The group expands and contracts each year depending on availability but generally involves at least ten women congregating around a table over lunch somewhere in the city in the last week of November. We have all, more or less, worked together, or at least in similar fields, over the years.
This year, when the email first came around flagging the date, I thought I couldn’t go. Not because it wasn’t something I wanted to do. I really wanted to go. But initially I gave more thought to ‘lost productivity’ than ‘what I actually want to do’.
I very rarely have a long lunch break. Like many working parents I usually race through as much as possible during work hours to maximise time at home. If working through lunch gets me home thirty minutes earlier than otherwise, I happily dine ‘aldesko’.
Sense prevailed before I declined the Christmas lunch as I realised I didn’t want to miss out on this unique tradition with women I rarely see. It was – definitely – worth losing a little productivity for.
At this lunch it has become tradition to go around the (always round) table and share a few highs and lows from the year that’s been and any hopes or plans for the next. It is an efficient way to catch up in a meaningful way with a lot of people in a relatively short period of time in a way we wouldn’t if we didn’t set an agenda and just spoke in and between ourselves.
It’s always affirming to listen to women of different ages and stages of life speak honestly about their triumphs, their tribulations and their reflections on another year around the sun, inevitably spanning work, families, business, relationships, homes, money and health.
This year was no exception and as we circled the table a very clear theme emerged. Almost everyone identifying ‘saying no’ as something they want to work on next year.
In different settings, for different reasons, we all spoke about getting better at saying no, not to the things we want to do but to the things we don’t want to do or can’t do.
I left the lunch, as I often have, feeing buoyed by the camaraderie, inspired by the big and little things these women are conquering, managing, enduring and doing. I felt grateful to be part of this annual ritual, which serves as a welcome bookend almost signalling the end of another year, for the opportunity it presents to take stock.
Almost as soon as I left the restaurant and jumped on a bus home I realised the irony that I may have missed out on a discussion that so helpfully fortified my determination to get better at saying no – because I almost said no myself to something I actually wanted.
It was compelling proof that the corollary of getting better at saying no is effectively getting better at saying yes to the things you do want.
Time is a finite resource and being strategic about how we expend it is a universal challenge. It’s also a moving feast depending on what any given day, week or month presents.
The allure of maximising productivity at all times is tempting and has its merits. But it overlooks the fact there is much more to work, and certainly more to life, than ‘productivity’.