Take your Time!

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“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”.  And we should add bitter and sick and inefficient and a bad friend and s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d out!  Even with this age-old adage reminding us of the importance of “play,” more than 30 percent of North Americans do not use all their vacation days. Even when paid, approved and granted, these days often remain “banked and borrowed from.” Whether it is out of a fear of losing one’s position, a sense of competition (in the office or in one’s self), a lack of opportunity or some other unknown, it simply isn’t a good idea to let your vacation time go by without you; not for your mind, your health or your company. There is much research into the importance of daily downtime and quiet in order to give the mind and body the opportunity to reflect and rejuvenate, and this is no less true on the grander scale.  It is essential that you take blocks of time to relax, refresh, reconnect and recharge in order for you to be a healthy, productive and happy person.  There is no question that your body and soul require rest, repair, laughter, time, quiet, reflection, connection and play; these activities support a person’s emotional well-being, relationships, creativity and intelligence, physical health, problem solving ability and outlook on life.  In proof (justification if you need), research has been done on the benefits of taking your time:

Health Benefits

Taking time away from work and routine allows the body to replenish and repair itself.  There are studies showing positive impact on many conditions, most notably cardiovascular disease.  Further to a boost in the immune system, lower levels of infection and inflammation and a reduction in musculoskeletal conditions, vacation and leisure activities help to lower blood pressure and control waistlines.  A variety of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, inflammatory and metabolic disorders can be kept at bay if only you find time to both rest and play.

Emotional Benefits

Vacations and “downtime” contribute to higher positive emotional levels and less stress, anxiety and depression.  Studies have found that people who engaged in more leisure activities reported more life satisfaction, fewer negative emotions, tended to be more spiritually connected, and reported having a lot of support from family and friends making them feel more content.  All aspects of mental health are encouraged by rest and relaxation….and a bit of laughter with loved ones.

Creativity and Intelligence Benefits

When the mind has some time and space to relax, its potential and ability begin to shine.  When it isn’t focused on a specific task day in and out, it can access parts of the brain responsible for creativity, innovation and exploration.  It reflects and problem solves and creates, but only when it isn’t forever working away at something or worrying about a stressed, tired and overworked system.  Many people have some of their best ideas away from the job or at times when they are at rest (think when you wake up with a brilliant idea or when laughing with friends it all seems to make sense!) Without the pressure to respond to each crisis that arises, we have the opportunity to consider creative and innovative approaches.  There is a lot of research that says in order for the brain to grow and create and build new pathways, it needs to be….bored!  It refreshes and motivates the brain cells to relax.

Productivity Benefits

When employees take vacations, businesses and the economy benefit. Often, employees  report feeling better about their jobs and more productive after taking a vacation stating there is a restorative power in taking time off as it recharges and motivates them to work “better.” Workers who forgo their vacations aren’t doing themselves or their companies any favors. Even if they are physically present, they may have mentally checked out, and they often take more sick time, stress leaves, have a poorer attitude and waste time at work (the mind will take its holidays either way……).  For example, if people are overworked, they’re surfing the Internet or daydreaming or taking extra breaks, they’re not contributing to the bottom line anyway.

Taking a vacation helps revive the heart (literally), rejuvenate your body, recharge your mind, and soothe your soul.  It doesn’t need to be a grand and expensive getaway; only a break and opportunity to relax or play as you wish. Time is the most valuable thing you have; it’s time to start treating it that way….

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The Pros & Cons of Procrastination

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“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.”

This quote by Oscar Wilde is the exact definition of the art of procrastination: putting it off; waiting it out; placing it on the back burner.  Tomorrow is a wonderful time and an easy answer, and the day after tomorrow is even better!  There is a whole lot of motivational theory and time management principles that play in to why we procrastinate (because we all do for something some time), but in essence, procrastination is avoidance. Now I know there are readers saying to themselves, “oh, no, procrastination is {INSERT all sorts of positive justifications and reasons HERE} to which I say, I agree (see below), just hear me out!

In general, and especially in today’s pop -psychological world, avoidance is viewed as a bad thing (embrace your feelings and slay your dragons); however it serves a function too.  At a subconscious level, nobody wants to do something they won’t enjoy or they fear.  That’s human nature, so congratulations, you are normal, and your psyche is protecting you from the pain, discomfort, mistrust or boredom associated with “the task.”  Having said that, there is something to say for slaying your dragons and accomplishing things; different, uncomfortable, stressful, new or boring things and trying something new, gaining a sense of accomplishment or learning that we have to take the good with the bad are all important too!

In defense of human nature, I have created a list of all of the reasons it is totally okay to procrastinate.  Too bad for us, procrastination is often viewed negatively and the “cons” of it are quick to the tongue and many:  a person who procrastinates is wasting time and is often viewed as lazy, disorganized, rushed, ill-conceived and irresponsible.  Fair enough…..maybe.  However, it is only fair to list the pros of procrastination as well….if it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be such a powerfully demotivating force.   The list below explains and justifies both sides of the pacing and pressure-cooking procrastinative personality who is driven and defined by coffee and all-nighters!

