Advice for a people-pleaser
“How do I have more *control* over how I spend my time?”
Welcome to the 32nd issue of Subtle Maneuvers. Last week: Joseph Conrad on a truly awful case of writer’s block. This week: the latest installment of my monthly advice column.
Dear Subtle Maneuvers,
My question is how do I have more *control* over how I spend my time?
Getting things done isn’t a problem for me. I am highly productive in terms of words produced, pieces published, tasks achieved, deadlines met—but it’s a bit like I am a highly efficient machine, where I prioritise well and tick them off one by one. My “wants”—including eating, sometimes! But more broadly: writing a book—don’t factor in this triage process. It’s like I just can’t convince my brain that stopping to eat, or carving out an hour a day to work on a novel, or exercise, is as CRUCIAL and important as doing work (for other people/for money—I can’t tell which is more important).
Relatedly: I am not so great at getting things done within a specific window. I might say “I’m just going to spend a few hours on this project I’m not that interested in, and no more” but then I get sucked in and tend to spend as much as I think it needs. I think this is the flipide of the former problem—that I am easily led by what seems to be the most “objectively” pressing thing to be done and then stick at it until it’s finished. (Then start, immediately, on the next one.)
Things like the Pomodoro method don’t work because I just don’t respect the timer. When I say I am going to write on my novel for just 30 minutes every day it doesn’t seem urgent enough for me to actually do it, not against the things I “need” to do. It might be a lack of self-discipline, or it might be that I just work in sprints. (Also writing a book is really hard when you have been conditioned by digital media to expect DOPAMINE REWARDS every 2–3 days.) Or is it *most* likely that I put others’ needs (employer-imposed obligations) above my own as a people-pleaser?
In any case, I recognise that this is bad—not putting myself first, not prioritising joy or long-term projects or exploration. I just can’t attach the same weight to “me stuff” as I do for external stuff. It’s a bit like I have this idea that I will “clear my plate” before I get to all that. And that’s no way to live, right? —Elle in London
What a great and difficult question! First of all, I want to say that your self-diagnosis—that as a people-pleaser you chronically put others’ needs ahead of your own—seems pretty accurate. As a fellow people-pleaser, I can relate! Fortunately, there is hope for us both. Last week I happened to listen to an episode of the NPR podcast Life Kit all about people-pleasing that I found quite insightful, and that I think could provide a useful lens for viewing your dilemma.