Dear Rachel,

Overwhelmed, overscheduled, overstressed, overcommitted, that’s me!

Thank G‑d, I have a large extended family and many friends, and I’m active in the community. I must go to a shivah, a brit, two weddings and two bar mitzvahs a week! That’s besides volunteer work and the regular commitments to my own family. When I started keeping Shabbat, I said, “Yay, now I’ll have a day off!” But Shabbat also entails endless obligations, from kiddush luncheons to visiting friends, hosting guests and going to classes. I’m just exhausted, burnt out and at my wits’ end. My husband says to cut myself some slack and do less. But what social obligations does he want me to cut out exactly? Please help!

Fading Fast


Dear Miss Popularity,

You must be a very friendly and social person to interact so successfully with so many people. You seem to be quite the extrovert, but even extroverts need their downtime. If you’re experiencing burnout, then your husband’s right—you have to cut back.

The solution is multi-layered: evaluate, prioritize and time-manage.

Evaluate

Usually, people are so busy being busy that they’re not aware of what they’re actually doing. I suggest that for two weeks you make a list of everything you do and how long each activity takes you. Include preparation time. If you stop by a wedding after work to stay for the chuppah, say mazal tov and then go home, it’s a whole different ballgame than if you go home, change and have to drive two hours to a wedding out of town. Then, on a scale of 1–10, rate each activity according to how long it takes you. You can’t have 17 tens!

Also, differentiate between the social commitments you enjoy keeping and the ones you feel obligated to attend. Do all of them require your personal presence, or would sending flowers, a gift or good wishes be enough? Do you have to go to the funeral and the shivah (house of mourning), or can you just go to one? Do you need to go to the engagement party, the wedding, and the sheva berachot (celebrations after a wedding)? Is your volunteering out of the house infringing on your time with your own family?

We all have limited time and energy—so are you spending it in conjunction with your core values? Using time wisely is a very important precept in Judaism. (We are commanded to break all but three laws in the Torah to extend a person’s life for even one minute longer, as a person can use that minute to do a mitzvah.) By taking stock of how you spend your time, you’ll be better able to prioritize your activities. Because every minute counts.

Prioritize

There is a well-known story of a professor who stood in front of his class with an empty jar, and sand, pebbles and big rocks. How could he fit it all into the jar? When he tried to put in the sand and pebbles first, the big rocks wouldn’t fit. The big rocks—your major commitments and priorities—come first, and then you can fit in the smaller obligations (the sand and pebbles).

Family comes before friends, friends come before community, making a living comes before volunteering. For example, your child’s school recital takes precedence over an acquaintance’s wedding, and preparing properly for Shabbat comes before having guests. See which people and activities are really not that important to you, and let some go. By sacrificing the minor relationships, you’ll be able to invest more in the major ones.

Above all, you need to take care of yourself before you can take care of the world. As Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” Or as flight attendants put it, you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else with his. This means eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, and yes, enjoying yourself and doing things you like to do. Of course, there’ll be exceptions (when you have a newborn, you can’t expect eight hours of sleep . . .), but in general, you can’t fill anyone else up if you’re not full yourself. Spend your time on activities and with people who energize you, not drain you of energy.

Time-Management

  • Schedule according to priority. Make a list of things you need to do each day/week/month and schedule them into a calendar. Whenever someone asks you to do something or be somewhere, look at your calendar. If that time slot is already filled, you can’t do it unless it takes priority over your scheduled activity.
  • Plan for bumps in the road. Always add 10 to 15 minutes to your estimate of how long an activity will last. That way, you won’t be rushed if something holds you up.
  • Verify the start time beforehand. If you know a chuppah, class or meeting will really start a half hour later than scheduled, take that into account.
  • Set limits for social interactions. If a friend calls and you have only 10 minutes, tell her you only have 10 minutes. She won’t be offended, and you won’t be stressed. If you go to an event, decide beforehand how long you’ll stay. You don’t have to be the one to shut off the lights!
  • Limit your time on social media. It’s a big time-guzzler! Decide how much (if any) time you spend on your e‑mails and Facebook each day, and don’t overstep that bound.
  • Schedule “me time.” Schedule time to just be, walk in nature, nurse a cup of coffee or have a conversation with someone near and dear.
  • Be realistic about what you can do.
  • Recharge on Shabbat. Have guests for only one meal, pay only one social call, or go to only one class or group once a month. Shabbat is for resting and bonding with your family. Also, you may find it relaxing to go away for Shabbat once in awhile.

Our most valuable commodity is time. And as we get older, it becomes more valuable because it becomes more depleted. We need to use our time wisely for activities that give us the biggest payoff, emotionally, spiritually and physically.

Thank you for your time,

Rachel