Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Life Management 101--Finally "Womaning Up" to the Whole Mission Statement Thing

I am currently making my way through Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It.  Having plowed through the introduction last week, this week I read Chapter 1--"Mastering the First Pillar--PLANS."
And, although I have a master's degree in planning (urban and regional planning, actually, with a concentration in social planning--which has to do with social policy, not parties), I do not exactly excel when it comes to organizing my own life.

In this chapter, I didn't really encounter any earth-shaking ideas, anything I hadn't read before in my ongoing struggle to pull myself together.  But, as a friend noted in a recent conversation, it seems there are some things we just have to keep learning.  Every so often, I have to be exposed, once again, to the idea of lists--daily and master to-do lists; project task breakdowns; shopping lists; reading lists; communications lists.  And I need reminding that it might help to have some overall idea of what I am trying to achieve--dreams, goals (Stack calls these "dreams with a deadline."), and yes, a mission statement.  I'm not sure why I resist this good advice.  I imagine it has something to do with my split personality.  Though I am capable of logical, rational thought, a strong part of me clings to a "bohemian" identity.  It is this part who wants to recreate herself fresh each morning, and scorns predetermined activities.  But her results have not been everything even she would wish.  And so we do this dance, my selves and I, which brings us back repeatedly to the literature of organization.

Stack has organized her book with chapters that correspond to each of the eight "Pillars of Personal Productivity."  Each chapter is structured by the section of the Productivity Quiz which deals with that particular "pillar."  The relevant assessment items were to be rated 1) to no extent; 2) to a little extent; 3) to some extent; 4) to a considerable extent; or 5) to a great extent.  They included:
To what extent do I . . . 
  • Have a personal mission statement for my life.  [2]
  • Maintain a list of my life's goals and dreams and make plans for their accomplishment.  [3]
  • Try to gain flexibility at work.  [3]
  • Keep effective to-do lists so things don't slip through the cracks.  [3]
  • Break larger projects into smaller ones.  [3]
  • Prepare for the next day the night before.  [2]
  • Plan for chaotic transition periods during the day.  [3]
  • Prevent crisis by preparing well in advance.  [2]
  • Embrace flexibility and weather change.  [2]
  • Continuously work to improve my efficiency and effectiveness.  [3]
I have included my response to each item, in red.  "Plans" was not one of my weakest pillars.  In fact, it was my second strongest.  Which explains why my composite score, which featured  one slightly weaker and five significantly weaker areas, indicated a need for "major repairs."

It would seem that these "major repairs" are going to involve a fair amount of "homework." (Oh, joy!)  Early on in chapter 1, I was instructed to put down the book and go through the steps of identifying important values; writing a paragraph for each of the three most important of these, defining it and specifying how I would know that I had lived up to it; and then combining these into a draft mission statement.  Thus, having earlier sidestepped Marshall Cook's mission statement admonition, I was forced to bite the bullet and come up with a reasonable facsimile.

This is what I wrote:
            Doing what I can to make sure each member of my family feels loved and has the necessary support to make a happy life for themselves is important to me.  I want to do what I can to grow in my roles as mother and partner.  I want my family to be a haven for each other, now and in the future.
            As a neighbor and citizen of the world, I believe that I have a responsibility to work for justice for everyone, to lessen inequity, and to improve the life-chances of those whose circumstances are especially difficult. 
            I want to develop and use the gifts I have to create meaningful and beautiful things that will bring enjoyment, solace and inspiration to myself and others.  
I can't say that I am particularly thrilled with this "Mission Statement."  Maybe the reason I have avoided writing such a thing is the same reason I don't get a tattoo.  I can't make the commitment.  I can't imagine a mission statement, or a tattoo that I would want to live with for the foreseeable future.  Of course, a mission statement is presumably more removeable, and the process of shedding one less painful.  But there is something belittling about seeing in print the limited business of one's life.

