GETTING UNSTUCK: Productivity in the time of COVID

As the COVID world has become the new normal, we find ourselves having to get work done that has been put on a long delay.

For some, this challenge is happening in a crowded space. Children underfoot or needing help with homeschooling. Dogs barking. Multiple zoom meetings happening for different family members. For others living alone, COVID can feel like an isolation that shrinks the walls and slows the brain. Old habits no longer work. The coffee shop is no longer an option for changing scenery.

What can successful work look like in a COVID world? While we might need to shrink our expectations of what work looks like in our new reality, we find ourselves needing to make progress. Due to external deadlines and also to feel a sense of purpose. Here are a few strategies for feeling a personal sense of accomplishment, no matter your set up.

Begin with your heaviest weight.

The best way to complete meaningful work each day is to begin with the tough stuff. Do the task that is your greatest stressor first. The one that matters the most–the one that is weighing on you. The tasks that leaves a pit in your stomach because you ignore it.

Pay yourself first in your day and do the hardest work when you are freshest. Do not check the easy items off of your “to-do” list. When you have your carved out precious writing time, do the hard stuff. Tackling that project will ease the anxiety, make you feel like you are in control of your destiny. You can make steady progress on your goals, visiting with your real work. Every day.

Conditions to set the mood. Notice the conditions that make your most important work easiest to do.  What conditions help you to work well? For example, music can help us to connect with a particular mood or mindset . Consider using the same playlist when working on a project over a few months It might be with particular music that helps you to focus. Or consider the same white noise if you do not like music.

I tend to listen to Pink Floyd when I can’t seem to be productive. I don’t even usually listen to Pink Floyd. But it gets my writing processes flowing and I am able to do the tough thinking stuff.

Also notice your blocks and barriers to successful work time. Notice when you make unnecessary rules that block meaningful work opportunities. You can write even if your inbox is full. Even if your kitchen is dirty. Even if your phone is ringing. Notice what habits or conditions pull you out of focus. Turn off the internet on your computer. Leave your cell phone in another room. Set a timer to reward yourself for staying focused longer.

Perhaps you find yourself in a funk. Change it up. Take responsibility. Write anyway but with a new habit. Save habits that you enjoy for rewards when completing a project. Savor the victory.

Taking on some challenges to alter your usual rhythms can provide experiments in how to improve writing quality and to shrink the amount of time necessary to complete your work. Some experiments to try:

  • Shrink your “meaningful work” windows. Finding time also includes changing mental models of how much time is needed for quality work, and especially writing. Research indicates that daily attention to the tough work you need to get done is much more effective than blocking out a giant chunk of time once a week. Challenge yourself to see how small of a time window can be used for meaningful work. Even a half an hour is enough to write one paragraph. Push yourself to break your own record in efficiency in small time periods. See if this strategy can work for you.
  • Ride the energy flow. Dive in deep for short spurts of time when you are feeling especially productive. When you find yourself in a period of time when your energy is particularly high and the work is flowing, honor this energy shift and write as much as you can. Ride the inspiration wave. Cancel other plans when possible. Ask for support from loved ones. Such a wave of energy will not last forever, so treasure it and slide into the flow of writing.
  • Create a “meaningful work” cocoon. Shut your office door when you are working. Place a post-it not one it to not be disturbed.
  • Create accountability structures. Rely on friends to ask you about your deadlines. Work in the company of others–online if need be. Ask colleagues to ask you about your progress. Set deadlines for others to read about your work. Hire a writing/life coach to help you to prioritize your goals and to stick to them.
  • End each “meaningful work” session with a note to yourself of how to jump in and get started substantively. Give yourself a question to answer for the next day. Note in your work where to begin the next time and give yourself a clear task as a starting off point.

Whether it be mastering your schedule, creating boundaries, or trying on new ways of writing, the goal is become a student of your habits. Notice what is working, what problems you create for yourself, and be brave to try on new habits.

