even if it doesn’t seem to remember what check-in you deleted, some sneaky Facebook friend will. Moreover, in constructing and maintaining half-truths, you are expending needless mental energy that could be better spent doing the things you’ve chosen to do.

What Doesn’t Work

  • Conditional no’s and maybe’s
  • Deferring an obligation to some unspecified time in the future
  • Saying yes now with the intention of cancelling later

Some of the same warning signs of stress or a life out of balance are also signs that you should probably be saying “no” more often. Are you short-changing the time you have for yourself? Is there a mild sense of resentment underlying your attendance at social events? Are you finding yourself needing to give up your nights in order to stay afloat at work for an extended period of time? One way to make sure your needs are squared away before the myriad requests start coming in is by laying out a list of all of the things outside of work and programmed activities that you need time for. Write or type them all out, so that you can get a good look at them. This might look like:

  • Time with my significant other in a social environment
  • Time with my significant other alone
  • Time with just my friends
  • My own alone time

As you look at your calendar and consider an invitation, make sure you’ve reserved time for these needs too. Make appointments with yourself so that you don’t forget that you need that time. Think realistically about how much free time you need to cultivate to get that balance right.

In addition to decisions brought about by others that require a choice, there are also numerous interruptions that can rule your attention and throw you out of balance if you don’t consciously decide when they do and do not belong in your life. In effect, these are times when you need to say “no” to yourself. Or to an inanimate object, like a web browser tab, a link, an email about a clothing sale from your favorite designer, or a Tweet with your name on it. There are numerous tricks and applications that can help you maintain better control of your online life – everything from something like Write Room that blocks out other distractions while you work on writing, to KeepMeOut.com, which warns you if you pull up websites on your own personal “do not visit” list. You can even lock out Firefox from creating more tabs.

How about you? When have you had success saying “no” gracefully? What are the obligations you have the hardest time turning down?


Woman Camp, Part 2

Woman Camp, Part 2

What sets a successful, happy, well-rounded girl apart from her gal pals these days? Think time.

By Calder Clark, NB Wellness guest editor

Every girl wants her husband/boyfriend/brother to be a Man Camp grad. This goes without saying. But what about Woman Camp? Don’t we have our (oft unspoken) version of a curriculum of cool girl achievement?

As a second installment in my series, below are a few tips on how to rack up the points on your way to becoming a graduate of Woman Camp. (You can read the first installment here.) Nota bene, ladies: The ideas below should minimize your time crunch and maximize your fabulosity.

Go Mobile
One of my former clients and great friends teases me mercilessly about my “technological age” – i.e., she claims I am 25 years old/44 years old/75 years old depending on my latest advancement or tweaking of certain inter-office workings. She’s the reason we ditched our crackberries for iPhones and embraced Twitter with abandon. Go us!

Part of being a Woman Camp grad involves going mobile:

Do: Get email on your phone.
Don’t: Depend on your desktop PC for staying connected.
Do: Get imap email.
Don’t: Get mired down in the misery of pop3 emails – downloading, storing, restoring (blah).
Do: Get an e-reader (a Kindle or a Nook) to broaden your horizons.
Don’t: Get stuck lugging 15 lbs of books on a long trip.

Make a “Big Little” Shelf
When my daddy was little, his mama (my Mawmaw) had a gift shelf in her closet where she stowed all kinds of gifts for family and friends alike. They called it the “Big Little” shelf, because there were always a slew of Big Little books for the boys to be able to give to their friends for the myriad of birthday parties that popped up.

I have a Big Little shelf in a chest in our living room that is filled to the brim with GFGs (girlfriend gifts!), birthday surcees (Charlestonian for “gifts”), tissue paper, scissors, tape and bags for a quick-and-dirty wrapping session.

Do: Stock your Big Little shelf with wines and wine bags for that easy “thanks-for-having-us” gift.
Don’t: Feel guilty if you pillage and plunder above-mentioned Big Little shelf contents after a hard day.
Do: Buy birthday cards in bulk. Think about sister/brother/father/mother/new baby whilst browsing the card racks at Target and buy 10-15 at a time.
Don’t: Give your guy friend a pink, flowery birthday card because your stash ran low.

Go-To Dip
1972 is calling, and it wants its casserole back. Bless your green-bean-cream-of-mushroom extravaganza-loving heart, but seriously? People are watching their waistlines and eating lighter these days, in case you’ve missed the newsflash on America’s soaring obesity. So what’s the answer for entertaining with ease?