Anyway, now I have my very own one of these things everyone seems to be so enamored of.  It remains to be seen how this will contribute to my greater productivity.  First, I have to let it heal--and to avoid picking at it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Done for the Week: Groping My Way Through the Tunnel

As I look over the list below, it appears to have been a busy week. And yet I found more time to sit outside in the sun, which was important, since the waning light is having an impact on me and on my housemate children, who share my predisposition to SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).  

As I struggled with depression--mine, and theirs--here's what I got done:
Done for the Week:  Nov. 22-28
  1.  Continued off-season race training; ran twice, biked twice
  2. Finished Great House, by Nicole Krauss  
  3. Began reading The Zen Path Through Depression, by Philip Martin, and Undoing Perpetual Stress:  The Missing Connection Between Depression, Anxiety, and 21st Century Illness, by Richard O'Connor
  4. Continued support of transitioning not-for-profit organization--continuing to taper off
  5. Worked my two part-time jobs
  6. Published 5 blog posts
  7.  Meditated 3 times
  8.  Wrote 7 Gratitude Journal entries
  9. Wrote 5 Morning Pages
  10. Spent 2 hours working on my novel
  11. Attended rally to save high-speed rail and jobs in my state
  12. Attended city award presentation for friends and colleagues
  13. Participated in several frustrating transcontinental skype calls with absent spouse
  14. Attended 1 yoga class, on Thanksgiving Day, for which I was very thankful
  15. Walked my dog three times, once with each son
  16. Fed and walked my daughter's dog during her two-day out of state trip
  17. Watched our two favorite basketball teams play 2  games, with son 
  18. Travelled to my sister's for Thanksgiving dinner 
  19. Spent time outside, reading and writing, some part of six days
  20.  Ordered and received new microwave, to replace old crumbling one
  21. Cleaned kitchen counters in celebration
  22. Survived first week with absent spouse
  23. Cleaned bathroom vanity counter
  24.  Straightened and vacuumed living room
  25. Did laundry
  26. Paid mortgage my husband left the country without paying
  27. Shopped for and cooked Thanksgiving soup with my sons
  28. Took one of my depressed sons and my depressed self out to dinner, which cheered us both 
  29. Watched funny movie with my son

The regular reader will notice the absence of green highlighting from the list above.  This is because last week was an experiment in "focuslessness."  As I had hoped, the lack of structured goals seems to have contributed to a bit more relaxed state, given the already busy and nonroutine holiday week.  For the immediate future, I plan to return to using a focus goal, but to quell the tendency to splinter that focus by having multiple and secondary offshoots--which kind of defeats the purpose, yes?

In my view, the most important achievement of this previous week, in red text, was exercising four times.  Because my mood is becoming problematic, and interacts in a distressing feedback loop with those of my depression-prone offspring, it is crucial that I do what I can to keep from sliding into the depths.  In the past year, as in other difficult times in my life, I have found that exercise can be counted on to provide significant, albeit temporary relief from stress and distress.  

One of the books I am currently reading--Richard O'Connor's Undoing Perpetual Stress-- recounts in readable form what brain research demonstrates about the damage modern life is doing to our limbic system, in particular.  In later chapters, O'Connor addresses the issue of what we can do to restore our emotional resilience.  Of course, I skipped ahead to learn that the two cornerstones of his recommended approach are exercise and meditation.  He advises a half hour of each daily.  

As my done lists reveal, I am not there yet.  I'm not sure how realistic it is to set aside the requisite hour per day (even with O'Connor's reluctant allowance that we might relax this standard slightly, by taking a day off on the weekend).  So I am thinking more of a ramping strategy, maintaining my current exercise level while trying harder to make/find/take time for meditating.  For the coming week, my singular focus goal is to meditate daily.

And in the meantime, I will try to keep on keepin' on, to continue putting one foot in front of the other, and all that aphoristic jazz--until the light returns.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday: A Procrastinator Opts Out

Black Friday has come and gone.  And again this year, I bought not a single gift, took advantage of not a single bargain.  Just knowing that others are out there in the predawn hours, getting the jump on the holiday shopping game with their lists and their coupons, always makes me feel like a slouch.  And a chicken.  Because the truth is, you couldn't pay me to swim through those crowds and stand in those lines.  