ENERGY HITS FOR EXTROVERTS IN THE NEW NORMAL

I am an extrovert junkie. When I felt too ordinary or sluggish, I seek adventure. I yearn for the energy of a crowd. “Self-care” for me when I feel resltess is to look for a place for connection with others. Attending a lecture, watching a movie in a crowded, dancing in a busy night club. Even when I needed to work, I would reconnect to my mojo by sitting int he middle of the busiest coffee shop and feel the buzz of the people around me.

I was proud of the way I would take care of myself in the pre-COVID world. I could reset by surrounding myself with others.

The pandemic world offers a few opportunities for that sort of energy injection. I miss the spontaneity to  go into the world and pull some energy out of it. It was the way I knew to rev up my engine. To find some sparkle. My “go-to” tools for self-care have vanished.

I struggle with what exhilaration looks like in the world of fewer human interactions. I hike with one person instead of running a race with thousands. I picnic with a friend instead of hosting a dinner party. I ask for hugs my teenagers more than they might like because I haven’t hugged a friend in seven months.

In the first months of COVID, I felt these losses deeply. Even when I thought I was embracing stillness, I was actually numb.  Numb is not the same as open.

On a solo hike last week, I started trekking up a steep ridge. Suddenly, I remembered the value of surrender. I asked out loud what I need to learn from this time of stillness. How can an extrovert thrive in this new world? How can I embrace life right now, rather than fight it?

As I pushed myself up that ridge, I tapped into my body and found it struggling. My limbs were telling me that they were suffering from the effects of the adrenalin hits that I had asked of it for so long in my life. In the pre-COVID world I would push my body by attending high-intensity fitness classes that would drench me to the bone. I would dance the night away with friends while drinking alcohol. The endorphins in the moment felt wonderful. But afterward, I wouldn’t sleep well those evenings. I was stiff and sore the next day. In the COVID world, I break my exercise into multiple smaller efforts throughout the day. It gives me structure to my day and my body doesn’t scream back at me the next day. I am changing.

I also acknowledge that, while I am yearning to see my son shine his light on the soccer field, I was tired of the endless travel to games hours away every weekend. I had come to hate being in a car. I had secretly yearned for weeks of nothing on our calendar on the weekends (be careful what you wish for!)

I almost feels like the universe is playing a joke on me of asking me to show up and all of the ways that I’ve coached on for so long about trusting the process. Seeing the same walls in my house day after day has caused me to dive deep into the reservoirs of what peace and inner wisdom truly mean.

I remember a Quaker elder teaching me the value of discipline. The need to face truth and to seek guidance from places broader than our minds daily–even when we would rather not. Discipline means seeking and making habits of opening up. It means trusting that the truth that is bigger than ourselves is safe and diving and can be more beautiful than what we fear.

Much like the birthing process that my doula taught me  long ago, I have to remind myself to say “open” through this time of great change—even when I want to shy away and stay closed down. When I consciously open, I find myself more able to trust the process.

It’s not about being an expert at this. It’s about being okay with struggle. It’s about trying.

I try to stay curious. I try to find wondering in the smaller spaces. I try to write in my gratitude journal at the end of each day.

By promising to try I am finding ways to remember that I am not alone. In fact, this is probably one of the few times in history where our greatest stressor is shared globally. We are sharing a collective grief, but we also are sharing the grace of collective healing and purpose amidst the chaos.

I am trying others how they are doing more. I am trying seek spaces to talk about how others are struggling but even more, turning the conversation to how they are learning to thrive in new ways of being. I ask others what opportunities they are finding. What surprising grace they experience. By holding others “in the light” as we Quakers say,  can try to lift others up, and in doing so we also lift up ourselves.

By finding connectivity, in connection as well as in silence and meditation, I can find a calmer, more steady replacement for my energy hits that I crave. I can find that inter-web of relationship with the broader world. Through spirit and energy, I can seek the synchronicity and grace that are a mystery. The space of curiosity and seeking—that is the magic that will get us all through these days.

Ready to open up to possibility? Email me at dana@danamitra.net.

Normal is gone–what is next for you?

