The Buffet Syndrome: Too Much on Your Plate!

2000 by Kathy Paauw,

Over the summer my family went on a 7-day cruise. If you've ever been on one, you know that the focal point of most cruise vacations is FOOD -- available in large quantities 24 hours a day. If you don't get enough to eat at the three sit-down multi- course meals, you get another chance at the midnight buffet... or you can order 24-hour room service! I recently learned that the average weight gain on a 7-day cruise is 8 pounds! Although I only gained half of that, I have slowly and steadily gained a few pounds each year over the last decade. Needless to say, I am not happy with the trend, and I've taken steps to reverse this.

Life is like a buffet line -- so many choices, and yet there's only so much room to fit it all in. We know that we can only eat so much before we create health and self-image problems for ourselves. We know the importance of maintaining a proper balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbs, fats, chocolate (yes, this is an essential food group for me!), fiber, etc.

Isn't it the same with activities and responsibilities? If we take on too much, we create health and self-image problems for ourselves, too. If we don't maintain a proper balance of activities to nurture our physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs, we create stress, disharmony, and eventually dysfunction in our lives. Many of us -- myself included -- have not mastered the fine art of saying NO!

As an organizing consultant, I get calls every week from individuals who suffer from stress, disharmony, and sometimes dysfunction. People call me asking for assistance getting organized. I often ask, "What will getting organized do for you?" These are some of the replies I hear:

If I didn't waste so much time looking for things, I could focus on things that are really important that I just don't have time for now.

I could make more money if I had more time to ___ (follow up with prospects, stay in touch with clients, etc.)

I'd pay my bills on time and could avoid late payment fees.

I'd have more time to relax and do things I enjoy.

My ___ (spouse/SO, kids, boss, employees, etc.) would be happier if I had more time to ____.

I'd have more time to deal with important things requiring my attention and follow-up.

Although a good filing system and tickler file will help my clients find things quickly and remember important follow- up, there is no organizational system in the world that will fully address the most common concern that I hear from nearly every person who calls me -- not enough time.

We all have 168 hours a week. You say that's not enough? What if you could wave a magic time wand and add an extra day to each week -- for a total of 192 hours a week. Would that be enough? I'll bet not! It's the buffet syndrome! No matter how much time we're given, we pack more in than we can manage. What happens in a buffet line? Whether we get a smaller plate or a larger plate, most of us will fill it to the rim at an all-you-can-eat buffet!

Well, I'm committed to shedding some of the pounds I have gained over the last decade. I've tried multiple diets, and most of them have not worked... and I know why. It has to do with willpower and choice. When a two-pound box of See's chocolates is available, I can easily finish it off in a few days. (Okay, I'm a confessed chocoholic!) I've found the key to losing weight is in limiting the choices and the portions on my plate (big revelation!), so I've limited my portions by purchasing prepared meals through Jenny Craig. (I've lost 10 pounds so far!) No counting calories, thinking about balancing my diet, or measuring my food. I get to eat what's there -- even chocolate cake -- although it's a small piece.

Just as it serves us to limit our food choices and portions to what our bodies need, it also serves us to limit the number of activities and kinds of responsibilities we take on. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, asks: "What does it matter how much we do if what we're doing isn't what matters most?"

Having more time does not address the challenge of staying focused. Here are some tips to help keep you focused on what matters most.

==> Five Tips to Help You Avoid the Buffet Syndrome

1. Get clear about what is most important to you.

In Cheryl Richardson's book, Take Time for Your Life, she suggests that we create an "Absolute Yes" list. Identify what is on your Absolute Yes list by noting essential activities and relationships that will support your happiness and well-being.

Take some time out this month to assess the Year 2000 and identify what's most important to you for the Year 2001. List the five most important people, activities, or focus areas in your life that need your attention in the coming year. Everything else becomes secondary.

2. Concentrate on your strengths and your passions.

According to Donald Clifton, author of Soar With Your Strengths, people are most successful when they're matched with activities they love to do and at which they are good. A Stanford University study of 250,000 people concluded that high intelligence didn't guarantee high accomplishment. Hard work and enthusiasm in the field of choice was the leading indicator of success.

Pick one strength to pursue at a time. Excellence is a product of hard work and being passionate about what you do. Adjust your goals to target your strengths and passions.

