how to choose your commitments

One of the big sources of conflict in my life at the moment is over how to choose what I commit to. It’s currently the time of year where things slow down for me – I’ve finished my college assignments for the year, and my other projects are starting to wind down.

This is the point in the year where I think through what to sign up for next year: I thought I’d check in with anyone who might be reading this for some advice.

A friend recently said to me: “Life is not meant to be just hard work, but if you believe it will be, it will be.” This rings true with me: if you’re looking for a constant stream of commitments with no downtime in between, there’s no shortage of people who will line up to take up your time with their projects.

From time to time, people tell me I should slow down – drop some commitments. A couple of groups of people who say this are hard to listen to. One, those people who are taking things pretty easy themselves: it’s hard to listen to their advice, as their values on how to spend time don’t line up with mine very well. Two, the people who are in charge of one or more of your commitments – the subtle message is that their commitments are not the ones that you should drop.

What I’m hoping for next year is a level of commitment where I’m achieving things on the projects I’ve picked, but still have the freedom to do some things spontaneously, and the emotional energy to give things back to other people.

How do you decide what to commit yourself to?

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  1. I am one of those people who tries to take it easy so my two cents is worth as much as no cents or nonsense.

    Having said that, overall I try to commit to family first, work next and then I get to keep whatever is leftover. The leftover bit is where interesting (planned or spontaneous) things can happen.

    The trick is that those projects in the leftover time have a habit of being more exciting than the work and family commitments and often threaten to take over. This is the real danger because if that happens then I either feel like I am injuring my family and relationships or I am doing a bad job at work which attacks my self-esteem.

    I think the easiest way to decide which projects to take is to open a packet of salt&vinegar chips and eat them one by one in that “he loves me he loves me not” way. Whatever project you eat last is the one you stick with. Of course, if you are weighing up multiple choices, you are going to need multiple packets of chips.

    Note: suggestion is NOT recommended if you are weighing up whether to commit to new exercise regime.

  2. Plan the holidays first (at least one or two), family commitments fit in with that (around school hols etc) sport is next (yours and kids), university/college timetable fits around that, a conference for work and then the rest of work fits in around that. the rest is free.

  3. A complex matrix of wants v needs.

    Particularly when it comes to church commitments.

    I want to make sure I’m doing enough things that I enjoy that I don’t resent the commitments to things that are hard work but need doing.

  4. Hey Dave,

    As you know, I am spectacularly bad at this, and often it works like this:

    Apart from work/church/sleeping/day-to-day operational buy-groceries-do-the-laundry sort of stuff,

    * There are things that are locked into the calendar, which are immovable (e.g. certain conferences I am committed to going to–church weekends away and the like; people’s weddings, depending on how close I am to them).

    * There are certain people I am committed to more than others (family, of course, church people, and then I made a list of friends that I particularly want to make sure I spend time with or keep tabs on so I know what to pray for them).

    * There are certain things I want to achieve, e.g. write more and carve out time and space to do those things.

    When the year gets underway, certain things get locked into the calendar (dinners, gigs, catching up with friends). Certain things can be moved later if I run out of energy (and often they will be pencilled in on that understanding). What I’d ideally like to do (and which sometimes happens) is look at the month or two ahead, see what’s locked into the calendar and then plan around them when to take rest days/weekends/evenings.

    So I was looking at November just last weekend and freaking out because I forgot about one particular immovable commitment that is happening this weekend. I then went through and blocked out certain days and weekends for November to do particular things I want to/need to do. (I suppose we have that luxury, not having any kids.) For example, Ben and I have agreed to try and have a weekend where we focus on our creative projects (me: writing; him: music). So I blocked out the second weekend for that. I also need to move the stuff off my PC (which I’ve needed to do since February) so I can give it to the person I said I’d give it to (so I blocked out the whole of the last weekend in November to do that because I know it’s going to be a mammoth job).

    It changes, and every now and then, the calendar completely crashes and I go into meltdown, but I find that unless I timetable in rest and actively doing certain things (e.g. go to see that exhibition; go write for two hours in a cafe, etc.), they just don’t happen.

    Hope some of that helps!

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