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

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life Management 101--All Work and No Play is a Waste of Time

With this post, Tuesday's Life Management 101 concludes our look at Laura Stack's Find More Time:  How to Get Things Done at Home, Organize Your Life, and Feel Great About It.  This week, Chapter 8, "Mastering the Eighth Pillar--PLAY."

In this final chapter, Stack advises us to resist our society's push to "confuse your job with your life."  Another of her books--Leave the Office Earlier:  Do More in Less Time and Feel Great About It--deals more extensively with this issue.  But here the focus is on the rest, relaxation, and re-creation that we make room for when we tame the omnivorous work monster.  

As with the previous chapters in Find More Time, each centered on one of Stack's eight pillars of productivity, self-assessment provides the architecture.  (Stack's productivity quiz can be found in its entirety on her website.)  For me, this measure showed that Play was tied with Paper, together my weakest pillars.  My cheerless score resulted from rating each of the following ten quiz items as:   1) to no extent; 2) to a little extent; 3) to some extent; 4) to a considerable extent; or 5) to a great extent.  My responses are in red.

To what extent do I . . . 
  • Close the mental office door and turn off work each day.  [2]
  • Leave work on time, so I can get home and enjoy my personal life.  [2]
  • Keep my stress levels low.  [2]
  • Rest, relax, and play daily. [1]
  • Go on a long vacation each year.  [1]
  • Create fond memories with the people I love.  [2]
  • Have a regular family time with loved ones.  [2]
  • Make time for a favorite hobby.  [2]
  • Force myself to slow down and stop rushing around.  [1]
  • Take care of myself on a regular basis.  [2]
In my humble opinion, this is Stack's best chapter.  She does a great job of making the case for play, and tells us that finding time to spend on "leisure, wellness, fun and stress reduction. . . is one of [her] book's main goals."

To me, her enthusiasm for this pillar was evident in the loving detail with which she described suggested approaches and activities.  As a play-challenged person, I was seduced by many of her recommendations.  I am especially eager to try her brief stress-management techniques, including this one:
REST YOUR EYES.  Try this one for instant stress relief.  Anytime your eyes are tired, like when reading or working on the computer, pause to give your eyes a rest.  Rub the palms of your hands together in a vigorous fashion to generate energy and heat.  Then quickly place your hands one over each eye socket, so that your eyes are at the center of your palms.  Let your eyes relax in this warm darkness for one full minute.  Instant relief.
or this:

BREAK YOUR FOCUS.  When you're stressing out over something, force yourself to stop thinking about it.
  • Say or write the alphabet backward.
  • Close your eyes and hum a song.
  • Drink a glass of water in exactly twenty-seven sips.
  • Close your eyes and think of a color.  Now picture seven things that have that color.
  • Try to recall all the objects in your purse, wallet, or briefcase.  Write down as many things as you can in one minute.
  • List six things you've enjoyed most in the last week.
  • Picture a room in your home and write about it as if you're describing it to someone else.

For those of us who work in more standard employment situations, Stack offers some practical ideas for negotiating more sane expectations in the workplace.  It has been a while since my work life was bound in this way, but I found her thoughts useful.  It was, however, dispiriting to see just how deeply workaholism has permeated our culture, and how much strategizing is necessary to achieve so little in the way of self-preservation.  The trade-off I have made in stepping back from mainstream full-time paid employment has meant extremely suppressed income.  (I am fortunate that my husband's compensation for the workaholic efforts he wouldn't dream of giving up anyway allows me this choice.)  The gain is that I escape the usual strictures so many of us have to work with.  My challenge is to stop acting like my own difficult boss, and to stop flunking "play."

Stack strongly encourages her readers to take annual vacations, either involving travel or of the "stay-cation" variety; to create memories; to nurture family relationships; to cultivate a hobby; to stop rushing--by moving slowly, cutting back on commitments, scheduling personal days, and "seizing the moment"-- and to take care of ourselves.  All of these are things I need to do.

But right now, I'm going to try the eye thing.  So I guess I'm done with this post, since I won't be able to see to type with my palms over my eyes.

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