When I worked at the newspaper, I occasionally got calls when I was on vacation from someone back at the office who was unable to do something because I was the only one who knew how to do it. Not that I was the only one capable, mind you. Just the only one who knew, usually because I was the only one who read the manual.
But this was pretty rare. Everyone was cross-trained in everyone else’s job, and instructions for various processes were put in writing (yeah, usually by me) so the newsroom would continue to operate even, as one former editor used to put it, if you wind up dead in a ditch.
Graphic as this image may be, its point is simple. No one in the newsroom can be indispensable. If you wind up dead in a ditch — or if you “forget” to turn on your phone when you’re on vacation — someone else needs to be able to write that story, design that page, or fix that computer crash.
Once I learned that the newsroom could indeed run without me — that pages got to press and computers got fixed even if I didn’t check voice mail until after deadline — it was liberating. It helped me set boundaries on accessibility and keep a right perspective.
Then I applied it to other areas of my life, and that’s when my perspective really shifted.
If I wound up dead in a ditch, someone else could…
…cook my husband’s dinner
…nag my son to do his homework
…teach Sunday school
…edit the newsletter
…work at the weekend retreat
…staff the craft booth at the church bazaar
…plan the pastor’s retirement party
But if I wound up dead in a ditch, no one else could write my book.
Managers are often told to focus on doing the things that only they can do and delegate the rest. But for many of us, this is impractical, because we don’t have anyone we can delegate to. So if you can’t delegate, you have to — do you see this coming?
You have to say no.
When my schedule was overloaded and something had to go, and I called the committee chair to back out of planning that retirement party, I braced for her disdain. But she was actually very understanding.
I still get opposition when I refuse to work at that twice-yearly retreat, but I hold my ground. I know what I can do, and I know what God has called me to do, so I continue to say no to things that fall into the first category but not the second.
Now that I’m a freelancer, I have more time and a flexible schedule, which lets me say yes more often. But my answer still goes through the filter of my calling. And part of my calling is to write. So I make time for it, and say no to things that will keep me from it.