The arrival of fall shook me awake.  Fall is usually a time of switching gears. It is a return to work habits and productivity after the slower habits of summertime. The weather cools. The air shifts.  

This shift in seasons brings with it a time of resetting our intentions. Yet, the pandemic continues.

I realized that I had been holding my breath all summer. I was still treating the pandemic as a short term crisis. I was holding my breath.

By shutting off the fearful feelings, I was shutting off the positive energy too. I was numbing myself to all of the feelings associated with such a deep change. I stopped most of my regular, including blogging, meditation, attending Quaker worship, and pouring energy into my coaching practice.

I find that I am finally moving from resistance to surrender. I am ready to ask the universe, what does this crisis teach me? What can it teach all of us?

We are in the deep, dark middle part of coping with the pandemic. Brene’ Brown talks about this part of our collective journey as Day Two. The challenge is here, and the resolution is not in sight.  

We are wrestling with our souls and being forced to change our ways of being. We are grieving and struggling. Old patterns no longer fit our new reality.

We find ourselves in an expectant waiting. In this collective searching, we can move from resistance to surrender. We can ask, “What am I here to learn and how can I serve in this moment?”

Gifts are present in the darkness. The burning down of the old debris will allow new ways of being to grow. We can admit that we have no idea what’s coming. It’s not what we expected it would be.

When things are falling apart, we have a greater space to try on new ways of being. We shed old ways of knowing. Ways of being that no longer fit. Step away from relationships that drain us.  In times of great change, the gift is that we have no extra energy to pull inauthentic burdens along.

Ways of showing up in the world that at once felt too risky become necessary. We need to be brave enough to turn to a new path. To accept what we cannot change but also to open ourselves up to expansion of who we can become.

Grace is greater. The pathway forward is willingness to commit to creative solutions.

Through commitment to such brave work, we can discern matters to us. We must make up things as we go. Find playfulness and acceptance as we learn. We can find kindness towards ourselves and to others as we try on new shapes and roles.

I challenge you to dive into the possibility of who you are meant to be in this moment. To  take on what you have been avoiding. Knowing that “normal” is gone, what a beautiful moment to try on a new way of being.

Whether you know deep down in your soul what you are yearning for. Or you are stuck and ready to gain the tools to find that inspiration. Use the gift of this change in seasons to bravely step into your best version of yourself.

Ready to find your new normal? Let’s talk! Reach out to me at dana@danamitra.net.

Redesign to find yourself again

I sense out there a transition—from the clutching of crisis to an unsettled awareness that fear and isolation are far from over. Temporary changes in routine are becoming new ways of doing things for the long-term. Loss feels greater perhaps as the thought of a curtailed summer becomes more and more real.

I found myself feeling claustrophobic in the same spaces that felt just fine a week ago. I realized today that I was withholding a part of what keeps me “zen” but not having a corner for my own thinking and “being.”

I had given up my meditation/journaling corner to make space for my husband to have an office, now that he works from home. I thought it was fine to squeeze in some time when he was elsewhere or just to take my journal in any other part of the house.

I realized that I had been holding out for “temporary” when these changes are here for a long time. Yesterday, I sought a new space to call my own. I carved out a corner of our bedroom by moving a few pieces of furniture around

Immediately I felt a sense of peace. I brought all of my treasure from my nook in the loft to my new little corner. I have my books, my art supplies, my journal, photographs, my vision board—my kit of things for introspection. I felt a restoration of a part of what keeps me positive, grounded, and hopeful. I now have a little space of retreat in a household full of people. I didn’t even realize I was missing it. 

My students too have been struggling with a loss of space. Having their routines when they were at school, trying to work effectively at home created struggle, anxiety, depression, hopelessness. Some of my students had little siblings who tugged at them constantly. One had a disabled brother prone to screaming for large parts of the day. Another had a mother who worked a stressful job on zoom calls in the middle of their small apartment for 10 hours a day.

I urged my students that, no matter how small their space, no matter the people, that they too could create space their own. Take over a tiny closet. Reclaim a corner of their bedroom by moving something out. Push their desk in front of a window instead of a wall. Make small changes until they find a glimmer of joy that helps their spirits to align at a higher frequency.