PRO: you get a LOT of other things done when you procrastinate.  It is amazing how many fridges get cleaned out, batteries changed, groceries gotten, emails written, Christmas lists made and driveways shovelled when one is putting of “the task.”

CON:  You are avoiding something which tells your brain that “the task” is to be…avoided.  Your brain (ever the animal) then interprets said task as dangerous, poisonous, threatening, maddening, saddening or destructive.  The more often you avoid, the more often your brain attaches these emotions….this is going to make it a weee bit tougher to call on said brain to be all of a sudden creative, accepting and embracing of “the task” when the time comes.

PRO:  You brain is designed for survival, and so you will.  Whether by avoidance or by conquering “the task” your mind will give you whatever you need to survive (i.e. the project completed).  This looks like success; however most often, you have done only the bare minimum or just enough in order to finish.  Consider how many times you say to yourself “whatever” or “good enough” as you write, build, create or complete at the last minute.

CON:  Along with said emotions and interpretations noted above which begin to accompany every thought regarding “the task”, and the impending deadline, you are flooding your mind and body with stress hormones.  When the TIME COMES it’s do or die which feels a lot like fight or flight to your brain.  Adrenaline, cortisol and the like are stress hormones and add to inflammation, irritability, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, etc.

PRO:  If you’re lucky, after time the project or task is cancelled or no longer required and you saved yourself a lot of work.

CON: If you’re not lucky, the deadline gets moved up and you get thrown into a coffee-driven all-nighter complete with lots of junk-food, panic and ‘splainin to do.

PRO:  You have time to think about and consider your M.O. and gather all of the required information.  New information may come along or a new method may be discovered; a new idea may spontaneously come to you while you wait to start…a better idea, so I should wait……just in case.

CON: You cannot be very creative or make any adjustments at the last minute.  You get it done.  Even when you are on a role and ideas start flooding, they are on paper before your brain or imagination has had time to work with it.  We know that over time ideas evolve and grow and new “aha moments” bubble to the surface.  If you’ve waited to start, there’s no time for the ideas to finish creating.  Scratch that:  the ideas keep growing and coming, but you had to hand it in, so it’s too late to make additions.

PRO: There is some truth to the “I work better under pressure mantra.”  There are studies that show a “sweet spot” for anxiety and drive that enable our brains and show up and provide a peak performance when there is something at stake.

CON: This better under pressure thing only works when everything else is ideal and the universe presses all the “perfect condition” buttons in your life.  You can’t get sick.  The power cannot go out.  You cannot be needed to watch children or clean up dog crap.  Your car cannot break down or internet crash, not your car crash and your internet break down.  Your mom can’t need you to fix something or your boss need to help with a different project.  You can’t break a tooth or get sick (I said that one twice cuz your running on adrenaline and it’s going to happen…..).  If you can be absolutely certain that everything else in your life is going to be ROCK solid, then by all means….wait until the last minute and CRAM!  On another note, the “work best under pressure brain showing up with a peak performance thing” really only applies to things you WANT to accomplish.  Those tasks you are ever-avoiding will still be only as good as they’ll ever be.

If you struggle with procrastination keep this in mind: the hardest part is the start.  The rest will come.  Say it over and over to your brain…if you can get past the first step, then you are well on your way.  Your brain gets into “the task” and takes over.  This is often accompanied by the adrenaline rush and a tease of that sense of accomplishment.  Just start.  Take baby steps (anything is overwhelming if it’s a ginormous undertaking?!).  I always like to start with a quote…find what kick-starts your “go” and it’ll be tomorrow before you know it!

A.

The Work-Life Tug-of-War

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“Things are getting better and better and worse and worse faster and faster” ~Tom Atlee

This is the world we live in.  Everything is happening very quickly, and the argument as to whether this is a good or bad thing will keep many occupied at coffee shops and photocopiers for a long time to come.  Like or lump it, we are living it.  We are surrounded by a world that wants innovation and efficiency, and that means we need to design, create, produce and evaluate every minute of our days….regardless of our calling.

The long-time common response when someone asks “how are things?” has been “good.”  I am starting to notice (with myself certainly and more often with others) that a more common response lately is “busy.”  Things are busy.  Things are happening faster and faster and there is more and more of it to do and to care about and to wonder and to try!

No matter what your career, family situation, volunteer experiences or daily “to-do’s, we’ve all found ourselves busy.  We have also all craved the precious and just out of reach “down-time.”  Also known as “me-time” and “out-of-office.”  In a world of smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi ad video-conference though, I think the “out-of-office” is becoming less and less respected.