Do: Opt for fresh. Take a few avocados, some fresh limes, a store-bought pico de gallo and your Mini Chop and whip up a quick guacamole to take to your fete.
Don’t: Take a big jar of Pace and a bag of Tostitos and think you’re off the hook.
Do: Have your go-to “dip” as long as it’s light. Mine is Dixie Caviar.
Don’t: Think mayonnaise-based for anything you’re making. N-O.

Make Quiet Time
What sets a successful, happy, well-rounded girl apart from her gal pals these days? Think time. Take an hour each week to think. Go off the grid, decompress, put the iPhone down and just think.

Do: Let your mind wander and wonder.
Don’t: Take notes or listen to music whilst pondering.
Do: Find a great spot/vista to drink in while you think.
Don’t: Have mob mentality. Find an uncrowded spot even in the heart of a big city.

Run a Race
As someone who has run a marathon in her time (small pat on back), I am here to tell you: nothing is more motivating or self-assuring than finishing a race. Running not your bag? Fine, then figure out what is and challenge yourself. Do you like to bike, hike, swim or paddle? The point is: Push yourself to max capacity in one area of your fitness regimen and then drink in the benefits.

Do: Start small. 5Ks and 10Ks are a ton of fun – that’s why they’re often called “fun runs”!
Don’t: Bite off more than you can chew. Marathons and triathlons take months of prep work.
Do: Consider women’s-only races. The support is remarkable.
Don’t: Get bogged down in being #1 in a pack of buff men and women. Set realistic goals.
Do: Use travel as an incentive – pick a fabulous locale for your big race.
Don’t: Run the race then plan to play. You may be too tired to sightsee after a big competition.


Four Web Tools to Tame Your Time and To-Dos

Four Web Tools to Tame Your Time and To-Dos

[It’s] a perfect place to hold on to anything and everything that’s currently clogging notebooks, post-it notes, hazy memories and napkin backs.

Gone are the days when your personal time management and productivity tools have to be ruled by corporate guidelines or the limitations of your chosen computer. We live in a time when free, safe and supported software you can run within your Web browser may often be better for your personal organization needs than programs you had to run on your desktop and pay for just a few years ago. No matter what part of your life you’re looking to streamline, there are now likely several choices for free and inexpensive tools to assist you. Below are four options that range in price from free to $24/month that can help you reclaim minutes and hours of unproductive time and bring better balance and harmony to your day.

  1. RescueTime – Where does it all go? Ever suddenly snap into consciousness after an afternoon fully absorbed in free roaming the Internet from link to link to link? From the website: “RescueTime sits in the background and measures which application, web site or (optionally) document is actively being used. What and when you track time is up to you. You can pause tracking, set up automated scheduling, or selectively delete tracked data.” It’s a desktop-based application for both Mac and Windows that allows you to automatically track your time spent on various projects and activities, and even set it up to help you commit to spending a certain amount of uninterrupted time with the task at hand. There’s a free version and a $6-$9 version for individuals. And no one says you have to show the reports to your boss at work ;).
  2. Backpack – This web-based application is a sleek, minimalistic Swiss Army knife for your personal and professional organization needs. It has a simple, sharable to-do list app for getting tasks out of your head and into a safe, unified location; a milestone calendar that you can integrate into the calendar of your choice; a place to create and organize pages of information; the ability to store files; and shared writing spaces for collaborative work. The $24/month basic version is a perfect place to hold on to anything and everything that’s currently clogging notebooks, post-it notes, hazy memories, scrawled scraps of paper and napkin backs. And you can invite others to share parts of it with you – that could be a family member, a friend or a collaborator. Note: If you’re looking for something cheaper or free but still would like a great and simple task management app, take a look at the five apps chosen by the readers of Lifehacker.com.
  3. Mail To The Future – Have you ever wanted to leave a note for the future version of yourself who will be waking up in the morning and likely forgetting to take out the trash and the recycling? Mail To The Future allows you to do just that, via email. You can compose emails and set them to be sent to you (or anyone else) at a specific day and time in the future. Now that email is retrievable on most phones, it makes for a great self-reminder system when strings on your finger, rubber bands on your wrist or post-its by the mirror aren’t cutting it.
  4. Google’s Apps – If you haven’t looked at Google’s tool set in a while, it’s worth another visit. Gmail alone has grown into a powerhouse productivity application that lets you manage to-dos, read news from Web sites, text and video chat, send SMS messages, create documents and manage your calendar, all in the same place. With the addition of the free Rapportive Gmail Plug-in, you can also get a heads-up display of current info about the people you are communicating with. Google Calendar has undergone countless iterative improvements and now speaks the language of just about every other calendar around via the also free Google Sync Services platform. Google Voice, now out of invitation-only mode and free for everyone, performs countless acts of magic to save you time and energy in managing your phone communications. You can get it to send you a (wonky but usually useful) automated transcription of your voicemails and the audio itself via a playable mp3 ss_File. It can serve as your administrative assistant/gatekeeper, alerting you who is calling before you pick up and allowing you to decide whether to answer the phone, defer it to voicemail or simply hang up. You can even set preferences to handle each incoming phone number differently.

