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     The Buffet Syndrome

Over the summer my family went on a 7-day cruise. If you've ever been on one, you know that the focal point of most cruise vacations is FOOD -- available in large quantities 24 hours a day. The average weight gain on a 7-day cruise is 8 pounds! Although I only gained half of that, I have steadily gained a few pounds each year over the last decade. Needless to say, I am not happy with the trend, and I've taken steps to reverse this.

Life is like a buffet line -- so many CHOICES, and yet there's only so much room to fit it all in. We know that we can only eat so much before we create health and self-image problems for ourselves. And we know the importance of maintaining the proper levels of nutrients.

Isn't it the same with activities and RESPONSIBILITIES? If we take on too much, we create health and self-image problems too. If we don't maintain a proper BALANCE of activities to nurture our needs, we create stress, disharmony, and eventually dysfunction in our lives. Many of us -- myself included -- have not mastered the fine art of saying "no"!

People call me asking for assistance getting organized. I often ask, "What will getting organized do for you?" These are some of the replies I hear:
  • I could focus on important things that I just don't have time for now.

  • I could make more money if I had more time to (follow up with prospects, stay in touch with clients, etc.)

  • I'd pay my bills on time and could avoid late payment fees.

  • I'd have more time to relax and do things I enjoy.

  • My (spouse, kids, boss, employees, etc.) would be happier if I had more time to __________.

  • I'd have more time to deal with important things requiring my attention and follow-up.
There is no organizational system in the world that will fully address the most common concern that I hear from nearly every person who calls me -- not enough TIME.

We all have 168 hours a week. Not enough? What if you could add an extra day to each week -- for a total of 192 hours a week. Would that be enough? No matter how much time we're given, we pack MORE in than we can manage. What happens in a buffet line? Whether we get a smaller plate or a larger plate, most of us will FILL it to the rim!

I'm committed to shedding some pounds. Most diets have not worked ... and I know why. It has to do with willpower and CHOICE. When a two-pound box of chocolate is available, I can easily finish it off. The key to losing weight is in LIMITING the choices and the portions on my plate.

Just as it serves us to limit our food choices and portions, it also serves us to limit the number of activities and kinds of RESPONSIBILITIES we take on. Stephen Covey, author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", asks: "What does it matter how much we do if what we're doing isn't what matters most?" Having more time does not address the challenge of staying FOCUSED.

In Cheryl Richardson's book, “Take Time for Your Life”, she suggests that we create an ABSOLUTE YES list. Identify what is on your absolute yes list by noting essential activities and relationships that will support your happiness and well-being.   List the five most important people, activities, or focus areas in your life that need your attention in the coming year -- and plan to build your schedule around focusing on these areas. Everything else becomes secondary. 

According to Donald Clifton, author of “Soar With Your Strengths”, people are most successful when they're MATCHED with activities they love to do and are good at. A Stanford University study of 250,000 people concluded that high intelligence didn't guarantee high accomplishment. Hard work and ENTHUSIASM in the field of choice was the leading indicator of success.

Pick one strength to pursue at a time. Excellence is a product of hard work and being passionate about what you do.  Adjust your goals to TARGET your strengths and passions.  Ignore WEAKNESSES that will not hinder you. Work on a problem only if it lessens your productivity. Let your strengths overpower your weaknesses. Imagine the world-class athletes at the Olympics -- the gymnasts aren't concerned about being great swimmers!

It's important to remember that when we put the needs of our business or company before our own personal needs, we put ourselves at RISK. Remember the instructions given on an airplane before takeoff: "In the unlikely event that the cabin were to lose pressure, we ask that you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others." Why? Because if you don't take care of yourself first, you may not be AVAILABLE to assist others! 

In order to do this, you may need to deal with the SOURCE of the symptoms that cause you to over-commit yourself. Do any of these fit for you?  
  • trying to please everyone
  • trying to be liked by everyone
  • trying to be the star or the savior
  • trying to do everything perfectly
  • trying to say yes to everything and everyone
  • addiction to the adrenaline in crisis situations
  • feeling not at choice -- like there's no one else to do it
Take at least one action step each week to help you CONSCIOUSLY drop some of the balls you choose not to juggle anymore. For example, if you're a perfectionist, ask yourself if it truly serves you to strive for perfection. Unless you're a rocket scientist working on a space shuttle, perfection probably isn't required.  

Be on guard for "should" or "gotta" or "have to." Replace these words with "CHOOSE to." You are in the driver's seat for your life. If you don't choose to do something, don't do it!

Schedule some time for a day retreat by yourself to reflect on your successes and disappointments for the current year -- as well as your wishes and INTENTIONS for the next year: 
  • What worked? What moved you forward toward success?
  • What didn't work? What got in the way or discouraged you?
  • What knowledge did you gain to apply in the coming year?
  • What do you want? What's on your "absolute yes" list?

Rather than creating an unachievable long list of goals, start with a shorter list that is realistic but challenging. Remember the old cliche...Rome wasn't built in a day! The SMART process is a good way to plan for success with any intention or resolution. As you identify what you want for the coming year, make goals or choices that are:
  • SPECIFIC -- get a clear picture of the desired outcome

  • MEASURABLE -- know when you have achieved your outcome

  • ACHIEVABLE -- a step-by-step plan to accomplish what you want

  • RELEVANT -- the bigger picture of what is most important to you

  • TIME-BOUND -- timeline for accomplishing what you want
Once you have clarified your specific, measurable goals, don’t forget to build in some support for yourself. Good luck and have a great new year!


Kathy Paauw is an organizing and productivity consultant, certified professional and personal coach, and speaker. Visit her website at www.orgcoach.net or contact her at .

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