Friday, August 6, 2010

Time Flies When You're...

My watch stopped a week ago, and it got me thinking about time. I hadn't intended to take time off from writing my blog, yet my last post was in June, and here we are in August! I was here. My blog was here. But somehow, we just didn't seem to have the time to connect, and time kept marching on.

There's an old saying that, "Time flies when you're having fun." The truth is, time flies whether you're having fun or not. Sometimes we can have so much to do, even fun things, that we become overwhelmed and either try to plow on, making mistakes as we go, or we come to a screeching halt, try to get our bearings, and reevaluate. This is true in our work lives with multiple tasks and responsibilities, deadlines, appointments, reports, phone calls, meetings, etc. And with many companies trying to save money by cutting back staff, it sometimes means one employee has to take on the additional work previously done by another. Then when you add in our personal lives (some might ask, "What personal life?"), there is even less time, and more pressure and stress. How can you keep your balance, perform at work, and keep your home life from falling apart, as well?

At work, if you're feeling overwhelmed and need help, the first thing to do is admit it to yourself. Then, talk to your supervisor. Explain the situation to him/her and ask what things he wants you to focus on and what can be either delegated to someone else or set aside for later. Some employers are willing to work with their employees to create a better, more productive work environment, and others are not. If your boss is not approachable, try to set up a priority system for yourself and track your workload and what gets done. See if you can find a more efficient way of handling tasks such as setting aside a specific time each day for correspondence, returning phone calls, etc., if practical in your situation. Be flexible. If something isn't working, try to find another way of doing it.

Some employers have instituted 5-10 minute breaks/naps each hour and have found that workers increase productivity when they have these breaks. Whether just closing your eyes, meditating, or going for a walk outside or down the hall, breaking up the routine can revive you if you're flagging. Set a timer, though, so you don't doze off for too long. The goal is a mini-break, not a pink slip.

If you work with a team and have weekly meetings, see if you can discuss ways of diminishing overload. Perhaps if one person has less to do on a given day, they could help ease the burden for a coworker who is overwhelmed that day. If everyone is equally out straight, suggest the idea of hiring a temporary employee to ease the burden until things are on a more even keel.

If the stress is affecting your health, make a doctor's appointment and discuss ways of handling stress more efficiently. Talk with your boss or supervisor and see if he is willing to work with you to cut back your workload, at least temporarily. If you're having serious health problems, and all else has failed, it might be time to start looking for a different job.

At home, make caring for your living space a family affair. Even preschoolers can help pick up toys and laundry, help feed pets (with parental supervision), clean up spills with a paper towel or sponge, and dust things that are at their level either with a cloth or by using a sock on their hand. You might post a household "Chore Chart" that lists what needs to be done each day, and who has the responsibility for completing that specific chore. Rewards for completing assigned tasks could be a favorite activity, staying up a half-hour past bedtime, watching a favorite DVD, an allowance, etc. If you have a family meeting and let the kids pick and choose their chores, based on age appropriateness, they may feel more invested in doing them. Or, you could rotate chores from week to week, let family members draw tasks written on slips of paper in a "job jar," or whatever method will work best for your family given the number of people and ages. Be creative.

If there are larger projects at home that need doing, and the adults in the home are too busy to do them, consider hiring someone. Depending on the project, you might be able to find a middle- or high-school student who is looking to make some money over the summer or on weekends. Cleaning, painting, weeding, mowing, and even grocery shopping are just some of the chores that can be hired out that don't necessarily require a professional to do them.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said in a poem, "...time is fleeting..." Life is too short to cram each minute full of activity. Our minds and bodies need time to rest, recoup, de-stress. Like a pressure cooker needs to have the steam released periodically to keep it from blowing it's top off, so do we need ways of taking the pressure off or it will manifest in physical, emotional, or mental eruptions.

How do you balance your time between work, family, self-care, hobbies, etc? Does your boss allow for mini-breaks? Have you found a way to successfully handle job stress? Share your thoughts in the comment section.


  1. Great post Donna. I would like to add that if you're having serious health problems it might be time to look for a different job but it might also be a good idea to give up work if that is an option financially. When I was ill I found it really hard to give up work, but it really was what I needed to do!

    Also, if you want to lead a balanced life I believe it's important to make time to relax and to do things you enjoy. If you look after yourself, you're better equipped to cope with the busy-ness (if that's a word!) of life.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Debbie. Many people with chronic illnesses cannot work. Although not working can ease some of the stress (my doctor ordered me to resign from all of my board and committee responsibilities to reduce stress), it can add emotional stress in the form of feelings of uselessness and negative self-image. When that happens, it's important to remember that you didn't ask to be ill, it's not your fault, and you are still a person of value. Stopping work is a difficult decision and, as you pointed out, not financially feasible for everyone. Ultimately, we all do the best we can given our circumstances. And you're so right about taking time for yourself (Cheryl Richardson calls this "extreme self-care"). When you are living with the challenges of chronic illness, balance in life is key.