A couple of weeks ago someone asked in one of my online communities, "What tips and tricks will you be implementing this summer to stay on track in your business?"
People had all sorts of great answers, ranging from creating marketing plans to setting up systems to automate more of their businesses and lives. I knew I could use just about everything they named, but my body rebelled and wouldn't let me declare one more action item or goal for the summer, no matter how big a difference I imagined it would make.
This is what came out instead:
After I wrote it, a few interesting things happened.
1. A whole bunch of people chimed in with "YESSSS!!!!" comments. I knew I was not alone, particularly in a group full of moms who run their own businesses. I even suggested that we start an Undercommitting Club, with no meetings, no time commitments and no committees. The club immediately gained several new members, none of whom will have to do anything at all. (You too are welcome to join at any time; there is no application and no interview, just go ahead and start calling yourself a member.)
2. Over the following weeks I noticed that something was different. I was not saying yes immediately to everything everyone asked me, or jumping into new projects without pausing to take a breath. I noticed myself holding off on my responses in order to give myself time to think. I found myself weighing all of the things I already knew were important to me (whether or not I made time for them) and the things I'd already committed to against the shiny new object in my hand.
Suddenly the math made sense--"If I say yes to this I'll have less time to do that, so I should probably decide whether the tradeoff is worth it." It's not that I didn't understand this concept before, it's just that some combination of genuine enthusiasm + desire to people please + liking to live in fantasyland where it's fine to say yes because everything-will-all-work-out allowed me to ignore actual logic.
3. In the breath between being asked to do something and saying an automatic yes I started hearing the word "undercommit" echo in my head. And I gave myself permission to listen to it.
And these are some of the things that started happening when I allowed myself to undercommit:
I started painting again.
Because I let myself not do everything else on my list and I let someone else bring my daughter to her playdate and I let myself not clean my desk or organize my apartment. I let myself say no to middle-of-the-day plans even though it was Father's Day and then I gave myself an hour on a Sunday, in between birthday parties and playdate pickups, to be as messy and not-perfect as I wanted to be.
I gave my child my attention.
One day I stopped working at my desk at 5:00 instead of pushing further and further (basically as far as I could get away with), and put dinner in the oven--and then did not go back to my desk, my computer or my phone. I sat in my living room feeling like I was floating, weightless, above my two children. I wondered what people did when they had empty time on their hands. Finally I asked my kids, "Do you want to play a game?"
My seven year old daughter preferred to keep her nose in her book, but my eleven year old son asked, eyes wide with shock, "Really?!" That one kind of broke my heart a little. He and I then proceeded to play a game he seemed to be making up as we went along, and I experienced the awe of being present with my child.
It's not that it's never happened before, but it happened really on purpose this time. My willingness to not fill every available moment with projects or tasks or drive or improvement gave me one of the things that's been missing most from my life: S P A C E.
And into that space I put play and connection and surrender to what someone else wanted.
I played in a garden.
Another day, instead of going straight home after picking up my daughter and straight back into homework, work-work, dinner and the ever-expanding evening routine, we took a detour into a small garden near our home. We hunted for hidden fairy sculptures, visited the Koi pond and found a secret cache of almost-ripe strawberries.
Instead of walking by the garden gate, as I've often done in the past, sometimes for years at a time, thinking about how nice the garden probably was and wishing I spent more time in it, I just went in and spent time in it. Huh, imagine that.
In case you're rolling your eyes and thinking, "Yeah, that's nice. I'll just quit work, have my full-time housekeeper take care of dinner, laundry and vacuuming while I flounce off to play in the garden with my perfectly behaved children right after my two-hour massage"--I'm not saying that's how it works. (Though if you can swing it, more power to you!)
I get it. I'm not quitting work either. I'm still trying to figure out how to get seven dinners on the table in a row and I'm pretty much in denial about the fact that my kids' last day of school is tomorrow and they have no actual plans until July. Figuring this out is not easy, it's not seamless and it certainly isn't a one-shot deal.
But what if this one practice could unlock more of what you wanted and was something you could start doing right now?
If you're interested in finding out, start here:
Be honest about how crammed your life might be and about how it gets that way
Consider undercommitting this summer. Play with it, see how it feels rolling off your tongue, notice whether your world comes crashing down around you if you pause before you say yes. See what happens when you say, "That timing's doesn't work for me," "Not right now," or "No, thank you." Remember: "No is a complete sentence." (I can't seem to find the definitive source for that quote, but I LOVE IT.)
As you let the word "undercommit" make itself comfortable in your psyche, notice what you're suddenly making time for. Notice how you feel when someone asks you to do something, go somewhere, take something on. Notice whether you're breathing more deeply, deciding more slowly, feeling more present.
If you give it a shot, my bet is that you'll discover one more really amazing thing: when you clear out space in your time and mind by holding off the automatic yesses, the "should" yesses and the bright shiny object yesses, suddenly the things that are deeply important to you, the ones you're typically doing all the other things in order to have more time for, are the ones you actually get to fill your life with, RIGHT NOW.
It's a pretty neat trick.