Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Knowing When to Say When

I never say no when someone asks me if I can take on a new project. After all, I’m marketing myself half to death so that clients will call or write or e-mail and ask me to ghostwrite, edit, or coach. Why would I say no? Well, one reason is that often, I simply don’t have time to tackle one more thing.

All of the above — ghostwriting, editing, or coaching — are time consuming; and time is finite. There are only so many productive hours in a day and, unfortunately, not all of them are spent doing things for which I will be paid. I can’t count how many times I’ve calculated the number of hours I have left for work after I sleep, eat, put myself together in the morning and take myself apart at night, work out, grocery shop, run errands, run my business, run my life, go to appointments (doctors and others), clean my house and do laundry, and read. Not many. I’ve tried to figure out what I could omit, and all I can think of is reading. But would life be worth living? I don’t think so.

Supposedly, we have 2,000 hours a year considered work time, but that’s a myth. Even people who work for a salary do not work 38 hours a week. They may be at some location for 38 hours, but they sure aren’t working all that time. They’re having coffee breaks and lunch, kibitzing with fellow workers at the proverbial water cooler, talking on the phone (not necessarily on business), reading the paper, staring into space, or just generally goofing off. I know this is true because I used to have such a job.

As I consider my workweek, I notice it includes nights and weekends and, even at that, I never seem caught up. As I flit from task to task, I am convinced I must be A.D.D. or just disorganized, but whichever it is, I frequently feel frenzied.

So, I have begun to rethink the never-say-no philosophy. For one thing, I can’t do everything; for another, I don’t even want to. There are subjects that turn me on and others for which I am totally unsuited. There are assignments that will pay for groceries and utilities for half a year, and some on which I will never come close to breaking even. There are people I fall in love with at hello and those who send up red flags that warn me to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

The secret is what the secret always has been: when in doubt, tune in to the Jury of the Deep and heed the verdict. If there is really a good reason to accept the job, do it. Otherwise, politely refuse and get back to work. Could it be that simple? Well, yes. It could, and it is.