Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover
September 24, 2013 marked a big milestone in my personal productivity journey. It was the first jam-packed day of meetings that I navigated without adding anything to my (already full) to-do list. I had two face-to-face meetings and a conference call before noon and managed to escape them all task-free.


Wow! For once, I was free to actually follow up on my previously committed commitments. (Well, until the next round of meetings.)

Throughout the meetings, I didn’t volunteer to be the scribe or fill in folks who missed the meeting. I didn’t raise my hand to tie up any loose ends the group discussions created. I didn’t lean in to assume a new leadership role or fill a void or save the day.

Rather, I stayed in my lane—the slow one that I’ve been trying (with difficulty) to glide into since high school, when I first became the queen of over-commitment, juggling sports, band, student council and every other organization under the sun, on top of a fully loaded academic schedule.

I still felt the low-grade anxiety that accompanies me most days as I try to do too much. I walked into the first meeting late because I overshot the location and had to circle back through a labyrinth of one-way streets. I still had to walk out 30 minutes early to sit in my car and catch a conference call for another organization. Then I raced back into the building for an hour-and-a-half pow-wow with a sub-committee.

Clearly, someone whose scheduling conflicts have conflicts doesn’t need to take on another thing. Yet ordinarily that’s exactly what I do. I run from meeting to meeting volunteering my way into a schedule that just does not let up. Then I throw in household responsibilities, commitments tied to my husband’s job and my toddler’s emergent social calendar (swimming lessons, music classes and playdates galore) and I’m booked well beyond solid.

The 24th was special. I paid close attention to my meeting demeanor and contributions. I listened attentively, took detailed personal notes and shared ideas. I was engaged and present during the time I was there, but that was all. More importantly, that was enough. My presence was enough. My questions and recommendations and referrals were enough. I contributed fully and also finitely. This was a major step. I’ll go back next time and do it all again, but in the meantime, I’m tackling the rest of that to-do list.