Five Tips to Stay Balanced at Busy Times

by Melodie on July 1, 2010

© Matthias

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It’s 3:30 a.m. and I’m wide awake. Fortunately, I don’t usually suffer from insomnia, but I know why it’s happening now: I’m just two days away from a two-month trip to the United States with my children, and there are still lots of preparations before I board the flight Friday night. Each day has been full of e-mails, phone calls, packing, errands, arrangements, bill paying, writing, and caring for the needs of my children who have just finished the school year.

You know how this works. Normal responsibilities usually keep our schedules full. But there are times when the activity escalates with upcoming travel, work deadlines, or illness. Perhaps you’re healing from cancer, and the stress of your routine may be compounded by fatigue and additional doctors’ appointments or a rigorous treatment schedule.

I want to share with you a few guidelines that help keep me grounded when I’m facing a lot of responsibilities in a limited time frame. I’ll be reminding myself of these a lot over the next couple days:

1. Bring what’s important to the top.

I’ve always liked time-management and success guru Stephen Covey’s recommendation for figuring out what’s really important on that long “to-do” list. In his classic book, “First Things First”, he suggests dividing a blank piece of paper into four quarters. In Quadrant 1, write those activities that are urgent and important. These are deadline-driven projects or pressing problems. In Quadrant 2, list those things that are important but not urgent. These tend to be the activities that support the vision and values for our lives but which frequently get pushed aside by the urgent. In Quadrant 3, write those activities that are urgent but not important. These are interruptions, demands by other people or expectations we have of ourselves that don’t align with our priorities. Finally, in Quadrant 4 go those activities that are not urgent and not important, like time-wasting TV shows and busy work. Now it becomes pretty easy to see what activities to drop (from Quadrants 3 and 4), and what to focus time and energy on (Quadrants 1 and 2).

At busy times, I also ask myself a question before starting on a task: “What would happen if this didn’t get done right now? Or ever?” If a strong negative consequence is likely, the project will rise higher in my priorities. But often I find that by considering that question, I can eliminate or delay activities that really don’t matter that much.

2. Schedule breaks.

When responsibilities press down, I know the only way to get a break is to make sure it is programmed into my day. That means looking over the week or day ahead of time, booking a play date (yes, these are for adults too!), or making an appointment with myself to take a walk, or arranging a tea party at home with my daughter. Yesterday, in the midst of a house cluttered with belongings to pack, I took my kids swimming with friends. Later we went with Chris to the movie “Toy Story 3” where we belly laughed together. I returned home with fresh energy to plow into the tasks at hand. But I know if I hadn’t scheduled these breaks beforehand, I would have been tempted to say, “There’s too much to do.” And we would have missed a rejuvenating time in the sun with friends or that funny date with Woody, Buzz Lightyear and their sidekicks.

3. Seek out reminders to slow down.

There are lots of ways to do this. You can post humorous reminders on a bathroom mirror or car dashboard. Program a regular alarm  or a pretty screen pop-up into your computer hourly to remind yourself to stretch and get a drink. I happen to have a husband who speaks Thai and who comes up with just the right phrases in that language for needed occasions. When I’m rushing around like a crazy woman, he’ll calmly say, “Chai-yen-yen.” That means, not in any particular order, “Calm down. Chill out. Get yourself together.” It’s a good mantra to use at busy times.

4. Ask for help.

You know there are people who are happy to help when tasks pile up. And then there are those who aren’t so happy to help — like kids. The former just need a phone call to ask, “Would you be able to do this for me?” and the latter need some firm delegation and maybe an incentive or two. The work doesn’t all need to fall on one person’s shoulders. For ongoing needs of those healing from cancer, I recommend the service Lotsa Helping Hands where friends can sign up to help at specific times and in needed ways.

5. Hang on to your 10 Daily Habits.

I wrote in a previous post about identifying 10 activities that are renewing and enjoyable to do each day. These are unique to each person, but here are some examples: going for a walk in the park, spending 10 minutes watching birds at the feeder, savoring a fruit smoothie, cuddling the cat. At busy times, it’s tempting to let our 10 Daily Habits slide. The outcome: tension, stress and a loss of energy for the things we need and want to do. These days, I find that I’m rearranging my 10 Daily Habits a bit. I’m spending more time taking deep, cleansing breaths and less time walking. But I’m still taking time for these important habits because they’re what help keep me grounded.

I can hear the birds chirping, which means the first light of dawn will soon break over the snowcaps on the horizon. Since I was up so early today, I know what I am going to plan into my day: a short afternoon nap!

 How will you stay grounded during your busy times? Do you have other suggestions for ways to stay balanced that have been helpful to you?

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