Over the years I’ve observed various friends (mostly women) become exhausted and over-worked because of a tendency to allow themselves to be ‘put upon’ by employers, relatives, church or charity organisers, friends. They are usually very busy people, already undertaking a variety of charitable duties, but unscrupulous people spot that they have a kind heart and take advantage of them.

I am sure, dear reader, if you have accompanied me on my blogs for longer than a week or two, hat you will realise that I do not belong in this august and virtuous company. I have never found it in the least difficult to say No. When we had been living in this house for a few weeks, an overbearing woman rang and announced in the no-volume-control tones of one who thinks she must be obeyed, that she was calling on behalf of a well known charity; they were about to despatch the envelopes that were to be distributed and in addition to the usual streets covered by Mildred, she had a few more that were also to be included and could it kindly be ensured that all were posted through the doors by a date only about a week away. I replied politely that Mildred no longer lived here and regrettably I did not have a forwarding address. She responded by saying it didn’t have o be Mildred; I would do just as well. I said I would have to decline the honour. Why can’t you do it she demanded. The person living in our house had always distributed the envelopes. I said, I did not choose to contribute in this fashion. Well, she said, clearly in an almighty huff, it’s just as well everybody isn’t so selfish. I asked her if the charity actually employed her? Yes, of course, she replied. I said I thought she should consider seeking other employment, for her arrogant rudeness and lack of christian humility was damaging the charity’s reputation. She uttered a very uncharitable phrase, and hung up.

But I am not suggesting everyone must be so assertive. If you are happy with the time you give to projects led by other people, then carry on and you can have the pleasure of being virtuous and enjoying it. But if you feel put upon and stressed, and never have enough time for your own priorities, consider changing your responses.

Firstly you should examine why you are vulnerable to being exploited in this way. Did your childhood upbringing train you to be subservient to the will and desires of a parent perhaps? But you are no longer a child, so this no longer applies. Do you wish to be liked and therefore find it hard to refuse? The hard faced harpy demanding your services – or even the sacharine sweet organiser with her list of asks – is not going to like you if you comply: she’s just going to enter you on her list of people who are quick to persuade. It is important that you are able to refuse comfortably. If the problem is guilt – you feel you have had a fortunate life compared with others and therefore feel bad about refusing, but still resent the demands on your time – then decide on a work or charity you are prepared to undertake and do that gladly, and decline other requests with a clear conscience. There’s no point in indulging in guilt AFTER an event. You should have thought of that before, and not done whatever it was. If it is truly outwith your control, then guilt isn’t appropriate. If you agree to all that is asked of you, you won’t have time to serve the people who really are your responsibility; and if you don’t get enough time to yourself, you won’t be strong enough to give of your best when you want to do so. Why should you care if she doesn’t like you anyway? You don’t like her very much.

So when the Ugly Sister rings and proposes the task, just say pleasantly that you’re very sorry, but on this occasion you aren’t able to help her. And whatever she says, (But I’m counting on you; your scones are the best; nobody does it like you; it’s not like you to refuse to help) you just repeat your phrase like a stuck record. I’m sorry that on this occasion, I can’t help you. Don’t offer any explanation (she’ll find a way round it. ) if she asks what else you’re doing, (people of her ilk have no manners at all)say you’ll need to go now. If she says since you can’t do this rota, will you do one next Wednesday, say you can’t decide that until nearer the time, if you’re not brave enough to refuse outright. If she says, when will it be convenient for you to do this, say, I’m very busy over the next few weeks and I can’t give you any date at this time. Don’t be put in the position that the buck stops with you. If she says she’ll assume you’re OK for Friday unless she hears from you, say, No, she’ll have to ring you nearer the time or else you’ll forget (and do so.)

Bear in mind too that if you don’t think fast enough to refuse, it’s a simple matter to go back and say, Yesterday I agreed to — but on reflection I find I had forgotten some other commitments and therefore I’m sorry but I am unable to help you.

If the person loading you with tasks is entitled to do so (an employer) then of course you will have to undertake them, but if the load is quite unreasonable, you can ask in what order the tasks are to be carried out, making it clear that some will have to be delayed.

You only have to do this a few times and you will be removed from the Quick and Easy List of People to Dump Tasks on. Then you should have plenty of time to enjoy doing what YOU want to do which might well include some of those tasks you were overburdened with in the first place, but they will be at your choice, rather than someone else’s.

Bear in mind that if you have always been very meek and obliging, people will initially react very badly to your change of view. But you weren’t happy with the previous arrangement, were you, so it’s quite fitting that they feel irritated and put upon for a time. So, walk away, put the telephone down, close down your email,  and then go and do something pleasurable that you didn’t have time to do before!

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

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