So, how can we possibly try to strike a work-life balance when we are required to keep up?  If one takes time for oneself are they sacrificing promotions? Recognition? Opportunity and possibility?  It might seem so, but if you don’t have a work-life balance (i.e. if work IS your life) you won’t last long.  First of all, you get sick.  Your body sends clear “I give” signals that look an awful lot like heart disease, high cholersterol, diabetes, headaches, ulcers, and on and on and on.  Too often, these signals are ignored or quieted with prescriptions, caffeine, alcohol, Ambien and protein smoothies, all of which have a time and place for a SHORT time and place, but not because you are working too hard…not good enough.  Once your body is done with you, your mind takes over the distress signals.  You have trouble concentrating.  Your creativity dwindles.  Your people skills decline.  You get cranky and unproductive.  You become miserable and lonely.  You become TOO invested (believe it) in your job and you lose perspective…not the things you listed on your resume.  Better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster.

Those highly invested in their careers are struggling to buy this….they will eventually, unfortunately.  Those recognizing these things for what they are, I have a few ideas for you on how to slow down and get a little leverage in the tug-of-war:

  1. Just because you have “free time”, does not mean that you are available. If someone asks if you are able to attend or organize or volunteer at an event, and you have the empty block of time, that does not mean you have to say yes.  A little empty time in your schedule is good for you for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is “balance.”  Secondly, it gives time for you to do something you WANT to do or ENJOY (What???) and finally, it gives “fudge” room in case life happens and you need time to address a crisis or problem that arises.  I often tell people it is great to be busy and going all the time as long as all is well…as soon as life happens, there isn’t enough time to be busy!  Another thought on “free time: if you get some “by accident” (someone cancels a meeting or is a no-show, etc)…leave it empty.  Don’t jump to fill it.  Enjoy it.
  2. Keep it Organized.  Make a list or use a calendar or have a day-timer.  There are any number of apps and software possibilities to find what will work for you.  Your mind is an expansive and awesome resource, but it is paying attention to a LOT of things you don’t even realize, and it decides FOR you what is important to remember and what can be remembered later….like at 3AM.  Just a note: your own subconscious desires, values and attitudes help it determine these priorities.  Get a calendar of some sort and use it.  I would even recommend colour coding it to get a good picture of your work-life balance! This is a bit of work on the front end learning how to use it and remembering to use it, but in the long run will be invaluable to you.  Secondly, the whole point is to get it OUT of your mind right?  Having a calendar and being organized not only externalizes all that data, but gives it a place outside of your head….this helps your mind to relax a wee bit, because it knows, it’s been written down and there is time scheduled to do that.  Just a note, if it’s not on the calendar, it probably won’t get done (this is especially true with things like a fitness routine, date night etc….you have to schedule them in if that’s the lifestyle you live!)
  3. Learn to say No.  There is not much more to say about that. It isn’t easy, but it’s an important skill.  You can do 100 things half-assed or you can do 5 things really well.  If it isn’t required of you or interesting to you or a value you hold dear….just say no.  On that note, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.  There are some things you will want to do with 100% gusto and with spectacular amounts of work and investment so that they turn out second to none.  And then, there are some things that can be “good enough.”  Have a look at which is which for good sense of where your priorities lie.
  4. Sometimes, time is more valuable than money.  This may have 2 meanings for some: yes, first-off your children and spouse and friends would much rather spend time with you then have gifts or treats.  I’m talking more about the second meaning.  There might be some things that you can “hire out” to relieve your stress.  Most of us take a lot of “pride” in being a do-it-your-selfer.  But that’s about you and not the others in your life or your “other” self who wants some down-time.  Maybe, a housekeeper?  An accountant? A lawn company? Someone else to make the birthday cake or iron you clothes?  Just something to consider, as there is NO question that time is more valuable than money.  There is always more money to be had.  Time is something we are losing every day and there’s no changing that or getting more of it.  It is by far the most valuable thing we have…and our relationships and our health remind us of that often (hopefully sooner than later…)
  5. Put first things first.  Your brain is organized into priorities, and the first of these is survival.  This includes food, water, sleep, exercise, safety, and shelter.  Your mind needs this foundation in order to be productive.  Make sure you are eating and sleeping and exercising.  Your brain considers these a must.  Second, is belonging, emotion, relationships and love.  Without these things, your brain again begins to worry about survival and happiness (which are far more important to your brain than the bottom line).  If you are healthy and have your basic physical and safety needs met, and if you are in healthy and loving relationships and are HAPPY, then your mind opens up to creativity, logic, possibility, abstract thought, innovation and the understanding all of the mysteries of the universe…your job description fits in there somewhere!  But you have to have had enough sleep to access it. And, you will find more joy and reward in your work if you allow for it.

There are all sorts of other ideas that you know: prioritize, meditate, communicate with your friends and family, find a job you love, ask for help etc.  Most importantly, and sometimes the very hardest part, is to forgive yourself for needing and wanting down-time…..you will be ahead of the game in the long run if you can appreciate and understand that it’s okay to have “life” win every once in a while.