So now that I'm officially behind on my holiday gift acquisition, here are a few of the ways I plan to deal with my late start.

1.  Cut back on the whole deal.  Less shopping, less spending, less store-bought gifts overall.
2.  Loosen up about the deadline.  Luckily, I come from a long line of procrastinators, so my family is used to adjusting the dates of holidays to accommodate lateness.  In our book, a gift is not late as long as it reaches the recipient before the holiday comes around the next year.
3.  Keep in mind what and why we are celebrating in the first place.  And no, despite the dire business page urgings, it is not to rescue retailers and breathe life into our anemic economy.  
4.  Ignore advertising and media messages that holiday shopping is some kind of state of emergency.  Even if there are "only 28 shopping days left," I don't need to cancel all other activities and arrange for a police escort to the nearest mall. 
5.  Don't lose my head; and be strategic.  Keep breathing, don't wander aimlessly, and stay out of stores and off the road on weekends and during peak hours.  

From the preliminary news reports, this particular Friday after Thanksgiving went black without me.  I reaped the benefits of avoiding participation in lower blood pressure and time to hit the gym.  The way I see it, this was a better beginning to the season than if I had knocked off half my list and realized massive savings.  From this inauguration, I am going to make every effort to keep the whole thing low key.  Just because I "procrastinated" on the holiday shopping project does not mean I need to get frantic.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Some Things I'm Thankful I Didn't Put Off

I have better things to do today than prattle on over the internet.  And for that, I am grateful.  

But because I am also appreciative of the gift that blogging has been to me this past year, I don't want to let the day go by without this brief post.

Here, then, is a short and nonexhaustive list of some things I treasure in my life, all of which came to me as a result of not procrastinating.  In fact, all involved rashness, or foolhardiness, or seizing the day.  (They are not, by the way, enumerated in order of importance, or affection. They are secretly alphabetical.)

1.  My oldest child, conceived inadvertently at the worst possible time, which turned out to be the best possible time, who has grown into my very good friend and the mother of my best, and only, grandchild.
2.  My youngest child, also inopportune, also precious, who turned my world on its ear in ways I can never regret, and whose gifts and struggles are so like my own.
3.  My partner in life, who brings magic, and pain, and friendship, and bad jokes, and intellectual companionship and strife, and a small hole in my heart when he's gone.
4.  My dog and roommate, whom I had no business bringing home to live with us just one week after his much-mourned predecessor died, and who makes me glad every day that I did.
5.  My middle child, who came to me like a lottery winning, in the most unlikely way, who has taught me a large part of what I know, and who continues to surprise me with his generous heart.

Life has blessed me, and in these instances I have managed not to get in its way.  And for that, I am grateful.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Change of Plans, Change of Heart

Today was going to be the one where I didn't run all over the place.  The day I caught up on rest, and cleaning, and reading and meditating.  

And then my oldest son came to me with a coat "emergency."  He needs a new coat, he really does.  One that isn't bleeding down feathers, making him look like he's molting.  But he needed it yesterday.  And he would still need it tomorrow and the day after that.  

There's only one place he wants to go for a new coat.  It's far away, from the perspective of wishing to stay close to my couch today.  And it sells the kind of coat that appeals to him, and not so much to me.  I want to say no to the proposed trek.  (I'd send him with money, but this purchase has to go on my credit card, which they probably wouldn't let him use at the store.  Even though I've pretty much nixed credit card usage, this month is an exception.  The check that will fund our planned-for extras is sitting in an envelope in a pile of unopened mail, its counter-signer half way around the world for another 26 days.)  I really want to say no.  And I could.

But this morning I made one of my random visits to Facebook, and learned that a friend of the last few years, since we shared a long and bumpy plane ride, just lost her son.  He was the same age, with the same name as my coat-seeker.  He, too, was once a towheaded toddler.  His mother and I had commiserated about the challenges of raising sons in 21st century America, and celebrated the moments of fun and closeness.  I don't know the details of his death, and I don't need to.  But the devastation is lodged in my heart.

