In order to take care of other people, you must first take care of yourself. You have probably noticed that if you wait to take care of yourself in time left over after handling all other responsibilities, you are often the loser.
By Odette Pollar
In the best of times, with today’s demanding pace of work and life, the level of sustained energy required to meet expectations can be hard to maintain. Particularly if you are in a customer service or public contact position, pouring your all into meeting client demands can take its toll. The phone never stops ringing, and there is always another issue to deal with or question to answer. In situations where stress rises but never seems to lower, and catch-up daily becomes more unlikely, you may find yourself getting depressed. If you then go home to a chaotic environment, with months of deferred maintenance and another busy weekend, the constant pressure will take its toll.
In order to take care of other people, you must first take care of yourself. You have probably noticed that if you wait to take care of yourself in time left over after handling all other responsibilities, you are often the loser. If you are waiting for recognition of all your hard work or permission to slack off, you will wait in vain. A change won’t occur until you make it happen. It’s crucial that you set time aside in your calendar just for you and guard it jealously.
What’s wrong with setting 3−5 p.m. Saturday for a long stint in the garden or 9−11 p.m. on Monday evening to read? Start with a two-hour block of time for yourself each week and gradually increase it over time until you are feeling in better balance.
Reevaluate your habits and traditions. It is not slothful to have a less-than-perfect home. Once enjoyable activities become performance endurance tests, it’s time to reevaluate. Expectations that are too high and inflexible become traps. If meeting a high standard on a social activity—hosting the perfect party, having an immaculate garden, or creating a picture-perfect holiday season—gives you a sense of satisfaction, that’s great. But once the standard becomes a burden, the joy is gone. If it leaves you with too little energy to enjoy the activity or other areas of your life, it’s time to relax your standards. The key is to identify the cause of your malaise. And while you are at it, take a look at your habits.
The way you manage time is often based on habit. You do what you do because you have always done it that way. Habits are unconscious behaviors that are automatic. Habits that were once helpful can get in your way when your situation, environment, or job changes. Changing your old behavior patterns can help you manage time more effectively.
Creating New Behaviors
Psychologist William James suggested an approach to changing habits that is quite effective. He recommended that you do the following:
- Launch the new behavior as strongly as possible.
- Seize the first opportunity to act on the new behavior.
- Never let an exception occur until the new behavior is firmly rooted.
Make an announcement to your family or fellow carpoolers that you will no longer go ballistic at examples of incompetence shown by other drivers. The very next time a driver offends you, ignore the offense, laugh at the offense, turn on the radio instead, but act on the new behavior that you have promised you will engage in. Until the new behavior is firmly rooted, do not let an exception occur. You cannot be on good behavior with your carpool but still get angry when you’re driving alone or with your family. Three to four weeks is usually enough time to break an old habit and replace it with a new one.
Other psychologists have studied behavior change and discovered that simple habits can be broken in about twenty-one days. Follow these seven steps to launching a new behavior and watch the transformation:
- Identify the new behavior.
- Think about ways to practice the new behavior with gusto.
- Publicly announce the new behavior for a strong beginning.
- Do the new behavior every day for 21 days consecutively.
- Post signs to help remind you of the new habit.
- Be willing to feel slightly uncomfortable until the new behavior takes hold.
- Change the environment to reinforce the new behavior.
If you’ve decided to stop going to the local pub for a beer after work on Fridays, let your drinking buddies know, do not go along with them, and as an alternative, try going to the grocery or gym.
Changing habits takes time and energy. Desire and determination are the keys to success or failure. Be diligent, at least in the first three weeks. Try not to deviate from your new behavior until it is firmly rooted. Beware of crises. When a crisis hits, you are likely to swing into action automatically, reacting in the old ways you know best. Once in a crisis, your attention is on the immediate problem, not on your new routine. You may push everything else aside and lapse into the old automatic behavior. If you do find yourself slipping, simply go back to the new behavior and start the twenty-one-day cycle again.
Be aware of the things that trigger or cue your habitual behavior. Cues are trigger events. Most behavior is a response to stimulus, such as getting hungry at the sight of delicious food. Recognize what triggers the behaviors you want to change. Once you have the trigger event identified, you have three ways to approach habit change–change the trigger event, change your response to the trigger event, or change both.
