This week I was on a radio talk show called “Strategies for Living” and introduced the listeners to a test I now use to determine when I need to say “no” to a request. On the radio, I called it the “Oh Shucks Test”, but in the real world I call it the “Oh Sh*t Test”.
I stumbled upon this idea one Sunday afternoon when I looked at my calendar entries for the week, and all I could say was “Oh sh*t.” Basically, my calendar was full of things I did not want to do. Instead of just accepting it, I decided to dig deeper. What was it about my week that I dreaded and could I do something about it?
From there I developed a framework I use today to help me construct my calendar, which ultimately organizes my life. It’s a fairly simple test, but it has changed the way I view my schedule and what goes on it.
I wish I could tell you that I now get excited about everything on my calendar, but of course that’s not true. I will never be excited about a yearly check-up with the dentist or a trip to the campus police department to pay for a faculty parking sticker for my car, but I know future Johnette will be. That’s because future Johnette wants teeth and does not like parking tickets. So when I see these items on my calendar, which I call my essentials, I accept them. There is no point in fighting it. Just suck up and do it.
But for those items that are not essential, I probe. Why are they there if they don’t bring me joy?
Over the years, I have found there are a handful of answers to this question, none of which are good enough anymore.
A common one used to be that I hated to say no, especially to a good friend or someone I really admired. This was especially true when asked to serve on non-profit boards. When I was in my 20’s, you could have gotten me to serve on a rattlesnake preservation board if the right person asked.
A second weakness was that I was too easily flattered. “Only an hour a month? No problem. Especially since, as you say, I am the ONLY PERSON in all of Northwest Louisiana who can do the job.”
Finally, I also suffered the family footsteps problem. How can you not join a group your family has been part of for generations? Whether it was really expected or not, I had it in my head I had to do it. No questions asked.
But that was then.
As I get older, I have grown to appreciate that we all have a finite amount of time in our week, and when I say “no” to an invitation I don’t want, it allows me to say “yes” to an invitation I would love. “No” just leaves space for “yes” to people, organizations, and activities that are right for this season of my life.
So, next time you are tempted to say “yes” only because of guilt, flattery, or a false sense of obligation, try the calendar test.
I bet your future self will thank you.
Johnette Magner, Ph.D.
Dr. Johnette Magner is a government affairs professional in higher education.