Last week, I spoke to 500 professional women about career advancement at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston. It was a great getaway from the ordinary chaos of my normal routine.
In addition to meeting so many inspiring women, I had the chance to listen to charismatic life coach Cheryl Richardson, whose bestselling books include "Take Time for Your Life." Her best bit of advice to the assembled women: Start saying "no" more often.
Richardson advised the audience to say "no" to requests big and small unless they absolutely deserved a "yes." And while on its face that may seem so obvious, most of us have great trouble practicing the policy -- including me.
Most of us are eager to give and give and then give some more of ourselves -- whether it's offering advice to friends, taking on extra tasks at work or volunteering on countless committees at our kids' school. And we spend too much time refusing to request help for household chores. We think we're required to do it all.
While some of that stuff is essential, and some of it is even fun, there's also quite a bit of it that robs us of time for ourselves. Richardson encouraged us to be selfish… but in a good way.
For two days after the conference, I followed Richardson's homework assignment by keeping close track of how I spent my time in the office. And I discovered some interesting things. It turns out, a whopping 40 percent of my day was "wasted" doing things for other people that quite frankly they could have done for themselves or that I could have respectfully declined.
The result? Because of my efforts to help others, I wind up making little progress on my own daily "to do" lists of essential work, which means I take it home with me at night.
I walk through the front door of the house with a BlackBerry in hand and a cell phone to my ear tending to business that could have been taken care of earlier in the day had I not managed my time so poorly. My kids shake their heads side to side, resigned to the fact that mom's working again. It's a scene that would make Richardson cringe.
But recently, when I accidentally dropped the BlackBerry and my 9-year-old daughter mumbled somewhat optimistically, "maybe it broke," I was the one who cringed. While I don't mind multitasking in front of the TV with a computer on my lap, I realized that I desperately want to shake the frazzled feeling of always being "on" -- for me and for my family.
This week I vow to start saying "no."
No, I'm not going to walk into my office with a big sign that says, "Don't bother asking." In my own way, I'll just stop being so overly eager to say "yes" every time a request comes my way. It won't be a shift that's obvious to anyone but me and hopefully to my kids, who will have a gadget- and work-free mom all to themselves at night.
With a bit of conscious self-discipline, a little more time is the very best gift all of us can give ourselves this holiday season.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor for "Good Morning America" and the CEO of WomenForHire.com.