We can also find outside spaces for working and being as the summer approaches. One of my favorite spaces for Zoom meetings is at a small table on our outside patio. I can look at the trees and birds while engaging with my colleagues. I walk our neighborhood on phone calls. I sip my evening tea on the front porch and take in the sunsets. Each of these moments of blending outdoors with  my regular routine feel like tiny gifts.

Little tweaks can restore ourselves in a time of change. The places that help us to feel a part of something bigger. Productive when we don’t want to be. Put a plant from your office near your laptop in your at-home workspace.  Find music that drowns out family noise and reminds us of our favorite coffee shop. Light a candle; add a  lamp to have a better lit space rather than overhead lighting. Focus on your senses.

In this brave new world, we have the blessing of focusing on the little adjustments that can keep our spirits higher. How can you change the spaces in which you live to align with your yearnings and comfort?

Slowing down, Listening Deeper

With most of our lives slowing down considerably with the pandemic, we may find ourselves settling into our bodies. Much like a snow globe finding calm as the swirling stop, we can see more clearly our lives in times of stillness. 

We can find “knowing” by listening within. This knowing comes from the gut or the heart—rarely from the head.  The whispers we might have been hearing for a long time about a needed change may be starting to feel louder now. Some of these whispers are YES choices—going back to school, seeking out new hobbies, building relationships. Other whispers may be NO choices—ending relationships, creating boundaries, quitting a job. I find YES choices much easier to embrace than NO choices; other people are just the opposite. 

Coaching is about helping people to hear this inner wisdom that is always speaking to us. To discern what a path can be, and to help to create scaffolding to get there. Sometimes we know the decision and need support to make it. Othe times we aren’t quite sure what the whispers are saying yet. The snow globe is still settling. 

It is possible to accelerate the process by listening more deeply to ourselves. Notice work, people, activities that charge you batteries and those that drain them. What makes your heart sing?  What work and people make you feel alive?

Even further, notice how you are showing up to do the work—how you are “being” and how that impacts the quality of your work. Also note how you are showing up impacts your interactions with colleagues.

I offer an exercise below for tapping into your inner knowing—a process I use to begin the retreats that I offer on strengthening inner wisdom. Research supports the value of leaning into feelings of joy, creativity and curiosity as a way to discern your path. The process for discernment below focuses more on being curious about how you feeling/being rather than what you are doing.  

  • Write down three words that define how you want to FEEL about your decision–whether it be your career, your relationship or something else. These words might include: inspired, joyful, fulfilled, authentic, powerful, serving a greater good, making a difference, impactful, groundbreaking, integrative. 
  • Sit with eyes closed and hold these being words in your body—focusing on your heart or your gut. Ask yourself—”What work can I do that most aligns with these ways of being?” This exercise can be used globally. It can also be used to work on a specific project.
  • Doing the exercise myself, I wrote: “Writing this blog, I want this work of mine to be authentic, inspired, and to serve the greater good. Before I begin writing every day, I remind myself of the purpose of my project and seek to channel this way of being as I do my work.”

Perhaps your snowglobe has calmed down such that you know exactly what your next step needs to be but you are afraid to take the leap. For others, you are feeling the unease associated with a change coming, but you are unclear how to proceed. Or perhaps a change has been forced upon you. I am always available for a free consultation to help to discern a pathway forward.

Take care of yourself, take care of one another, stay safe. Namaste.

Developing new routines in quarantine

Living in quarantine can lead to days that seem to stretch on for weeks–but with little opportunity to feel productive. Depending on the number of people in your home, it can create endless interruptions or long periods of silence. Adapting to new work protocols, switching to online work, and finding new ways to connect to others–they all take their toll.

Loneliness exists even when living with others—the lack of day to day connection with a broader world has been shown to reduce creativity, create brain fog. Isolation can mood swings, lack of focus, panic attacks, flashes of anger, flattened emotions, depression, loss of memory and declined cognitive function. We are wired for interaction–even introverts.