So plans and preferences be damned.  I am so lucky that my son is here to need a coat.  And that I am here to pay for it.

From my friend's Facebook post--
Be kind to everyone, practice patience and tell the people you love how important they are. Your life, as you know it, can change in the blink of an eye.
Happy Thanksgiving!  I am off to the store.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Life Management 101--I Launch a Time Quest

With this post, I am expanding my Tuesday concentration from Procrastinating 101 to the broader Life Management 101.  The blog has been reflecting this wider spectrum of interest, probably because my challenges in getting and keeping my life together include, but are plainly not limited to procrastination.  

For the next several weeks, I will try to process and apply what I am reading in Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It.  I selected this book with great care, having determined this morning that it was available at my nearest library, that it had a woman stretched out in a deck chair on the cover, and that it seemed targeted at my biggest concern at the moment.  You know, that made up scourge, that construct about which the late George Carlin waxed so hilariously in his routine "Does the Time Bother You?"  Because yes, it does.  

Of course, I know the problem is not with time, but rather with the way I think about time and fall victim to that thinking, and with my own ineptness when it comes to all things chronological.  So I'm hopeful that Ms. Stack will offer some suggestions that will help improve the situation. Something to render me capable of comprehending, and accepting some of time's basic properties.  For example, its vexsome single-strandedness, by which I mean the limits it places on us which disallow potentially useful simultaneity.  Why can't I be in two places at once, when I so obviously need to be?

It would probably be best, however, if I stopped whining about time, and began to discover how to get along with it better.  And to find more of it, as Ms. Stack promises, although I suspect that this promotion may turn out to be a bit of a loss leader, or a bait and switch tactic.  

Nevertheless, I have decided to approach this investigation with an open mind, and to engage in the prescribed steps which are supposed to lead me to the hidden stash of minutes and hours I seek.  

Stack concludes her introductory chapter with a quiz, designed to measure the strength of the 8 "pillars of productivity," which support our lives.  These pillars are:  1)Plans; 2)Priorities; 3)Personality; 4)Pests [really, how we deal with "time wasters and robbers that keep [us] from accomplishing what [we] set out to do"]; 5)Possessions; 6)Paper; 7)Post (our job); and 8)Play.

The good news is there are only 80 questions on the quiz.  The bad news is that my composite score put me squarely in the second worst category--"Major repairs required."  Only "Red flag!  Structurally unsound!" would have been worse.  I am apparently especially lacking with respect to Possessions, Paper, Personality and Play.  No wonder I'm having such a hard time functioning! 

Perhaps it doesn't sound as if I am taking this seriously.  Probably because I ran out of time today--again--and it's late, and I'm not as coherent as I might wish.  But in the weeks to come, I intend to explore what Ms. Stack's perspective has to offer, and to try to learn how to shore up my sagging pillars.  Because I really need to find more time!    

Monday, November 22, 2010

Done for the Week: So Much for Focus

This week's preamble will be short and sweet, as I am writing against the clock, and in need of sleep.  Here's what I got done last week:

Done for the Week:  Nov. 15-21
  1.  Continued off-season race training, in still-not-finding-the-time-to-step-it-up mode; biked twice, ran once
  2. Finished Slow Down . . . and Get More Doneby Marshall Cook.  (Still in the middle of several other books; started two more.)
  3. Continued significant support of transitioning not-for-profit organization--beginning to taper off
  4. Worked my two part-time jobs
  5. Published 5 blog posts
  6.  Meditated 3 times
  7.  Wrote 5 Gratitude Journal entries
  8. Wrote 3 Morning Pages
  9. Spent 3 hours working on my novel
  10. Finished helping my husband prepare for his month away
  11. Took my husband to the airport, an hour and a half away
  12. Attended 2 yoga classes
  13. Walked my dog three times, once with my son, twice at dog park with my husband
  14. Watched our two favorite basketball teams play 6  games, with son and husband
  15. Attended women’s ensemble rehearsal
  16. Attended church; performed with women's ensemble
  17. Met my goal for number of participants from my congregation at large public meeting
  18. Attended public meeting rehearsal
  19. Organized and attended pre-meeting dinner
  20. Attended public meeting, and fulfilled my roles
  21. Snatched what time I could outside, reading
  22.  Cleaned out my purse, and reorganized it
  23. Survived second week with absent son, visiting his sister out of state
  24. Maintained living room, worked on kitchen, and recruited some  help with the dishes
  25.  Cleaned and straightened family room
  26. Paid bills
  27. Cooked dinner with my son
  28. Survived overcommitment stress, and made plans to cut back and to deal better with stress
  29. Saw new Harry Potter movie with my family

