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To Keep Or To Cancel

Managing your commitments when stress runs high.

I used to be the queen of cancelling.

Not many years ago, in my less self-aware days, if I saw a collaboration meeting or a status update meeting on my calendar and I wasn’t really feeling excited or prepared for it, I’d just cancel it. Could it wait until later in the day? Later in the week? Perfect. Could I possibly postpone it again later? Absolutely. I wasn’t thinking too much about the other person or people that had shaped their day around that calendar notice. I just assumed that no one really liked meetings (duh?), so any opportunity to NOT have a meeting right now, would be welcome. Often I’d do this with only 20 minutes leading up until the meeting. I know, *cringe*.

I’ll admit, I got a little rush of relief every time I cancelled. I think I might have been addicted to it. (Not surprisingly, I haven’t been the most reliable when it comes to showing up for social plans either. But that’s for another post.)

One day a colleague of mine, who had a few more years of experience in the corporate world, sat me down for some gentle (but long overdue) coaching. He pointed out how this cancellation habit showed a lack of forethought and time management on my part (ouch – I have always prided myself on having excellent time management). He also pointed out that it showed a general lack of respect for colleagues. Assuming that others will shift their busy and stressful schedules around just because of my flighty emotional whim  was selfish and thoughtless.


What made it sting more was how obvious it was once he said it (like most good wisdom and common sense). I just . . . hadn’t really been thinking about it that way. I was thinking short term. How do I survive this stressful day? What’s a temporary way to alleviate that stress? Answer: Cancel the meeting. In an effort to control what was right in front of me, I lost sight of the long-term consequences: A reputation of being flighty and disrespectful. And a negative effect on my relationships. By treating people as if their time were unimportant to me – my time would become less and less important to them.


After that session with my colleague, I focused on building a better habit to hold my meeting time commitments. Not only did it repair my relationships and reputation with others, but it helped me build confidence and trust in myself. (Honestly, that was something I didn’t even realize was missing.) I was able to better predict what my days would look like, and I forced myself to show up more prepared. This ultimately made me a more effective and productive professional. And eventually when the tables started to turn – and others would cancel or postpone last minute/repeatedly on me – I was able to pass along this experience and wisdom to them.


Keeping your meetings becomes even more paramount when you’re an entrepreneur.  When you’re running your own independent business – Every. Hour. Counts. There are competing priorities, the constant vibe of “the hustle”, and no real time off. When I started The Fiery Feather and realized that one change in my daily schedule can cause a domino effect that impacts multiple client deliverables, it really helped me appreciate my doctor, my hairstylist, and all the other service providers who charge a fee if I cancel within less than 24 hours. (Hello, empathy, you beautiful elusive creature, you.) I’ve come to realize how cancellation habits (good or bad ones) can impact more than just the reputation around the water cooler. They impact your bottom line. If you’re running your own show right now and don’t have “a boss” to answer to, be especially careful on how you schedule and prioritize individual deep work blocks, collaborative brainstorming meetings, and networking conversations.


Now … enter the era of Covid19. If there was ever a King of Cancellation, coronavirus would get the crown. (I’m really proud of myself with that clever analogy there, because ‘corona’ means crown, and the virus microscopically looks like a crown, and … I’ll get back to the point now.)

Covid is rude. It has pretty much cancelled a world’s worth of social plans. No more birthday parties, movie outings, baseball games. No more church services, backyard barbecues, or date nights at fancy steakhouses.

And yet it’s amazing to see how resilient, resourceful, and creative we’re getting in the wake of this pandemic. Virtual coffee dates from our kitchens, with complete permission to be in your pajamas. Virtual lunch chats with colleagues, with complete permission to STILL be in your pajamas. Virtual happy hours, to celebrate the end of a long day of meetings over Zoom … in your pajamas.

The dark side of this era though: cancelling is easier than ever. If you cancel our lunch meeting with only 7 minute notice … so what? It’s not as if anyone was driving anywhere. If you just don’t show up for our virtual happy hour … so what? I’m going to keep doing the exact same thing I had planned on doing. (Drinking rosé in my office, STILL in my pajamas.)

Confession: just last week …. I caught myself pulling my old tricks of last minute cancellations.

Remember my friends, keep your eye on the long-term. What will life be like post-social-distancing? By dismissing our virtual commitments, we start to build bad habits. To paraphrase the great Annie Dillard: How we spend our days, is how we spend our lives. Or to paraphrase The Gladiator: What we do at home in our pajamas … echoes into eternity.

I write this as both a reminder to myself, an ex-addict, who could easily start “using” the ‘Cancel Meeting’ button again far too easily right now, without seeming selfish or thoughtless. I also write this as a warning to those working from home for the first time, who may still see it as a novelty.

And I write this especially for those who are really struggling with the Covid19 season. If you are taking on extra loads of stress (e.g. feeling guilty because you’re hiding from your own children on a small corner of your front porch just to have some quiet to focus on work while also wondering if the dog will ever stop barking) and find that your energy is draining faster than usual, I am NOT saying to ignore that feeling and force yourself to socialize when it isn’t healthy for you. I AM saying to pay attention to the reality of your situation, and don’t overcommit. It’s a strange thing that our bodies are staying more still lately –one might think we should have more mental energy to spare. But the stress and anxiety of this season is a legitimate reason to give yourself more space. Here are a few tips and takeaways:

  • Manage your commitments according to your level of introvertedness. Don’t try to cram in too many virtual coffees and lunches that you’re just going to hate anyway. Find the strategic and simple ways that help you feel connected, even if it isn’t a daily Zoom happy hour.
  • Make sure that you can give your best energy to your family, your work, and your own mental and physical health first. If you aren’t sure you can commit to a non-essential meeting, propose a time that you know might be a little less draining for you.
  • Or … just say no altogether. It’s okay to say that you’re not in a season where you can make additional commitments right now. I’m so proud of my friends and colleagues who are doing great at setting their own boundaries right now. I see you, fam.


No matter where you are or what kind of habits you’ve formed, it’s never too late to start or to restart. Whether you need to be more reliable, or just give yourself a little grace, or both. Self awareness, empathy, and vulnerability are key skills that will serve us well during this pandemic and beyond. I am far from perfect when it comes to time management, juggling commitments, and wearing real pants right now. But I’d like to think that because I’m willing to admit to those things, I’ll develop a reputation of a different kind.

Theresa M. Ward

I love leading workshops about everything from time management hacks to mindful goal setting. And I thrive on propelling projects towards a successful finish line with an artillery of cohesive tips & tools. Read more…

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