How to say no to overwork, burnout and too many meetings

Published: 2 Nov, 2022

By Catherine Kelly

Some tips on how to establish a healthy, balanced and sustainable lifestyle in a society driven by to-do lists.

Are you feeling overwhelmed, overscheduled, exhausted and burnt out from doing chores that benefit others but leave you with an even longer to-do list? Do you spend your day running from one crisis to another, constantly fighting fires, only to feel exhausted in the evening and frustrated that in helping others, you haven't accomplished any of your own task priorities? Does our society demand that we work beyond what our minds and bodies can endure?

A culture of meetings, deadlines and being stretched beyond capacity within our work and personal lives has left many people suffering from time poverty. According to research, this can threaten our emotional and physical well-being and build overwhelming feelings of resentment which can damage and, in some cases, even destroy close relationships.

So just how do we establish a healthy, balanced and sustainable lifestyle in a society driven by to-do lists? It's now a world where we place far too much pressure on ourselves to constantly achieve outstanding results and where standing still and just being have been shunned in favour of chaotic life choices.

Here are three simple steps that will help you to start prioritising yourself by attending to your own voice. When we reflect on our own self-knowledge, we can then begin to categorise and gain a greater understanding of the legitimacy of the demands in our lives. This in turn allows us to prioritise the order we attest to each task and limit the number and extent of stresses that we engage with on a daily basis, while we explore new ways to manage ourselves and our time more effectively.

While saying 'no' appears counterintuitive, actually learning to say ‘no’ appropriately can strengthen our relationships. Opening our minds to the value of setting personal healthy boundaries can have a huge impact on reducing the burdens of our daily grind.

Do you know your values?

Change can only ever begin with you! A good start is by getting to know your values. While most of us have a general conscious idea of what we value and what we want to prioritise in our lives such as family, health, friendships, career etc, we often struggle with matching what we know is important with our behaviour. Values-based living helps us to clearly identify our values and considers how we can put right the disconnect between our thoughts, decisions, intentions and actions.

It involves a process of regular reflection in order to make adjustments, so we can align our lifestyle choices with our highest-held values and ideals. Our core values encapsulate who we are and what we stand for. When we understand our personal values, we begin to understand human behaviour, such as why some people are more accepting of people’s behaviour than others? Or, why do some people extend a helping hand to those in need while others simply walk away?

Values are woven through us and help form the fabric of our very being. They play a key role in underpinning our decision-making and guiding how we approach boundary setting. They are critical to our well-being, with research suggesting that the identification of personal values can have transformational effects on how we live our lives.

Learn how and when to say no

All day every day, most of us are fielding requests for our time and commitment. The asks can be formal or informal, large and small. The sources of these demands are too numerous at times to even list, but you waste time and energy, often at the expense of your own personal priorities and goals, when you over-commit.

The importance of learning when and how to say both no and yes cannot be overestimated. While the word ‘no’ consists of just two tiny letters, its impact can be enormous both personally and professionally. But beware that overuse of ‘no’ can create a negative persona which could potentially affect life and career opportunities. Equally, always saying ‘yes’ can result in an overscheduled lifestyle, culminating in high levels of stress and ultimately burnout.

Striking the balance between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is pivotal, a symmetry that can exist when we learn to assess the ask and deliver a well-reasoned no - or give a yes that allows us to develop positive relationships, make a difference, and supports our success.

Set healthy boundaries

The purpose of setting healthy boundaries is quite simply a process of self-protection. Research purports that healthy boundaries can help people define their individuality. We set healthy boundaries when we establish limits on ourselves and others. Our response to other people's behaviour teaches people what is and isn’t acceptable.

Setting and sustaining healthy boundaries requires awareness, understanding and practice. It is therefore imperative that we remain in touch with our feelings as they are often an indicator that a boundary has been crossed. While boundary setting is important, it is equally important that we respect the boundaries that others have set for themselves. Always remember that respect is a two-way street.

This article was previously published on RTE Brainstorm