The Overbooking Disorder


as_seen_on.jpgToday marks 40 years since my sister Peggy and I hit bottom and made the decision to get organized. It was June 16, 1977 “the day we changed our minds and the day we changed our lives.” If you’ve read Sidetracked Home Executives: from pigpen to paradise you know what happened in the next six weeks. We not only got organized, we went on television and told about it and began teaching classes to other sidetrackers like us.


The biggest lesson we learned was to say NO. That skill really helps when it comes to not getting overwhelmed. Here’s an excerpt from The Joy of Being Disorganized, that'll help you if you have a problem saying NO.

Just Say No

The first lesson we SHEs need to learn in order to kick the adrenalin habit [caused by being overwhelmed] and get organized is the ability to give ourselves instant permission to learn to say NO. We are notorious for overbooking ourselves. We love to wear invisible capes and think we can save the world all by ourselves.

“Sure, I can take thirty toddlers to the zoo, as long as I can get back home in time to frost the six cakes I baked for the church cake walk tonight.” “Yes, I can price all 2,000 items for the rummage sale, as long as I can be at the humane society by noon to groom strays.”

Besides the adrenaline rush, I think there are several other reasons behind this overbooking disorder. One is the desire to be liked. We want people (especially other women) to talk well about us behind our backs.

“Janine! What a woman! Did you know she singlehandedly organized the Holiday Bazaar?”

“Yeah, and did you know she designed and built the float for the Founder’s Day Parade?”

“Yeah, and she grew the flowers that were on it from seed.”

“She’s so creative!”

“She’s amazing!”

“Everyone loves her!”

“What energy!”

“She’s perfectly incredible!”

“I wish I could do all those things so people would want to be like me!”

The truth about Janine is she’s exhausted, takes performance-enhancing steroids, cries when she’s alone, requires sleeping pills and anti-depressants to smooth out her private mood swings, can barely walk through her messy house in spite of her futile foray at Feng Shui, can’t use her oven because the smoke alarms go off when she preheats, is scared of the mystery food in containers in her fridge, and is on the verge of divorce.

But what the other women are really saying behind Janine’s back is:

“Janine is such a sucker!”

“Yeah, she’s a real control freak.”

“Mmm hmm, but she sure can’t control Frederic, I heard he goes out of town a lot. Gary saw him

In a San Diego restaurant and the woman he was with was not Janine.”


“Hey, not to change the subject, but at the next PTO meeting, let’s elect her to lead the teen camping trip into the Himalayas.”

“Great idea! There’s no way she’ll say no.”

It was around Christmastime one year when I first realized one of the reasons why I constantly overbooked myself. It hit me right after agreeing to make all the costumes for the nativity play that I choreographed at a church where I wasn’t even a member. I wanted to impress Agnes Flannigan, an elderly woman I loved at the Bible study I attended at her church. I imagined her saying to other women, “Pam is so talented. Did you know she was a choreographer? She’s also a very gifted seamstress and agreed to make all the costumes for the pageant. And to think, she doesn’t even belong to our church. I wish our members were more like her!”

Agnes praised me for all my work, and in my immaturity I thrived on it. But looking back, was it worth having to give my sister the coat I was making for her without the sleeves on Christmas? (I did include the pattern’s instructions and the two orphan sleeves.) Was it worth taking the phone off the hook for three weeks, having the neighbor girl care for my three-year-old son during the entire Christmas season? Was it worth the all-night sew-a-thons and the lack of time to decorate our own Christmas tree?

Agnes was an amazing woman, and years later when my son, Michael, was attending Lewis and Clark Law School, I discovered that the chapel on the school campus was named after her! She obviously impressed a lot of other people too. (To date, there is no chapel named after moi.)  In hindsight, if Agnes had had a state named after her, her praise was not worth what I did (and didn’t do) to get it.

Right after that crazy Christmas, on New Year’s Eve, I made a resolution to say “No” more often. I put a note by the phone that said, “Say no!” and another one in my purse to remind me when I was out and about and lured to impress others.

Another reason we SHEs want to say yes is when someone needs help. We are nurturers and we care, but helping someone can also give us a reason to escape. Focusing on others allows us to not focus on ourselves. If your yeses are used to get out of your messes, let an alarm go off in your head and turn that wonderful energy onto your own home. The next time you jump at the chance to help a friend clean out her closets when you can barely get into yours, just say no. When a relative wants you to help him clean his home when yours could use a crew of janitors for an extended period of time, just say no. While you are establishing peace in your home, be selfish about what you will do for others. It’s admirable to want to be of service, but if it’s a means of escape from your own messy dilemma, don’t do it. Just say no.

Saying no isn’t easy at first, and it felt awkward responding in the negative when people asked me to do something. To ease my discomfort, I was tempted to give a justifying excuse (which occasionally was a stretch of the truth). “No, uhhh, I have, uhhh, a sick mother-in-law to feed.” Until you can feel comfortable with just saying no, here are a few suggestions to use, especially on those who value a worldly work ethic:

“No, I’m working on a huge project right now.” (aka: You’re making your home peaceful.)

“No, I’m booked solid.” (aka: You’re working on your IPODs.)

“No, I have an appointment with some very influential people.” (aka: You’re going to spend time with your family.)

“No, I’m waiting for confirmation on a project that’s going to take up a huge chunk of my time.” (aka: From now on, you’re playing with your kids when they get home from school.)

“No, I have some traveling coming up.” (aka: You have to run errands.)

“No, I’ve got a deadline looming. (aka: You’ve got to get groceries.)

“No, but you might wanna ask Janine, I’ll bet she can do it.”

“No, I can’t at this time.”

“No, I’m sorry.”


It took me some time to get used to saying the word no without worrying if I was offending people, but over time and with practice it became much easier. Now, I can say no with relative ease. I figure if the person is going to get her feelings hurt, it's up to her. We need to attend to what is really important to us and be selfish about itl  In celebration of 40 years in business, we now have Sidetracked home Executives available on Kindle! Just click on the cover of that first book to purchase.

new cover of SHE book.jpg

Love,ir feelings hurt, it’s up to her. We need to attend to what is really important to us Just click on the cover to purchase it.   Love,       aaanewestsig.jpg

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