Friday, 2 September 2011

Stress of busyness

By Virginia Winder
If you’re too busy to read this story, then this article is for you.
So stop for a moment, take 15 minutes and read about how your ultra-busyness is not sustainable.
You see, in this online, mobile technology, tweet-a-thought, text-contact, GPS world, we never switch off. Literally, we are bombarded with information, thoughts, friend requests and work expectations at every waking moment.
Not only are we running out of natural resources, many of us are running out of time. That’s down time, quiet time, family time, thinking time, home time, exercise time and time out.
If having a shower is your only peace time in your daily race, then you need to have a serious think about your life, especially if you’re working in excess of eight-hour days and also find yourself labouring away at weekends.
Yes, you’re out there, you 14-hour-a-day sloggers, who can’t stop thinking about work and whose relationships, body and mind are starting to fall apart.
Even those of you who are teetering that way, should pay attention – if you spend all your days working then you’re in danger of burnout or, as one friend found out, break down.
At dinner with friends the other night, I quipped that snapping an Achilles tendon was her body’s way of slowing her down and perhaps that was the message to be learnt.
Her reply was swift: “No, it showed me I need to speed up. I spent 10 years sitting behind a desk and now I exercise every single day.”
My friend now lives by the “use it or lose it” principle spelled out in the book by the same name by Peter Snell and Garth Gilmour – but sustainable exercise story will come later.
For now, we are looking at business, or in this case busyness, and finding out about making more time for yourself without failing in your job.
To do this I took time out and went to the library at Puke Ariki and borrowed 13 books, many of them with tantalising titles, including The 4-Hour Workweek (Timothy Ferris), The Power of Less (Leo Babauta) and The Great Office Detox – minimise stress and maximise job satisfaction (Dawna Walter).
Let’s get some advice from the experts.
Babauta kindly begins his book with a comparison between two reporters. One goes for high volume, putting out about 30 short, fairly limited articles per week. This reporter’s high work rate is noticed and earns praise from the editor.
The other decides to go for just one story, but chooses a subject that will “knock your socks off”. She brainstorms, thinks, researches, conducts a wide variety of interviews, spends time writing it, polishing her work and checking all the facts. The story is an award winner.
“The first reporter was thinking high-volume, but short-term. The second reporter focused on less, but did much more over the long term,” writes Babauta. “That’s the power of less.”
People can choose between doing a lot and opting for high impact. The latter is definitely more sustainable and can lead to long-term contributions to society, your career and your bank balance.
Babauta, a freelance writer from Guam, recommends changing habits slowly (in fact he recommends slowing down in general) and try adopting these, one a month, for a year.
1. Set your three Most Important Tasks (MITs) each morning.
2. Single-task.
3. Process your in-box to empty.
3. Check email just twice a day.
5. Exercise every day.
6. Work while disconnected, with no distractions.
7. Follow a morning routine of your own making. This could involve watching the sunrise with a cup of tea or coffee at hand, meditating, doing yoga, going for a walk, writing, choosing your MITs, reviewing goals, having a gratitude session.
8. Eat more fruit and veggies every day.
9. Keep your desk decluttered.
10. Make a short list of your four to five most important commitments, asking yourself what do you love most and what is most important to you? Say no to commitments and requests that aren’t on your short list.
11. Declutter your house for 15 minutes a day.
12. Stick to a five-sentence limit for emails.
In her book, Get a Life, Not a Job, work psychologist Paula Caligiuri offers advice that our parents told us, including eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.
If you are working every waking moment, then it’s highly likely you are failing on these three as well. Trust me, this way of life is not sustainable and you will suffer from mental or physical burnout, whichever comes first.
Caligiuri also recommends seeking volunteer opportunities, reducing energy-sapping work-related cynicism (or get a new job) and taking a holiday. “The downtime can increase your energy, creativity and productivity,” she says of the latter.
She also doesn’t believe in time management. “You need to rethink your relationship with time. You need to fall in love with the 24 hours you have each day. Love your time. Respect your time. Protect your time.”
We all know people who do this and admire them for it. I have friends that only work four day weeks, others who have one afternoon that is entirely there’s, and many who will do absolutely no work at the weekend. Ever.
Dawna Walter deals with the greatest time waster of them all: Procrastination.
“The obvious way to conquer procrastination is to tackle the things you hate doing first thing each day and get them out of the way,” she writes. “You will release all the anxiety that may have built up about them and can then get to grips with the remainder of your day without worry.”
Easy to say, of course, especially because procrastination is often caused by fear of failure or being uncertain what to do. People can simply get paralysed by perfection, Walter says.
To get over this, get used to losing. She recommends playing a game – bowls, cards, charades or trivia – with friends or family once a week and viewing it as therapy. “There will always be someone who can play better, faster or have the luck of the draw. You will soon discover that the world doesn’t come to an end as a result of not being the best.”
That in turn, will help you overcome fear of failure and break through the procrastination barrier.
Entrepreneur Timothy Ferris lives by the 80:20 law propagated by Italian Vilfredo Pareto (1848 to 1923).
“Pareto’s Law can be summarised as follows: 80 per cent of the outputs result from 20 per cent of the inputs.”
When Ferris came across Pareto’s law, he had been working 15-hour days, seven days a week, was feeling completely overwhelmed and generally helpless. “Faced with certain burnout or giving Pareto’s ideas a trial run I opted for the latter.”
Ferris put aside an entire day to ask himself:
1. Which 20 per cent of sources are causing 80 per cent of my problems and unhappiness?
2. Which 20 per cent of sources are resulting in 80 per cent of my desired outcomes and happiness?
When he answered those questions and then acted on eliminating problem customers and focusing on what he did want, Ferris’ life changed forever for the better.
Robert Holden’s book Success Intelligence: Timeless Wisdom for a Manic Society is also a life changer.
He talks of the need to join The Space Programme.
One day a highly successful lawyer who suffered from a nervous breakdown came to see Holden, the founder of The Happiness Project. “He told me: ‘I curse the day I installed my car phone. My car was my thinking space. I got all my best ideas driving to work. It was also my place to unwind. I used to listen to Vivaldi on the freeway home. But my car phone made my car into another office and I became extremely busy and I lost my space’.”
Holden says we all need space to think and simply to be empty, so we can be filled again. He is also an advocate for less is more: Less urgent – more wise; less activity – more vision; fewer hours – more success; less effort – more imagination; less struggle – more ease; less waste – more efficiency; less stress – more peace; and less ego – more God (or spirituality).
We will finish this story on being sustainable in your work practices with Holden’s wise words on simplicity. “The decision to simplify things is a gift because it returns you to your essence and to what you most value. Greater simplicity helps to avoid excess busyness and unnecessary effort. It increases effectiveness and it welcomes grace and inspiration. It also preserves your sanity. Talk time to reflect on how you could simplify your life and work to enjoy greater success.”

This story was first published in the Taranaki Daily News on 30/8/11

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