Are you overscheduled?
Has your private life become as demanding as your work life?
Are you constantly trying to find ways to cancel commitments, which you shouldn’t have made in the first place, but didn’t have the courage to just say no?
If you answer, “yes, yes, a thousand times yes,” then you are a wimp. You are also not alone.
“The art of making (and not making) plans” is the title of an article by Verena von Pfetten in The New York Times.
According to von Pfetten, recent research at Washington University in St. Louis “found that scheduling leisure time with friends — for movies, drinks, bike rides — can make these otherwise enjoyable activities feel like chores, which is why we often cancel them.”
And why do we agree to bike rides we don’t want with dear friends we don’t like? Because we’re polite. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Because we don’t know how to say no.
As previous reporting on the “culture of plan-canceling” has shown, “those who cancel do so for widely varying reasons from failure to write down lunch dates to psychological problems.”
Since you’ve never forgotten a lunch in your life, you can see where this is headed.
You could make an appointment with a psychiatrist, but you’d probably just cancel it. You could also adopt the life of a hermit in your after-work hours, but then you’d have to buy between one and six cats, and, let’s face it, Ms. Fluffy and friends can be demanding, too.
The friendship-avoidance technique used by the author is to not schedule more than two different events in a given week. This means she often has to schedule events “one or two months in advance.” This could work for you. With any luck, a meteor will hit the earth during those one or two months, and you’ll never have to show up.
Restricting her scheduled meetups doesn’t make von Pfetten a loner. “The majority of my free time is open for spontaneous plans,” she writes. “Actually doing what I feel like doing — which most often happens with my closest friends. Like airlines and frequent fliers, I give people who are important to me priority booking.”
This frequently friendly flyer plan will definitely come in handy if your manager wants you to work over the weekend.
“I’m sorry,” you say, “I’d like to agree, but checking my records, I see you don’t have enough frequent friendship points for a weekend commitment. You do qualify for an agreement to stay late an extra six minutes on Friday, or a handsome tote bag. If you don’t want to spend even six additional minutes with a hostile, resentful employee, I’d take the tote bag.”
Another reason you are not in control of your schedule is your inability to come up with a good excuse. Your close friends know that you’ve killed off your grandmother three times in the last year, and, let’s face it, no one who knows you well would ever believe you have to work.
With no excuses left, you could adopt the technique used by Bill Shapiro, an editor at Fast Company magazine. Shapiro slips out of making commitments with an ingenious pivot, “You know I can’t meet with you now,” he says, “but I’m happy to talk on the phone for a few minutes.”
It’s a decent strategy, but it can be improved. Just make sure you never say you’ll actually be on the other end of the phone, listening. You could slip off to the Kit Kat Klub when the call comes in, happily hammering back a Green Ghost or three, while the dear friend who wants to meet with you is mindlessly blathering away on an empty phone line.
A similar strategy can be utilized when asked to commit to an all-evening event. “Try finding another activity,” proposed the editor and chief of Architectural digest, Amy Astley, to the intrepid Times reporter. “Astley often suggests a yoga class. ‘You can still be together,’ she said. ‘You can chat before and after.'”
Or you could wait until your companion is locked into a half frog pose, roll up your yoga mat, and tiptoe out the back door. With any luck you can be home alone, in your bathrobe and scuffies, eating cold pizza and watching “The Walking Dead.”
Sure, it’s scary, but so is spending time with a friend, and if it looks like a zombie attack is imminent, the kitties will protect you.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He now works out of Bellingham, Washington. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.