I find myself drifting through the mornings in our new reality, knowing that I have many projects that could be done but struggling to tackle any of them. The knowledge of many weeks of isolation ahead makes urgency fall aside.

We must acknowledge time and space for emotions and give ourselves the grace that our normal work habits are going to be compromised in extraordinary times. Yet as this time apart extends from days to weeks to potentially months, we find ourselves needing to find ways to create new rhythms to keep our businesses afloat. To make progress on deadlines. To create daily habits of work as a way to feel ourselves again and to tap into a sense of purpose that helps us to feel alive.

Keep a wide-angle view. The main goal for all of us is to stay afloat. Do not expect work to be an A+ effort.  Selectively choose what activities must be superior effort–due to external demands or work that aligns with our own internal compass. Give permission for the rest to be “good enough.”

Even in regular times, all parts of life cannot be embraced at 100 percent energy at the same time. We can have it all, but not all at once. Even when we have a clear vision for career progress, it is important to consider how to do so within the long-range view. Some activities are easier to accomplish in the early stages of a career, some in the middle, some at the end. By pulling back to a wide-angle view of our lifespan, we can help to make better choices about how to show up in the moment of any phase of life, and to be fully present within it, rather than lamenting on the goals that are best accomplished at other times. 

Make the most important daily goals about self care and connection. Trying times call for vigilance in self-care and helping others. I have faithfully used this checklist as an anchor to my new way of being as member of Quarantine 2020. I ask myself these questions, which I found on social media:

Quarantine 2020 oft quoted meme on social media

I have been leaning into a daily morning yoga practice, using an online exercise platform to push me forward. It feels like a delicious treat that in “normal” life would take up too much time. What chosen activity or habit might feel like a gift to you?

Create a weekly review plan.  Developing a framework for your week ahead can help to create some structure. Assess the week before it begins—Sunday evening or Monday morning are good times for a weekly review. 

“Your calendar will show what we value” is a useful metric for the task of prioritizing time when days blend together in quarantine. Begin with a broader sketch of the structure of your days. The blocks of time should be like categories—self-care (first!), plus meetings, independent work, and chores. 

It helps to sort like-minded tasks into groups. It gives a sense of a shape of a week and helps to clarify priorities.  Being aware that day to day tasks such as cooking and cleaning and caring for others might take much larger chunks of time than in a “normal time,” try to create a weekly schedule for our work time.  

During quarantine, activities during this weekly time might include:

  • Ask what tasks need to occur during quarantine and what can wait.
  • Think about how a weekly plan can incorporate time that aligns with what you value the most, whatever that may be.
  • Look back at the previous week, note what worked, and build off of those successes. 
  • Revise previously unrealistic timelines.
  • Develop a list of tasks for the next week that is less than might have accomplished during “normal” times, but long enough to see a path forward,

Observe the rhythms of your days. We have the time to be curious now. To pay attention to our habits and to try out new ways of being.  Log the time you want to value—exercise, writing, meaningful time with your loved ones. Review each week and notice how you spent your time compared to how you wanted to spend your time. Prioritizing time also means noticing how much time we are wasting on task that drain our batteries–social media scrolling, binging too much television, drinking that extra glass of wine.

Remember to grant yourself the grace to do less. The acceptance to feel the feelings and take care of yourself and others. The space to breathe and create ways of being that might endure beyond these strange times.

Know your values, know your path

Whether choosing a political candidate or a new career, a great way to discern your choice is to tap into your values. What are your core beliefs that structure your decisions?  

Think about what matters most to you in the world.  Values can be formed through experiences, influential people, family structures and culture, and even difficult times.  Common values that changemakers identify include: giving back, creativity, innovation, making a difference, order/control, and equity.

Getting greater clarity on these beliefs can create a scaffolding that weathers the ups and downs of a lifetime. It can keep you focused on a longer-term vision of purpose. Without knowing your values, it is more possible to slip into dismay, disenchantment, aimlessness, and cynicism.   

