We want to do it all. Or, perhaps, we feel the pressure to do it all. Work-related pressures, fulfilling family obligations, taking care of household responsibilities, helping out friends, and being a committed community member. We run, run, run to make everything happen. We start squeezing more into the day. Until, well, until something breaks.
We cancel appointments. We let down a friend. We don’t have enough food in the house to make a meal. We get into an argument with a spouse, parent, child. We screw up a deadline at work.
I was reminded of this earlier this week. I’ve been extremely busy with work — meeting with clients, creating workshops, working on new brochures, and starting to develop a new dinner party concept. All the while I have attended to my daughter, tried to be present to my partner, and attempted to uphold my commitments with friends and family. I started stealing from my time in the evening to work (taking time from my daughter and from sleep) to quell the urgency I felt to get it all done.
Two mornings ago I awakened with yet another headache. I then had a miscommunication with a dear friend. I looked in the refrigerator and saw that it was bare. I skipped another workout. I was feeling kind of down. “What is going on?” I thought peering into the empty fridge.
Fact: Time is finite. There are 24 hours in a day. The more we attempt to squeeze into a day the less productive we become. Everything suffers. Most of all, we suffer.
In fact, research demonstrates that attending to a multitude of activities has a dark side. When we attempt to cram too much into our days we create a mental cacophony of what needs to get done. That in itself makes it difficult to focus and ultimately leads to exhaustion, listlessness, hurt relationships, poor health and feeling dissatisfied that “nothing is getting done.” For some, overloading the plate may be an unconscious way of setting themselves up for failure.
There’s one very powerful action we can take to be productive, less harried and happier: Schedule self time.
Once I recognized the vicious cycle I had created for myself I opened my calendar and scheduled out time the next morning to go to the Noguchi Museum for a little quiet time and reflection. The result? Everything, absolutely everything became easier and more manageable. And (this is big, so pay attention), by the following morning the answers to two work-related issues where I was “stuck” became crystal clear.
Research shows that scheduling time to “reboot” boosts productivity, reduces stress, improves cognitive function, increases a general sense of happiness, helps prioritize what’s important, and may even help solve problems. Taking the brain away from a problem can solve the problem. It also makes you a good role model.
Leadership expert Stephan R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, believes that self-care is so important that he designated it Habit #7: Sharpen The Saw. “Sharpen the Saw means preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have — you.” This means having a balanced program for renewal that emphasizes exercise, resting, eating well, a spiritual practice (meditation, music, art, prayer, spending time in nature), as well as reading or writing. According to Covey, “As you renew yourself … you create growth and change in your life …You increase your capacity to produce and handle the challenges around you. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a pretty picture, is it?”
Scheduled self time plays an integral part in the lives of many successful people. Winston Churchill’s afternoon nap was a non-negotiable part of his daily routine. John F. Kennedy dedicated part of his day to swimming, exercise and a 1-2-hour nap. He would ask not to be disturbed unless it was a true emergency.
You might be thinking, “Okay, it’s important, how do I fit it in?”
Here’s the key: Schedule the time. Make it non-negotiable.
Take out your calendar, and treat it as you would a business appointment or a doctor’s appointment. Keep your appointment with yourself. Non-negotiable. Leave your cell phone off (if the compulsion to check your phone is more than you can handle, leave it home or at the office). Honor your time. Enjoy your time. Focus on what you are doing. Breath.
Personally I like taking a walk in a park, a stroll through a quiet museum, or go to a movie. It is wherever you feel solace. Exercising, taking your dog for a long walk, napping, soaking in the tub, taking a class, going to a spa. What’s the first thing that pops into your head? That’s a great place to start.
What are you waiting for? There’s no time like the present. Schedule your appointment with yourself. Make it a habit. You’re on your way to a happier, more productive day. I promise.