This world seems not only to encourage over-achievement, it demands it. And if multitasking is the crime then I am one of the most gratuitous offenders. Balancing many tasks at one time has become something about which I am proud. I believe it shows my tenacity, my work ethic, and me dedication. And yet I have noticed lately that my to-do lists are often not completed at the end of each day, and that the un-crossed-off tasks are merely recycled to the next day’s chores. Some things stay on the list of a week or more before I finally get to them.
I have been trying to find a solution to this problem for some time. For a time I tried just staying late until everything was finished. And, although there is much satisfaction for me in completing my tasks each day, it began to put stress on other places in my life. I had sacrificed my work-life balance to accomplish a variety of tasks, some more important than others. This workaholic syndrome is essentially a loss of perspective for many of us. And I’m not suggesting that work tasks are not important, just that they are not always THE MOST important responsibilities we maintain. A singular focus is not a bad thing, but too much of it leads to myopia about one’s life, and an inability to see the multitude of perspectives at play in each encounter.
So then I tried another solution. I tried not putting so many things on my list each day. My thinking was that if I was working too hard, enough to lose perspective on my life as a whole, then perhaps I was trying to overachieve at work. Maybe I didn’t need to take on so many elective tasks, and didn’t need to say yes to everything that came across my desk. This process was quickly frustrated, I’m sorry to say, by my inability to gauge what could and couldn’t (or what should and shouldn’t) be done in a day. I found myself developing preferences for the things I enjoyed doing over that which needed to be done; a human enough slant, but no more efficient and effective than when I first started all this.
There are a million experts out there with advice about how to improve the quality of your life, but they all seem to fall a little short to me. The thing is, I love my job and don’t want to leave it. The same is true of my family and home life. I am not unhappy, just inefficient, and this leads to more stress in my life than I need. What I’m looking for is a balance that encourages productivity and focus, while allowing for the flexibility to handle shifting priorities and navigate the occasional “I never saw THAT coming!”
It begins with happiness.
It begins by taking stock of my crazy, too-full life and being so grateful for these challenges and opportunities. It might sound cheesy, but tuning my perspective to one that allows to see hardships and difficulties as chances to strengthen my character and hone my skills to new demands. It is this perspective that offers the strength needed to reevaluate and restructure the out dated models of how I spend my time.
The desire to be better at my job is not a hindrance, it is a gift! Too often we make our jobs the source of problems in our life. And while for some that may be truly the case, for many of us it merely takes a shift in thinking to see that the job provides many of the things we want in life, both material and intangible. I don’t want to work less, but I do want to stop feeling stressed out when I’m at work. So I’ve put some serious limitations on some of my activities, and it’s made a huge difference.
I have begun to limit screen time. Now, I do much of my work on the computer, but I also spend many valuable minutes looking at things on the screen that have nothing to do with my job at all. Facebook is a tough one for me, because I do social networking for my company. But I have started to log out and close the window when I’m done posting on the company site, rather than clicking “home” and minimizing the screen, keeping myself available to the *ping* of a friend who wants to chat. With the internet now home to countless articles and informative sites I am constantly doing research online, and sometime this takes me beyond what I need to know for work. I look up recipes for dinner tonight, articles in my favorite newspaper, and other such quick-peek distractions.
By identifying the biggest distractions I face, I have been able to create a little space in my workday. Enough so that I can continue to find ways to improve my productivity while sustaining my happiness and satisfaction with a job well done. I read a lovely article about busyness, and its cult-like appeal in our world. The state of being busy is not a state of accomplishment or poise; it is merely a state of distraction and stress. I have been practicing not thinking of myself as busy, but focused and driven instead. And when it feels like the walls are closing in I choose a more helpful distraction, like a short walk on a sunny afternoon, to refocus my attentions on what must be done.
Positive choices have a tendency to gain momentum. By taking a look at your days and identifying the ways in which your time is wasted, by you or by someone else, you can then begin to clean up the clutter and get back to doing what matters. For me, the greatest sense of pride comes from feeling accomplished when I leave work at the end of the day and still having daylight to enjoy when I get home. THAT, my friends, is the good life.