Ignore weaknesses that will not hinder you. Work on a problem only if it lessens your productivity. Let your strengths overpower your weaknesses. (Imagine the world- class athletes at the Olympics -- the gymnasts aren't concerned about being great swimmers!)

3. Put your own needs first. (It's not selfish -- really!)

It's important to remember that when we put the needs of our business or company before our own personal needs, we put ourselves at risk. When we neglect our health, well-being, and our relationships, we become less effective professionally.

Remember the instructions given on an airplane before takeoff: "In the unlikely event that the cabin were to lose pressure, we ask that you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others." Why? Because if you don't take care of yourself first, you may not be available to assist others!

4. Let some of the balls you're juggling intentionally drop.

In order to do this, you may need to deal with the source of the symptoms that cause you to over-commit yourself. Do any of these fit for you?

* Trying to please everyone

* Trying to be liked by everyone

* Trying to be the star or the savior (what would they do without you!)

* Trying to do everything perfectly

* Trying to say yes to everything and everyone

* Addiction to the emotional "high" of running on adrenaline in crisis situations

* Feeling not at choice -- like there's no one else to do it

After you've identified the source of the symptom of being over- committed, take at least one action step each week to help you consciously drop some of the balls you choose not to juggle anymore. For example, if you're a perfectionist, ask yourself if perfection is required or if it truly serves you to strive for perfection. The vast majority of the gold medallists in the Olympics don't get a perfect score. Unless you're a rocket scientist working on a space shuttle, perfection probably isn't required.

5. Check your self-talk.

Be on guard for "should" or "gotta" or "have to." Replace these words with "choose to."

You are in the driver's seat for your life. If you don't choose to do something, don't do it!

==> Year-End Self-Reflection: What will be on your plate in 2001?

Schedule some time for a day retreat by yourself to reflect on your successes and disappointments for the Year 2000, as well as your wishes and intentions for the Year 2001. Write down your responses to these questions as you reflect:

1. What worked? What moved you forward toward success?

2. What didn't work? What got in the way or discouraged you from moving forward with your intentions?

3. What learnings did you gain from this year that you choose to apply in the coming year?

4. What do you want? What's on your Absolute Yes list for the coming year?

5. List the five most important people, activities, or focus areas in your life that need your attention in the coming year.

Tom Brokaw reported a couple years ago that the top three New Year's resolutions for Americans were to lose weight, save money, and get organized. Many people repeat these kinds of goals from year to year and experience little or no success in between. Simply stating what you want does not make it so! Achieving goals requires intention, planning, and action! Rather than creating an unachievable long list of goals for the year 2001, start with a shorter list that is realistic but challenging. Remember the old cliche... Rome wasn't built in a day!

The SMART process is a good way to plan for success with any intention or resolution. As you identify what you want for the coming year, make goals or choices that are:

* Specific - Have a crystal clear picture of the desired outcome.

* Measurable - How will you know you have achieved your desired outcome? How will you measure it?

* Achievable - Create a step-by-step plan to accomplish what you want.

* Relevant - Does this goal fit within the bigger picture of what is most important to you? What will this do for you?

* Time-bound - What is the timeline for accomplishing what you want?

==> Settle for More -- Hire a Coach!

Once you have clarified your specific, measurable goals and built in a timeline for achieving them, consider building in some support for yourself by hiring a Life Coach. These are some of the benefits you will experience in working with a coach:

* Clarify your priorities

* Review of what is working and what is not so you can make adjustments

* Create weekly action plans to keep you "on purpose" and moving forward with intention

* Hear yourself think (through reflective listening) and gain clarity about what you want

* Get encouragement and support when you feel discouraged

* Sort out your options when you feel stuck or not at choice

* Brainstorm and bounce ideas off of someone who is not attached to the outcome

* Build in accountability, without judgment, for following through with your intentions

You CAN learn to select the proper choices from the "buffet line" of life, and in doing so, you'll find a greater sense of fulfillment and enjoyment with the choices you make. Remember, if you can't do it alone, I'm here to help in any way I can!

Kathy Paauw, President of Paauwerfully Organized, has knowledge of expertise of many trained coaches. If her coaching style is not a good fit for you, Kathy can provide you with names of other certified coaches. Email Kathy now at or visit her Website at to request a complimentary no- obligation coaching session now.


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