Things to Consider
The only person that can manage you is you. Resist the temptation to assign blame and relinquish control over your ultimate happiness to others.
Step 1: Think about a behavior you successfully changed in the past. How did you feel about that accomplishment? How did you do it?
Step 2: Select one habit you would like to change.
Step 3: Follow the seven steps outlined in the previous section, “Creating New Behaviors.
Step 4: After three weeks, evaluate your results.
Tips for Home
- Seek calmness immediately before and after work. Restructure your morning routine so that it is relaxing. See Chapter 3 for tips on how to do that. That may be reading the paper early, listening to music on the way to work, or eating a leisurely breakfast.
- Stay motivated. If you find affirmations and motivational quotes helpful, post a few close to your phone. Similarly, listening to motivational tapes during your commute can help the transition from work to home. Unwinding before arriving home allows you to move into the stream of things more easily.
- Walk regularly with a friend. It is a great way to maintain relationships and get exercise.
- Make time for your hobbies. When work is particularly draining, it is important to do something you enjoy. That balance helps offer a more realistic perspective on the work place. Fill your leisure time with rewarding things that have value for you.
- Keep a list of fun activities and be sure you do at least one each month.
- Slow down a little. Add a few minutes as a cushion to your commute, meditate, or delete one task from your to-do list. Give yourself time to breathe.
- Purchase event tickets together with friends. Plays, movies, concerts, and other outings are great ways to appreciate cultural events and share experiences.
- Schedule a regular “grown-ups” night out—keeping it on the same date each month (for example, on the fifth or the second Friday) makes it easy to remember.
- Get an annual check-up—whether you are feeling good or not, it’s preventative. You change the oil in your car regularly and the water in the fish tank, don’t you? You deserve at least the same amount of care.
- Watch your diet. Good health is easier to maintain than to regain.
- Sleep enough each night. Sleep deprivation and the resulting tiredness are insidious. Develop a relaxing evening routine before bed to encourage sleep.
- Keep a pad of paper and pen by the bed for quick notes. Or, use a tape recorder for work issues. Once safely noted, you can get or return to sleep.
- Only take on what you are able to do and are interested in. Finish what you start before jumping into something else. If you are a person who’s constantly captivated by new ideas, keep a folder and tell yourself you’ll look at it as soon as you finish what you’re working on.
- Do not feel obligated to answer the telephone every time it rings. Get rid of the call-waiting feature. Is it really so important that you not miss that call? Unless you are on-call, most things can wait the few minutes until you are off the line.
- Don’t rely on your memory—write things down.
Tips for Work
- Focus on the positive. Try to keep your day’s work in perspective. There is always good news; it is just often overwhelmed by the next problem. Make a commitment to notice and comment on one good thing that happens each day.
- When you are feeling isolated, talk with coworkers. Whatever problems you are experiencing, they probably are also. Talking things over is often helpful and will make you feel better. If you share complaints, do not forget to spend some time talking about the positive so you leave your conversation on an up note.
- Do not bother to use your time to learn something you really do not need to know or will not use more than once. Get help and move on to things that are more valuable.
- Focus on praise when you receive it. You probably get kudos more often than you realize and dismiss it with a “yeah, but” statement.
- Never take the work personally or let your self-esteem suffer. When a customer complains, it is not about you or your family. Remember their frustration is based on their expectations of the company, which were not matched by what occurred. You just happen to be the one who answered the phone.
- Don’t take the problems home. When you are at work, be there 100%, but leave it when you go home. Worrying about what is left on your desk or what might be upcoming just destroys your ability to rest and refresh yourself. Remember that whatever comes the next day will come with or without your worry and agony.
- Use the stairs rather than the elevator for short hops. As you become more comfortable, increase the distance. It’s a daily workout, part of your routine, so it takes no additional logistics—and, considering the slowness of elevators and the number of stops—it is often faster.
- Beware of micromanaging issues and frittering away energy on little things.
- Celebrate your accomplishments. On your way home, reflect on the tasks that you completed during the day and be pleased with how much you did accomplish.
Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. She is President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA. This excerpt is reprinted with permission from her most recent book: A Life Worth Living: How to Regain Balance and Simplify Your Daily Life.