Postponed decisions are the root cause of procrastination. Many of us who would never procrastinate on anything else will procrastinate about social engagements. One of the easiest ways to solve a problem of indecision is to waffle about it until the date has passed. Until this happens, there’s an open loop, a loose end that takes up at least part of our mental bandwidth. That feeling of nagging incompletion is really unpleasant. If it weren’t, the decision would be fast and easy to make, like the decision not to eat your least favorite vegetable. We get stuck in the doorway, unable to decide a Yes or a No. That’s where policy comes in.
Policy means two things. It means you never have to make a decision about that type of matter again. It also means you don’t have to put any thought into your response. It’s simply something you do, or something you don’t do.
It’s easy when you know how. For instance, you don’t donate money to causes that you don’t support, such as the rival political party. You also wouldn’t go to a random event rather than something important. If a tractor sale conflicts with my brother’s wedding, well, I guess I’m not buying a tractor that weekend.
There are clues here about how policy choices are made. It has to do with your personal values.
Your values are yours to decide. Not your relatives, not your friends, not your neighbors, not even your spouse. Other people may be shocked or disappointed, but they don’t have to wake up and be you every day. You do. You’re the only one who has to meet your own eyes in the mirror.
The reason this is important is that we have to decide how to spend our time. If we fritter away our time on anything that anyone ever asks us to do, then there won’t be any left to support our values. It’s not so much that most things are going to conflict with our values, as that it’s all the neutral penny-ante stuff that eats up our schedules. Weeks, months, years can go by, and we may never have found a minute for what we thought was so important.
Every minute I spend talking to a troll on the internet, every minute I spend reading anonymous comment threads, is a minute I’m not talking to my grandma. The time I spend with casual acquaintances is time that’s not available for my closest loved ones. I’m basically letting random people steal from the most important people in my life.
This is how policies are made. We decide which types of situations are always going to be a Yes, and which types are always going to be a No.
Graduations? Whose kids?
Birthday parties? Whose?
Festivals? Street fairs? Carnivals?
Karaoke night? Trivia night? Movie night?
Town hall meetings? School board meetings?
Helping someone move?
Visiting someone in the hospital?
Multi-level marketing “parties”?
Always means always. When it’s always Yes, this means this is a top-ranking event, and anything else that conflicts is going to be a No. I once got two wedding invitations for the same day, one for a close friend and the other for my younger brother. That was not a decision. It was policy. If it had been the close friend and a more casual friend, then that also would not have been a decision. There are only 52 weekends a year, and not everything gets to be a Yes.
Saying No to the casual or random stuff is the only way to say a full and complete Yes to the important stuff. We cherish our loved ones by being there for them, and that means the other seven billion people in the world will have to wait.
There are other ways to say Yes besides going somewhere in person. We can send a gift. We can call. We can send a card or a letter. We can send flowers. We can send a charitable donation in someone’s name. We can do a favor. We can offer another get-together on another day. If this truly is someone who values the friendship, it will work out.
Sometimes, we find that the relationship is more casual on that person’s end than we had realized. When this happens, it’s good. It’s a good sign when someone is willing to be honest and set clear boundaries. It helps us to relax and refocus our attention on our inner circle.
One quick and easy way to make a decision about social engagements is to consider how you found out about it. If the first you heard about it was through the mail, it’s probably a No. The people who are closest to you probably would have told you that they were getting married or having a baby shower before the invitations went out. Communication has changed so much over the past couple of decades that the old ways are more or less vestigial remnants at this point.
Here are some rough guidelines on how to start setting social policies:
“Everybody’s invited” social media invites: probably No
If it’s on a work night: probably No
If it involves out-of-state travel: probably No
If it’s in another city: depends on what, where, and when
If it’s a “buy stuff” party: definitely No
If it’s child-free: Yes, because I don’t have kids at home
Wine tasting: definitely No
Sportsball: definitely No
Restaurant: depends entirely on the menu
If it runs past midnight: No
Backpacking trip: probably Yes
Basically, if it’s not awesome it’s a No. On a scale of one to five, with five being awesome, the two- and three-star events are going to be a No. Pass. I’m not doing anybody any favors by reluctantly showing up and being a wallflower at an event that doesn’t enthuse me. I’ll make you soup when you’re sick, I’ll help you move, I’ll come to visit you in the hospital, but I’m not going to come over and order out of your catalog.
There are about eight people on my Always list, and another half-dozen on my Yes, If Possible list. They know who they are. In order to be totally available for my Always people, I have to cut other events. That means calendar time, and it also means money. My savings buffer includes enough for a round-trip plane ticket.
Until the day when we can make clones on demand and appear to be in two places at once, we have to make choices. Choosing Yes to too many things means that suddenly, there’s no money and no time for the big stuff. Say No more often to say Yes when you really mean it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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