Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Streamline to Lower Stress and Slow Your Pace

Have you ever stopped to think about why our lives feel busy and fast-paced?  Do you assume it is because we have too much to do and not enough time to do it in?

Sometimes, that's true.  There are moments when life throws way too much at as and we just can't keep up.  (I think specifically of when I had to go back to work full time with a 6 week old infant and college classes started back up only 4 weeks later.).  Carefully prioritizing is essential when life comes at us full speed (sounds like a topic I should tackle in some future posts!).

But in my experience, often we just feel stressed and overwhelmed because of an inefficient, disorganized approach.

As we add more tasks to our lives, we fail to see where we can streamline things and instead, over-compartmentalizing keeps us running around in circles and yet getting little done.  In this case, a fast-paced life may just be an illusion and streamlining our approach will slow our pace and reduce our stress.

You've probably heard this kind of advice as it pertains to things like running errands or grocery shopping:  have a list, don't vary from the list, do all errands in a given area at once, etc.  But it is relevant for much more than that.  The main point is, try to combine multiple tasks into one!  For example, I have learned at work to prioritize my tasks based on which part of the software I'll be working in or which coworkers I need to talk to.

When tasks are done more efficiently, we have more time and a decrease in stress, making our lives feel calmer even when we still have the same amount of responsibilities.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the Pursuit of Happiness

I have a confession to make - I read Penelope Trunk's blog on a fairly regular basis.  I almost always disagree with her (though her post about how the 4-hour work week is a lie was right on target.), and sometimes doubt her ability to see the world and herself realistically, but I am always compelled to return because she thinks so differently than me that I just know every time I read something by her I will be challenged to think about my personal goals, attitudes, and priorities in life.

Today was no exception.

Her post about how you can be either happy or interesting, but not both has a kernel of truth in it that those of us seeking out happiness would be wise to listen to.  The primary point is that happiness generally means contentment with one's current lot in life, while a person who is interesting is generally what she calls a "maximizer" - someone who strives to be the best and be interesting to others.

Her little quiz, while in some ways way off, certainly brings some interesting points to light.  The most valuable are in the very first questions: are you obsessed with being the best in your field to the point that you will sacrifice time with family?  If so, you probably aren't very happy, even though you might be interesting.

I think some people can be both happy AND interesting.  Consider the Apostle Paul, whose life has inspired people for two millennia, and yet who was able to say "I have learned to be content in all things."

However, I think one reason we live such a FAST paced life is a tendency to confuse happiness with achievement, and Penelope hit the nail on the head when she recognized that obsession with achieving career success can often detract from happiness instead of enhancing it.

The fact is, we are a SOCIAL people.  Even the most reclusive person craves love and affection.  Part of Slowing Our Pace is to pause and re-prioritize what really matters to us.  

What motivates us?  Are we driven to be successful?  Are we driven to be the "best" (whatever that means.)?  Would we give up family relationships to gain a better career?

If so, we probably need to reconsider some things.

My husband and I lived away from family for a while and missed them desperately.  We weren't really unhappy, but we were increasingly recognizing the need for personal connections.  Then I got pregnant, and our questions became imperatives - there was NO way our baby would only see Grandma and Grandpa on Christmas!

Then the recession hit and the family business went south.

So I gave up a great job right at the beginning of my new career, we sold our house, and we moved back home - literally.  I got a job making about 3% more than I had been, living in an area with a 25% cost of living increase, and we moved in with Mom and Dad and started paying rent to cover the money they were losing from the loss of the business.

We are still here, even after two years. 

Our daughter loves being with her grandparents - and they love being with her.  Other family members live in the area, so we get to see them quite frequently, too.  We are still working through the occasional tension that arises from so many people in one living space, but on the whole, we are very happy.

I'm not a super-star at my job, and I never will be.  But it is in the general field I want, even if just a little off-base, and it pays the bills.  Our life isn't very exciting or interesting to other people, either.

But I'd rather enjoy life, seeking out the happiness of being with the ones I love, than be a successful career woman with so little time I don't know my family any more.

I challenge you to take stock of your life.  What matters to you?  I dare say it is probably happiness.  If so, don't make the mistake of thinking that a promotion will give it to you.  Happiness comes from love, acceptance, and giving to others.  Happiness is all about relationships.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Take Time To Enjoy the Scenic Route

I live in the D.C. area, and last week we were slammed with a double blizzard, with my neighborhood getting over 42 inches of snow!  Everyone was stuck at home for most of the week.

For me, this was one of the greatest blessings, ever!  Sure, I had "important" projects to be doing at work, but the storm was beautiful, and it meant I could be at home with my family and catch up with my school work.  My daughter LOVED having me around, and I enjoyed the chance to play in the snow with her, take her sledding, and teach her how to eat icicles.

In the end, I had seven days straight to be at home!

I have heard of parents complaining about how tough it is to be at home with their children, and others worrying about the money or the house repairs.  But why waste the energy being miserable when there's nothing you can do about it?  And parents have so little time with children anyway that it seem a crime to regret even one moment of time with them.

Sometimes, we are thrust onto the scenic route and have no choice about it.  And chances are, when that happens, we really do need time for rejuvenation of self and relationships.  Next time you are thrown a detour, don't stress about the change in plans - instead, enjoy the chance to see the scenery!