Have you found any particularly outstanding Web-based tools for juggling all of the components of your life? Or do you prefer good old-fashioned paper and pen? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


10 Things You Can Do in 10 Minutes or Less

10 Things You Can Do in 10 Minutes or Less

A more balanced, less stressful life does not necessarily need to be achieved through sweeping changes to your lifestyle. In fact, many of the best techniques for finding balance involve small changes that help you to re-focus. Often, the right approach to a better state of mind will involve combining a temporary change in mindset with a calming task that you’ve simply not made time for. Building one or more of these approaches into your busy day will help you stress less, and accomplish more. 

  1. Take a walk
    While the cardio benefits of walking are generally most significant on walks of at least 30 minutes, a short walk around the block is a great opportunity to remove yourself from a stressful environment at home or at work. By taking the time to work your muscles (which often hold stress) and focus your thoughts, even a quick stroll around the block has recuperative benefits.
  2. Make a cup of tea
    A 2009 study out of the UK demonstrated that the simple act of making tea is, in itself, linked to decreases in stress. The ritual is a chance to step away from your work, your computer and your concerns, if only for a few moments. If you’re not usually a tea drinker, then think of this as an opportunity to explore the many available varieties of tea. When you’ve found a variety you like, store it in an airtight container to maintain its fresh, clear flavor.
  3. Clean out your inbox
    The glaring count of unread email messages can be a source of anxiety for many people — a constant reminder of work not completed or tasks requiring attention. A few minutes spent responding to, processing or even deleting old, unread messages can have a significant effect on your mindset. Start with the oldest messages, as those will often be the least relevant (and therefore easiest to process or delete quickly), and don’t feel the need to accomplish an entire clean-out in one 10 minute session.
  4. Make a list of goals
    Take a few moments to write down a short list of three to five goals for yourself. Try to focus them around a particular element of your life — work, family, household or financial, for example. Attempt to concentrate your goals on what you hope to achieve, not the tasks necessary to get there.
  5. Clear off a small piece of your workspace
    A clean, functional workspace can improve both your state of mind and your efficiency. Rather than attempting to clean the entirety of your desk, focus on one drawer or space at a time. Empty the contents and ask yourself of each item “Is this integral to the work I am doing?” If not, consider filing it away or storing it elsewhere.
  6. Call an old friend
    A recent study at the University of North Carolina linked connections with good friends to a decrease in blood pressure and stress (and the Mayo clinic agrees). Reaching out to a good friend — even if only to make arrangements to speak at more length sometime soon — can both reduce stress and provide a reminder of your personal priorities.
  7. Create a weekly meal plan

    Photo uploaded to Flickr by stevendepolo, some
    rights reserved

    The dangers of eating in response to stress are well-documented, but taking a quick break to plan your meals for the next week has the advantage of both clearing your mind and adding structure and organization to your eating and shopping routines. Studies consistently demonstrate that people who plan their meals ahead make healthier eating choices, which can lead to a decrease in stress.

  8. Take a shower
    While medical studies have connected the steam from a hot shower to benefits that range from detoxification to reduced anxiety, the most obvious benefit of breaking up your day with a quick shower might simply be the opportunity to step out of a stressful environment and collect your thoughts for a few moments. Some large employers even have on-site exercise and shower facilities, which can provide quick respite from a day of hectic meetings.
  9. Write a note
    If 10 minutes is just not enough time for a call to a friend, consider writing them a quick note. In a world in which we’re constantly connected by email, phone and social networks, a handwritten note is a stand-out expression of care and consideration. The very act of sitting and putting your thoughts on paper has the benefit of focusing your mind on the task at hand, and away from the sources of stress in your life.
  10. Stretch
    Slow, focused stretching has been shown to reduce anxiety and can be performed nearly anywhere. A short session of stretching should focus on only a few muscle groups and should be centered on gradual repetition of the same muscles. Don’t forget to breathe — holding your breath elevates your heart rate and can add to the very anxiety you’re trying to alleviate.