Identifying values is not just stating them but living them. The gap between your work and your vision should feel inspiring and energizing rather than depleting. 

Aligning with values also helps to dispel notions of perfection. Values can define a sense of inner standards rather than external judgment. When you feel judged or beaten down, ask yourself how those external judgments align or do not align with your inner values. This mindful work also allows a re-calibration of yourself that can keep critics at bay.

Values may change over time. They might even conflict with some of the expectations of your job, your family, your religion, your politics. Be true to what feels right in your core, not your head. Articulating values and seeing how they align and do not align with your big goals in your life can help you to discern when its time to take the leap and shift to something bigger, more true—how you really want to be.  

Resources for Living Your Values 

  1. You can help to distill your values by considering lists of words and debating which ones connect most with you. Here is a list to get you started.
  2. Ask everyone to tell you about your gifts. Feeling really brave? Post the question on social media—a request for others to list your gifts. Create a visual collage, like a word cloud, of the words shared with you. 
  3. Revisit a rewarding moment of success. Think back to a time when you felt fully alive —a moment in time when you felt a huge energy hit and felt like you were flowing in the stream of success. Use your senses to remember the details of where you were, how your body felt, what the light looked like, who was with you. Then consider—what values/beliefs/principles underlie the meaning of this experience for you? 
  4. Journal about your values: 
    • How do I define “meaning” in my life?    
    • What does it feel like when I live my values?    
    • How do I express my values in my work? my relationships?
    • What are signs that I am not living in my values?  
    • Who can champion me to help me to live my values? 

Feeling Stuck? Seven Strategies to Get Back on Track

Everyone has gifts to share with the world. Living a fulfilled life includes finding pathways to share these gifts. Doing so brings meaning to our lives and intrinsic worthiness. Working on projects that align with a sense of purpose tends to be energizing rather than depleting. We tend to feel most energized and tapped into our lives when engaged in tasks that align with what sparks creativity and curiosity.

But what about when we are stuck? listless? uncertain? Then it’s time to reconnect with our values. Reanchoring to core values creates a scaffolding that can weather the struggles of a career, a relationship, a passion. It helps us to keep focused on a longer-term vision. Without values it is more possible to slip into dismay, disenchantment, aimlessness, and cynicism.

Anna came to work with me because she could not finish her writing assignments for her job. She had deep writer’s block, which led to a negative performance review. She had a piece of writing rejected that she had labored over for months. The reason given was that they did not find her topic compelling to their readers. The rejection sent her into a tailspin. It led her to believe that her field doubted the value of her work.

Untangling the threads of her experience, Anna discerned that the piece aligned with deeply held core values. We talked through whether one set of editors could judge the value of her work that is so close to her purpose. We even considered–if most editors rejected her work, would she stop working on these issues?

Anna realized that she would want to persist despite the judgement of others. Future rejections would fuel her fire rather than extinguish it.  She redoubled her faith in her work going forward. She honed her purpose instead of shying away from it. She decided that part of her purpose was to push the dominant paradigm and to encourage her profession to embrace a broader understanding of viewpoints.

Honing her purpose helped Anna to understand why she did the work intrinsically. She could use this sense of purpose in the future as a rubric for discerning difficult career decisions. She had found the strength to engage in her work from within.

Deepening Purpose by Identifying Your Values

Identifying values is not just stating them, but living them. By paying attention to what is our passion in our work, we define a sense of inner standards rather than external judgment. This process helps to fend off the perfection demons. We seek to be our authentic selves rather than a generic standard that may not even fit what we believe. This mindful work allows a calibration of the importance of self-improvement with destructive inner critics. The gap between our work and our vision the can feel inspiring and rather than depleting.

