THE BLOG
01/14/2015 01:17 pm ET Updated Mar 16, 2015

5 Tips to Take Back Your Life Already

You have more opportunities personally and professionally than you were ever meant to fulfill. The world with all its conflicting agendas doesn't understand this, so it looks like you'll have to. You can't do it all -- but by being selective, you can find more fulfillment in what you do take on.

5 Tips to Take Back Your Life

1. "Be ruthlessly honest about who you are," (Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller.) You might also find it helpful to start with who you are not. When you have the answers to these two questions, you'll know better what to sign up for and what to let go. For example, who doesn't want to be a cheerful giver? But there will be times when you've reached the end of what you can cheerfully give. Rather than push past that limit or try to talk yourself out of it, why not simply honor it? To do otherwise is a recipe for burnout.

2. Learn to say no with a smile. This may take practice! Once, when someone asked me to take over a volunteer newsletter (when my full-time job was overseeing two national newsletters), I heard myself say, "I need to let that opportunity go to someone else." Bingo. I had to turn down the volunteer role so I could give myself fully to the professional role. Which of your roles need to be nurtured and protected? Your answers will make it easier to say no to other opportunities, even good ones.

3. Start and end your day with something life-giving: anything from prayer and spiritual reading to exercise. As a devout person once reminded me, "Don't think exercise isn't spiritual." Choose something, no matter how brief, that will help you handle the rest of your day. Then, before bedtime, find a ritual to let go of the day's events, along with any apprehension about the day ahead. Lately my nighttime ritual of choice is housework. Other examples include writing, stretching, or winding down with a good book.

4. Schedule your day, but only about 70 percent of it. Choose the percentage that's best for you. The point is, life happens. We all need some breathing room to respond to the unexpected crisis, deadline, project, or opportunity (or to create opportunity). This is another way to protect our good spirits and productivity.

5. Figure out what time you want to end your workday, and work backward. I owe this tip to Eric Barker. In his article "How to be the most productive person in your office -- and still get home by 5:30 p.m.," he makes the strong case for trading to-do lists for realistic daily schedules. If we don't put boundaries on our workday, Barker writes, the workday will never end. And while being overwhelmed with demands might make us feel important, it might also compromise our health and well-being, and that of our families.

If the first week of 2015 taught me anything, it is this: It takes courage to say no, and wisdom to say yes -- not reflexively, but thoughtfully. This week, may you say yes and no in ways that leave you smiling and fulfilled, and the world better for it.