Morning Glory: How to Become an Early Bird

Most of us can manage the rise. The shine, on the other hand, is a little harder to pull off.But there’s good news for those of us who wish we could get out of unhealthy relationships with our snooze buttons: It is possible to rewire our body clocks and become, if not one of those people who spring from bed already in song and full makeup, then a near approximation thereof.

Some of what determines whether we’re night owls or larks is genetic. In 2003, researchers at the University of Surrey isolated a gene that appears to regulate our internal clocks, determining our preference for morning or night. But experts — like those at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine — also say that changing behavior can transform almost anyone into a morning person.

Yes, anyone. So put down that double espresso and read on for some tips on squeezing more precious time out of your AM schedule. After all, other research has revealed that morning people are more proactive throughout the day than people who like the night life, baby.

Start the night before.

There’s no way you can emulate Julie Andrews in the morning if you’re up all night watching reruns of The Golden Girls. Help ensure a good night’s sleep with some time-tested tricks: avoid alcohol and caffeine after 3 PM; keep the lights low; don’t exercise right before bed; drink a cup of chamomile tea or try one of these other natural sleep aids; don’t eat large meals late at night; and go to bed at the same time every night.

Invest in a kinder, gentler alarm clock.

Forget seizing the day, if the sound of your alarm clock rivals a nails-on-chalkboard situation, the only thing you’ll be seizing is the cord out of the wall. Not an ideal way to start your new role as Official Morning Person. Consider, instead, an alarm clock that simulates dawn — or one that vibrates you awake. There’s even one that rouses you with yummy smells! Waking up to your favorite music is another way to ease the transition; we like “The Littlest Birds” by The Be Good Tanyas or “5 Years Time” by Noah and the Whale. Or queue up chirping birds or ocean surf, if that’s more your thing.

Step away from the snooze button!

One thing your lovely new alarm clock could do without: a snooze button. You’re better off setting your alarm for the time you really need to get up — you’ll get higher quality sleep that way, say scientists at the Sleep Disorders Centre at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Don’t trust yourself? Put the alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off, increasing your chances of remaining upright.

Wake up and smell the coffee.

We all know that drinking a cup of coffee can wake you up, but research suggests that even just a whiff of the fresh-brewed dark roast may reverse the effects of sleep deprivation on the brain. Most coffeemakers come with timers these days; set yours the night before and wake yourself with some early-morning aromatherapy. Even better: give yourself something to really look forward to and treat yourself to some gourmet coffee.

Decorate with daisies.

Researchers at Harvard University found that “non-morning people” felt happier and more energetic after looking at flowers first thing in the morning. Yes, that’s right: buying some gorgeous fresh flowers for your bedside table is the right thing to do for your health and wellbeing. Harvard said so.

Up, sunnyside.

Daylight tells your body to stop secreting melatonin — the hormone that makes you sleepy — so stop closing your curtains or blinds at night. The morning sun will help promote wakefulness. Don’t have eastern exposure? Enjoy your coffee and newspaper on your front steps, or go for a 20-minute walk around your neighborhood. Do it every day for a couple of weeks, and you’ll train your body clock to shift its wake-up time.

Give yourself enough time.

Grouchiness is guaranteed if you only give yourself 15 minutes to shower, dress, eat, pack your bag and get out of the house. Set your alarm early enough to allow you to get ready at a leisurely pace — and even do a couple of things you’d look forward to, like read the paper, check in on your favorite blogs or savor a delicious breakfast.

Be consistent.

Choose a wake-up time — but no more than two hours earlier than usual, say experts at Kettering Sleep Disorders Center at Kettering Memorial Hospital in Dayton, Ohio — and honor it seven days a week. That’s right: Saturday and Sunday, too. The consistency will change your body’s rhythm, and it may take two or three weeks to reprogram your system.

Already there? (Perhaps you’re reading this at, say, 6 AM?) We’d love to know your secrets: What helps you shine in the morning?


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