I remember hearing about a writer who kept a sign over his desk. It was a reminder for him to keep his responsibilities in check and not overextend himself. It only had one word on it -- a big, fat, NO.
I can certainly see the use of it. If I better kept in mind all the things I have to do, I might find it easier to say no to extras so that I have ample time to get the essentials done. I always do, but my typical modus operandi is "busy and stressed." Maybe things would be easier, maybe I would have more energy if I gave myself some breathing room. I've realized this is a problem for me, but at its root lies another one: I don't want to say no.
I guess that's obvious. Otherwise, why wouldn't I? But it's more than just a fear of disappointing others. I really want to be able to do all that is available to me. I feel like there's so much I could accomplish, if I could really apply myself. (Either that or I'm easily deluded.)
Occasionally, I've done work for others largely because they guilted me into it, even though it wasn't my responsibility. And often, I do things because I feel I ought to be doing them, rather than because I want to. But I'd rather increase my capacity to do than cut those things out of my life.
Why? I don't know. Maybe it's because I feel like it's a way to serve others. Most of the time, I'm not so good at that. Maybe it has to do with having bigger dreams, bigger ideas of what I think I can accomplish. It's like a form of optimism. I'd rather bite off more than I can chew than go away hungry.
Now, it's the end of the semester and most of my responsibilities have come to a close. I've been feeling listless, purposeless. It's hard to work on my own projects when I still feel like I should be doing things for someone else. My novel has been suffering because of it. So far, that's been my biggest regret in this semester of few "no"s.
Perhaps I need to strike a better balance. This time of year, I'm guessing most people wouldn't say no to that.