Last week's most important accomplishment, in red above, was making it through this difficult week.  This survival enterprise provided the fodder for two of last week's blog posts.  If the treatment took, I should be seeing less of such weeks.  

Last week's focus goal, highlighted in deeper green above, was to begin to extricate myself from the bramble of the non-profit which is one of my two employers, and also a great sinkhole for my volunteered energies and talents.  I have a ways to go, but continue to see the wisdom of the necessary dialing back.  One particularly painful lesson was delivered midweek, and should be enough to reinforce my resolve to put this relationship on a more self-preserving footing.

I have decided to take a break from focus goals this upcoming week.  With holiday travel plans, a disrupted work schedule, and the first week of my husband's month-long absence, I can use the vacation from the pressure I have been putting on myself, and from the disappointment of not meeting my apparently unrealistic expectations.  I'm going to just let the week unfold, and see where it takes me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Later, Santa!

It is not the holidays!  Not yet.

So could somebody please tell the people down the block who have a fully decorated Christmas tree occupying their living room window, in plain sight, on Friday, November 19th? And their neighbors, whose trees are dripping lights, which they are turning on in the late afternoon, before some of us have even left work.  And the stores, which have been piping carols and holiday lilts for weeks now.  Especially the department store chain which seems to have determined that we will all buy more if greeted at the door by a "holiday scent," which permeates every section from toys to cookware, and lingerie to collectibles with an odor resembling a moldy Christmas tree.  And the mall my grandson and I ducked through last Monday--on November 15th!--where Santa was already in residence, complete with elves and pictures-for-purchase.

I don't want to be a Grinch, or a Scrooge, or worse, yet another grouchy malcontent holding forth on the subject of too-early commercial holiday promotions.  But I am finding the whole thing increasingly oppressive.  I'm having a hard enough time managing the pesky black dog of depression that comes to sit by my hearth in the waning light of autumn, and dealing with the press of work and the backlog created by my flagging energy and lousy boundaries.  Being nagged about "the holidays" every time I step outside the door, turn on the TV or radio, or pick up the newspaper is pushing me over the edge.  The effect of this communal gun-jumping is that I am made to feel even more behind than I actually am.

The sight of jillions of people cramming into retail establishments for early November "doorbusters," weeks before "Black Friday," is a guaranteed downer for me.  So few of us can afford to spend like that anymore, if we ever could.  Many will spend too much of the new year "decluttering" our homes after filling them with another season's detritus.  And surely everyone sees through the "50%/60%/70% off!" ruse that fails to disguise the recent doubling and tripling of original prices.

As a Unitarian, I do not personally connect strongly with the movement to "put the Christ back in Christmas."  I am as much an appreciator of Hannukah and Kwanzaa and Dewali, as of the yuletide traditions I grew up with.  But I am absolutely opposed to hype and pressure and materialistic overspending, no matter its ritual umbrella.  And to "ringing [it] in" before its time.

So please don't wish me Happy Holidays until at least December.  And don't ask me to save the ailing economy by putting it on my Mastercard.  Me and my dark furry companion will be celebrating serenity and the end of the plunge into darkness in 32 days.  And counting.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tips for the Day From Hell: The Sequel

As I proceeded through my up-against-it day yesterday, I continued to think about what I might do to ease my pain.  The ideas came faster than I could jot them down.  

Can we spell r-a-c-i-n-g  m-i-n-d?

Here is the second batch of strategies, bringing us to a nice round 25.  Or it would have been, if I hadn't had another brainstorm.  So 26, then.

