The Balancing Act
It is hard to find balance in this information age. “The average office worker receives more than 200 messages a day via snail mail, email, express mail, cell phone, landline, wireless Web, bicycle messenger, singing telegram, you name it. Taking in information these days is like trying to drink from a fire hose.”
–Dr. Martha Beck
Did you know that one Sunday edition of The New York Times contains more information than all the written documents in the world during the 15th century? Does it seem like life is spinning out of control? The pace of life just keeps picking up! And with it, job satisfaction is on the decline.
In an Associated Press article, Marc Greenbaum, a 50-year-old professor at Suffolk Law School, stated that “I’m personally happier but I observe more people that are more miserable. There’s more pressure on them to produce, more problems with maintaining a boundary between work and family, even maintaining a boundary between work and the outside because of things like e-mail, voicemail and the Blackberry. They can’t get away.”
According to the Families and Work Institute, over 47% of U.S. workers surveyed feel overworked. In addition, 59% of Americans describe their lives as very busy according to an NBC news survey. According to Dr. Richard Swensen, author of Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, the average American will spend one year in his/her life searching through desk clutter looking for misplaced objects. We are working harder and faster than ever. Being more organized can help reduce stress, save time, and improve efficiency.
We celebrate National Get Organized Week the first week in October. Most people think of “getting organized” as a physical act – clearing piles of paper, putting things away, etc. What many people overlook is the mental part of getting organized. And I always say that organizing your physical environment without first clarifying your priorities is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!
Here are 8 tips to help you with the mental part of getting and staying organized. I encourage you to read through the whole list, and then go back and choose two or three ideas to implement.
1. Understand the difference between URGENT and IMPORTANT. If it’s important, it may be a vital priority for you. If it’s urgent, it’s time-sensitive, but it may or may not be important. Be sure you are clear about the difference when deciding what deserves your time. Check out the time management matrix at www.orgcoach.net/timematrix.html, which beautifully illustrates the difference.
2. Find time for yourself. Schedule time away from your work and your family. Use this opportunity to tune in to what you want and need. Don’t feel that you’re being selfish; you have a responsibility to yourself to take care of your needs. Studies show that productivity dramatically increases when you are well rested.
3. Check for balance between these four vital areas of your life:
- Well-being – caring for your physical, mental, spiritual, and social needs
- Family relationships
- Work activities
- Service activities – volunteer work, being a good neighbor, practicing random acts of kindness
4. Live your life in the present! Quit saying, “I’ll do this when I get around to it.” I have yet to find a person who said on their death bed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
5. Increase productivity by planning your week and fine-tuning your workday. Block out time to handle priorities. Important tips to remember as you plan your week:
- Have unscheduled time in your calendar for handling unexpected but important tasks.
- Plan to work on creative activities during the time of day when you are at your best.
- Schedule “protected time” to work on projects that need your undivided attention. If interruptions are eating you alive, close your door and ask that people come back to see you at a designated time.
- Temporarily turn off the audio feature on your cell phone, pager and email account. Pick and choose when you respond and when it’s appropriate to let calls go into voice mail.
- Be realistic about your expectations. Don’t set yourself up for failure by planning too much in one day.
- Leave work at a reasonable hour so you have time for those other three areas of your life – self-care, family, and service to others.
6. Reduce your stress by being underwhelmed. Here are a few tips to help you avoid getting overwhelmed:
- NO is a complete sentence. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. When someone makes a request, buy some time before answering. Say, “Let me think about it,” or “I’m in the middle of something right now. I’ll call you back and let you know.” This will give you time to evaluate the situation and decide if it’s something you truly want to do.
- Delegate as much as you can. Focus your time on activities that you enjoy and are best at.
7. Stay out of e-mail jail. Here are a few tips to help:
- Determine frequency of checking for e-mail messages. Some people choose to check it throughout the day and even use such devices as the Blackberry when on the road, while others only check for messages a couple times a day. You are the only one who can determine what will work for you.
- Use the F.A.T. (File, Act, Toss) method to keep your email inbox from piling up. If a message needs to be filed for future reference, place it in the appropriate email subject or contact folder. Place a red flag next to those items you need to act on but don’t have time to do right at the moment. Immediately toss (delete or forward) anything you don’t need to keep.
- Remove your name from subscription lists that do not provide value to you.
8. Set up your work environment to keep your focus on what’s most important. Here are some tips:
- Arrange your workspace so you have the most commonly-used things close in. Store things used less frequently in less accessible space.
- Create a filing system that enables you to find things instantly. The #1 reason that people pile instead of file is a fear of not being able to find it when they need it. Visit www.orgcoach.net/PaperTiger.html for some ideas.
- Create a tickler file system to remind you of important follow up at the appropriate time. The #2 reason that people pile is a fear of forgetting to do something that is out-of-sight and out-of-mind. A good tickler system reminds you to follow up on the appropriate date, and provides an alternative to that “I’ll just set it here for now” pile. Visit www.orgcoach.net/products/tickle.html#ticklerfile to see what a good tickler file system looks like.
- Use the F.A.T. (File, Act, Toss) method to process your mail daily. Review our Trim the F.A.T. tip sheet at www.orgcoach.net/trimthefat.html.
- Keep only what you plan to focus on today on your desktop. Remove visual distractions from your workspace so your attention is not pulled away from what you’ve chosen to work on today! Everything else should be put away until it’s time for you to focus on it.
About the Author
As Senior.com Director of Sales and Marketing, Kimberly Johnson is passionate about providing Seniors with the resources and products to live well. Kimberly is a seasoned caregiver to her family and breast cancer survivor. Her father battled ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease and she was a primary caregiver. Today Kimberly lives in Southern California near her 104-year-old grandmother, widowed mother, a mentally disabled sister and second sister who is also a breast cancer survivor. She is happily married to her husband of 24 years and they have 3 children.View All Articles