SEVEN WAYS TO RECONNECT TO YOUR VALUES

  1. Revisit a rewarding moment of success. Think back to rewarding moments in your life—a particular moment in time you fully alive and were flowing in the stream of success. Drawing on your senses to bring you back to the exact moment—where you were, how your body felt, what the light looked like. By feeling the moment fully, you can distill the essence of what made that moment special. Sitting in those feelings—what values/beliefs/principles underlie the meaning of this experience for you? If you have a photograph of this moment, hang it up in a place you see every day.
  2. Choose from a list of values. Choose what defines you the most from a list of values. Try to narrow down to three, or even one as a guidepost for the next year. Create a way to visually remind yourself of these words daily.
  3. Reread performance reviews/critiques and highlight ONLY the positive words. We tend to only listen for the negative. Instead, take note of your strengths. Focus on the verbs especially–“ I inspire. I build bridges. I organize.”
  4. Ask everyone to list your gifts. Ask colleagues what is important about your work.Choose your most trusted peers. Ask them what they value about your work. An even braver strategy, post on social media a request for others to list your gifts Create a visual collage of the words shared with me and posted them in my closet where I get dressed every morning.
  5. Journal about your values, Research on finding your values suggests that you focus reflection on “what” questions instead of “why” questions. Some prompts to get you started:
  • What do I wish to accomplish?
  • How do I define “meaning” in your work?
  • What academic work inspires me and why? 
  • What does it feel like when I live my values? 
  • What drives me to do excellent work?
  • How do I want to show up as a scholar?
                Why did I choose a career in academia?
  • How do I express my values in my work?
  • What are signs that I am not living in my values?
  • What struggles do I have with my scholarship?
  • When do I experience conflicting values within my scholarship?      
  • What does support look like? Who can champion me to help me to live my values?

Ready for something bigger? Contact me about how to jump start your future. Schedule a no-hassle consultation at dana@danamitra.net

Out of Balance: Get Smarter about How to Recharge

People often say their lives are out of balance. We over do things so often. Stretch ourselves thin. Multi-task. Say yes when we really need to say no. These habits become so familiar that being out of balance feels normal.

Pushing hard all the time causes our adrenaline to surge and then tank. When our batteries hit empty, emotional and physical hardships multiply. We lose the ability to be kind to one another. The ability to think clearly. The ability to make good choices.  Over time, running on empty can lead to burn out, anxiety, depression, and dysfunctional relationships. We become physically sick, we damage our relationships with loved ones, and we inflict shame and stress onto ourselves.

Finding balance requires monitoring our energy levels. Keeping our energy levels high enough allows us to take on unexpected stressors. Research indicates that having a reserve of energy improves accuracy, innovation, and patience. 

Step One: Learning what drains our batteries.

Step one is paying attention to what charges our batteries and what drains them, including  people, activities and thoughts.  Do we feel higher or lower after interactions with others? With our work? With our family?  Successful people monitor their energy with a goal of being energized and renewed daily.

Learning about what deletes us is an ongoing task and constantly changing. It might vary depending on your season of life. I find myself growing more introverted as I get older, for example. It may also vary according to weather. To the amount of daylight outside. The cycle of the moon (and monthly cycles for women). It could relate to patterns of stress at work and in the lives of your loved ones as much as your own.

Step two: Acknowledging when we are drained.

Step two is acknowledging to ourselves and others when we are drained and unable to be our best selves. When we have no energy left to give, we must learn to say no to avoid depletion—for the sake of others as much as ourselves.

I have been working on this process with my own family. When I know I have depleted myself, I try to say out loud: “I have nothing left! I need to recharge my batteries. ”

Sometimes such conversations do not always go well. The response from a child is sometimes: “How dare you take a break from being a mother?” But by doing so, I’m showing that they can create boundaries themselves.

Flexing new muscles takes practice. I don’t always get it “right.” But I’m learning when it is necessary to pause a decision. I’m noticing the choices I made in that day that caused me to say I needed to take a pause. And I hope that I’m learning to adjust my schedule so that I have less days when I need to take that pause because I’m too depleted to make healthy choices and to hear my loved ones.

Step three: Notice when we are numbing.