19.  Walk, and talk, and walk your talk adagio or andante--music-speak for "moderately slow," and at a "walking pace," respectively.  And throw in a little legato ("smoothly, connected"), if you can.  Banish those fast and jerky movements that possess our bodies in the stressed-out state.  Not only do they not help us to get things done any more quickly, but they can lead to spills and breakage and other mishaps, which will actually slow us down.  And they signal fight or flight to our over-working amygdalas.

20.  Leave a few minutes early for appointments and meetings--or make up your mind to be late with grace.  Driving too fast in a distracted state of mind is never a good thing.  Nor is fuming with impatience, or trying to multi-task while behind the wheel.  If you don't have enough time to get to all the places you need to be today on time, you will get there when you get there.  So get there alive, and with a smile on your face, and a respectful acknowledgement of any inconvenience your lateness may cause others.  Remember this moment when scheduling things in the future.

21.  Remind yourself of why you're doing all these things that have you racing around.  Ideally, all this stress is at least nominally in the service of stuff you believe in, and care deeply about.  Keeping your eyes on the prize may help get you through this crunch time.  But if you can't remember why you're doing something--or worse, if the items on your to-do-or-die-trying list don't reflect your values--just don't.

22.  Shower.  It may seem as if you don't have time, but it will make you feel so much better that it's worth the few minutes you will spend.  And not, as I caught myself doing recently, as if you're on your way to a fire, scrubbing fast and harshly, whipping that razor across your shin (ouch!), dashing shampoo into your eyes and swearing.  

23.  Dress for de-stress.  Dress completely--don't forget any essential elements of your outfit, like pants, for example.  Dress comfortably, but nicely.  Skip the skirt you can't sit down in, and the heels that make you mince and wince.  Likewise, the puce sweater that makes you look anemic.  Look like you want to feel--calm, and in control.  Yourself, but happier. 

24.  Lay off the junk--food, booze, cigarettes, caffeine and other tools of self-abuse.  The quick little hits of pleasure are not worth the price in added stress chemicals and their components in your body.  Trust me on this one.

25.  Look up.  There is always that great big sky above us, and whatever natural beauty the season supplies.  Even a gray November day holds it charms, if you remember to take it in.  Coming up for air in this way can alleviate the tunnel vision that takes over as we strain to accomplish the undo-able.

26.  Four words:  sleep, water, chocolate (a little) and veggies (a lot).  Nourish the tortured little animal you've become as you run around your squeaking wheel.  If you are going to complete the onerous task you've set before yourself, you will need your strength.  This is especially important if your stressful period is more of a marathon than a sprint.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

18 Tips for Making it Through the Day From Hell

If we have neglected to employ Marshall Cook's organizing principles, and we are alive and living in the 21st century, chances are we will occasionally experience some days when we have way too much to do, and we feel it--in a bad way.  You know, that shoulders hunched, blood pressure raised, jaw and hands clenched, mind racing, head in a vice, impending disaster body state that makes you want to run for your life away from it but you can't because it's inside of you?  Or maybe it is you?  

I have had a short string of such days recently.  And although Gretchen Rubin, who wants us all to be happier, would have us "reframe" situations we dislike as ones we love, I can't quite manage that degree of mental or spiritual contortion.  I have, however, had a lot of opportunities to think about and try out ways to cope with that pressure cooker feeling.  The following list of tips is a work in progress.  (I started out with a list of ten suggestions, which grew to 18 as I typed.)

18 tips for surviving when you're too busy to turn around 

       1.  Do something you love to do, even though you don't have time for it.    
I learned this approach by watching my husband head out the door to play golf on a day too crammed with work to accommodate this time-consuming nonessential.  His practice is pretty evolved from years of overcommitment; I don't advise that we novices begin with such an advanced counterintuitive move.  But maybe a little time spent reading a novel, or calling a friend, doing needlework or whacking a tennis ball around can give you a feeling of having more time.

2.    Practice strategic "blowing off"--excise a task or meeting from your to-do list, and replace it with a more productive use of your time.

