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Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

Bringing in the Harvest

    To all our American readers, I and the rest of the Lifehack team wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings today.

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    I wanted to avoid the typical, clichéd, count-your-blessings-what-are-you-thankful-for posts. You all know that. Grade school kids know that. Heck, the unborn already know that. So let’s take it as a given that you’re deeply considering your blessings and what you have to be thankful for today. At least during the commercials, if nobody’s yelling.

    (Non-US’ers may not be aware of how we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US. First, there’s enough food to feed a small country – weird food, though, food we don’t eat any other time of the year except maybe Christmas: turkey – deep-fried, roasted, or stuffed with a chicken that’s stuffed with a duck – stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, and something odd that an aunt or great-grandmother comes out of retirement once a year to cook. While that’s all getting magically cooked by our mothers, aunts, and grannies, the rest of the family either a) watches a big American football game, b) argues viciously, or c) alternates between “a” and “b”.)

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    But what’s got me thinking today is not so much the “thanksy” part of Thanksgiving, but the timing. Thanksgiving is, first and foremost, a harvest festival. That’s what the Pilgrims were supposedly giving thanks for – their first harvest in this new land. Every agricultural society in the world has a similar festival. After the crops are in and the hay laid up and the grain stored and the herds brought in and the work of the farm is done, there’s a festival, an opportunity to thank whatever god or gods a people consults on such matters and to celebrate the end of another year’s hard work and to prepare for the quiet months to come.

    Ironically, Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the US just as the agrarian lifestyle it celebrates was entering its final decline. It was Abraham Lincoln who made Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, as the Civil War which gave the US’s industrial revolution its running start raged. After the Civil War, farming would be increasingly industrialized, and the vast bulk of America’s population would leave the farm and migrate to the city, to lives of factory and service work. Today, fewer than 2% of Americans work in agriculture.

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    Which is to say that the majority of us lead lives that are no longer defined by the annual cycle of planting and harvesting, summer bustle and winter quietude. Our harvests are no longer brought in every Autumn; instead, we sow and we reap throughout the year.

    What strikes me about Thanksgiving, then, is that this is a holiday about finishing, about congratulating yourself and your community for a job well done. The Thanksgiving story with the Pilgrims and the Indians is a myth, of course, a story we tell ourselves to give ourselves some kind of grounding in the world, to explain who we are. But it’s a good myth – it tells of a people who looked at what they’d done and realized that they’d accomplished something. They were so excited about what they’d done that they couldn’t resist showing off a little, inviting their neighboring Indians to see (much like thousands of Americans will spend tonight giddy with excitement over the new widescreen television they’ve installed in the living room for tomorrow’s game, knowing that there friends and family will see that they’ve accomplished something).

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    It’s important to celebrate our accomplishments like that. It’s too bad that in today’s world of cool reserve and ironic detachment, too often we downplay our achievements, even to ourselves. We resist sharing our triumphs with others, for fear of being seen as bragging, boastful, “too big for our britches”, a show-off.

    This is unfortunate because the festival not only marked the end of the harvest, it gave farmers the energy and incentive they needed to slog though the dreadfully difficult work of tending and reaping their crops. We should allow ourselves the same benefit, but instead we sap away our motivation by downplaying the things that are most important to us.

    I guess what I’m saying boils down to this: while we’re giving thanks tomorrow for a harvest that we didn’t bring in tomorrow, maybe we should be thinking of the harvest we did bring in. And maybe we should be giving ourselves permission to have a little Thanksgiving throughout the year, to learn from the Pilgrims and mark our achievements as they happen – and share the bounty with our families and neighbors. Count your blessings if you must, but be sure to count your successes in the list, the projects you’ve completed, the steps both large and small you’ve taken towards your goals, and yes, your own harvests.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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