For example, this morning I am skipping a meeting, at which I would probably pick up a future task or two, to spend the time on the “crunchiest” of the days projects.

3.    Breathe.  Deeply, and often.

You may find, as I have, that you are prone to breath-holding when stressed.  Oxygen-deprivation will only make the situation worse.  Take a few deep breaths, hand on belly, unknot your diaphragm, and then keep the air flowing.

4.    Remember death--This too shall pass.

Sounds grim, perhaps, but I get comfort from the knowledge that none of the things I am so wrought up about matter so very much in the cosmic view.  The idea of my limited time on earth helps to keep things in perspective.

5.    Do what you're doing--Be here, where you are.  Don't get ahead of yourself.

Yes, the current overwhelming task will be followed by another , equally daunting.  And then there’s Murphy’s Law.  And traffic.  But mentally visiting these future landscapes exposes us to their anticipated stress, concurrent with the pressure we’re already feeling.  Don’t go there.

6.    Laugh at the situation--think of your day as a sitcom episode.  

How would Frasier handle a day like yours?  What would Niles say?  How crazy would it all look on TV?

7.    Get rid of nonessential tasks--but not all self-care.

Even though it’s Thursday, when you normally dust the living room furniture, embrace dustiness just for today.   And the monthly bills can probably wait until the busyness typhoon has passed.  But if, for example, you rely on meditation or exercise or journaling or a long soak in a bubble bath to keep you sane—or, like me, all of the above—don’t eliminate all of these from your day from hell.
8.    Improve the day’s ambience with treats.

I don’t know about you, but I can almost face the prospect of producing a complicated, last-minute set of meeting materials if I can count on having an extra foamy decaf latte at my side.  Though it is chic to scoff at such indulgences, Starbucks was made for these times.

9.    Ask for help.

When we’re up against it, we may have to remind ourselves that we don’t have to do it all alone.  Think creatively about what small or large parts of an overwhelming task, or set of tasks, might be manageable by someone else.  And then ask them.

10. Show kindness to someone.

Many of us have absorbed the view that we suffer from the “disease to please,” are co-dependent, and would benefit from paying more attention to our own needs.   But a small kindness shown to someone else can nurture a feeling of connection, and large-heartedness.  These are antidotes for the sense of isolation and smallness that typically accompany mega-stress.  Just don’t go overboard.  There is a difference between holding a door for someone and taking their children for the weekend. 

11.  Smile.

We’ve all seen this on every stress-busting list, but it’s there for a reason.  As Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us, "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."  Or, in this case, your relative serenity.

12. Turn down the volume.  Take refuge in silence, or at least quiet.

Turn off the radio in your car, the background music in your office.  If you can, find a quiet place to work without distraction.

13. Wall off—Do less email checking, phone-answering, talking, door-answering, etc.

There are so many conduits of stress and additional demands in our culture.  The image that comes to my mind is from the first Harry Potter book, when Hogwarts was trying to send a letter to Harry.  Eventually, letters were piling up under the mail slot, flying down the flue, and swirling overhead.  When you are already feeling overwhelmed, don’t expose yourself to more input.  Close that transom.

14. Diagnose--How did I get here?  How can I avoid such crunch times in the future?

Of course, now is probably not the time to launch a full-scale investigation into the roots of your present difficulties.  But make notes while the experience is fresh, for later analysis.  “Hope is the thing with feathers.”

15. Steer clear of other stress-fiends--they will only make you crazier.

Unfortunately, this means I need to avoid my husband whenever I'm stressed-out, since that is his nearly-permanent state.  When I'm at my wit's end, the man I love is almost always toxic, since stress pours from him like dirt from Peanuts' Pigpen.

16. As my yoga teacher would say, "ground down" into your body--catch yourself tensing and rushing, and slow down.

17. Get and give hugs.

Even my normally stressed-out husband can help with this.  And my dog is a genius of healing touch, with his silky fur and his talent for lying by my side while I work.

18. Take short breaks where you can

Let me know if you have additional suggestions.  For now, I'm off to the races.  While breathing.