Often we think we are giving ourselves a recharge but we are numbing ourselves. (a distinction that Brene’ Brown has discussed). Numbing occurs when  we think we are giving ourselves a break, but we are bringing ourselves further down instead of up. Scrolling through social media endlessly. Pouring that extra glass of wine. Eating the whole tub of ice cream. Binge-watching television for hours.  Most often, these actions began with a small break for ourselves, but shifted from a short respite to numbing. And we feel worse.

Step Four: Finding true energizing strategies.

We need day- to-day strategies to have the agency to re-balance in the moment. We gain energy from activities that spark creativity, according to the research. We are inspired from work that feels like we are making a difference. And we re-juice from unplugging through mindfulness and peaceful moments.

Recharging rarely needs to all day or all weekend. It can be stolen in quick moments. Ten deep breaths. Prayer and affirmation. A talk with a close friend. At work it might mean excusing yourself from a meeting for a five minute walk around the building to regain composure.

To discover new ways to find energy, be curious about all of your senses. A song that lifts your spirits. Moving your body—dancing, walking, swimming.  Essential oils can uplift (citrus) or calm (lavender) in the moment.

Recharging can also occur from stopping the numbing habits. Unplug from social media. Stop drinking the glass of wine after work. Taking a deep breath instead of a puff of a cigarette.

In those moments when you find yourself saying “I don’t have time to take a two minute break!”—that’s exactly when you need to do so. Give yourself permission to recharge in the moment, in the day, in the week.

By following these four steps, you can begin the path to finding balance. Even in the darkest days of February. Notice how your relationships improve. Your productivity improves. Your peace and happiness grow.


Ready to take the next step? Contact me for a consultation on how to move from where you are to where you want to be: dana@danamitra.net

Find More Time by Eliminating “Shoulds”

Finding room in your new year to do the work you want to do means taking other stuff off of your schedule. Often, we can identify potential tasks for elimination when we say we “should” do something. In the coaching world, we commonly say that we “should all over ourselves.” When you hear a should coming out, ask “Who is speaking in these moment? Is it my inner critic or our inner mentor?”  I suggest using Julie Morgenstern’s process of “Deleting, Delaying, Delegating, and Diminishing.”

Strategies for Finding More Time

Delete: What tasks can you just simply eliminate without retribution?
Delay is What items can be put on hold?
Delegate What work and chores can be given to collaborators, students, staff assistants, family members, hired people?

 

Diminish How can you create short cuts and streamline tasks?

“Delete” the parts of your schedule that are a “should” instead of a must. Skip optional lectures and unnecessary meetings. Stop adding more detail to student comments than is necessary. Stop opening social media reflexively. Notice the increase in energy even when you make this decision—that is a sign that it is the right choice.

Include “delay” items on a separate part of the to-do list. Keep track of items include items that can wait for another day but you don’t want to forget about. Include also items that have punted elsewhere and you are awaiting response. Delaying can often mean that issues diminish or disappear.

It took me a long time to understand the value of delaying response to some email. I had the luxury of a sabbatical recently, and I turned on a vacation message that indicated that I would not be responding to emails quickly since I was not on duty that semester. I was fascinated to realize how well people could solve their own problems with a bit of time. Solutions that I would have spent time given were often not necessary after a few days—often people figured out their own questions if I gave them a few days to let them “season.”

“Delegate” tasks that others can do. Give assistants tasks such as copy editing, tracking down citations, and researching specific content. Consider what household chores can also be hired out to maximize writing time during busy periods. Discern when to spend the money to hire others with the question: What tasks can others do that would significantly decrease my level of stress?

I struggled with the inner critic images of the perfect mom and the successful academic pre-tenure. Looking at my internal rhythms, I was keenly aware most efficient writing hours were between 2 and 6 p.m., I was struggled with the limiting belief that they were the “most important” parenting hours of the day (an idea that seeped into my brain as an inner critic from some parenting book). They were certainly the most challenging parenting hours and if was fully honest, they were some of the least satisfying hours of parenting as well since they involved low energy for every one and lots of frustrating errands—driving to activities, meal preparation, and homework time. 

When on a deadline for a publication, grant, and during the critical year before my dossier was due, I invested in childcare several days a week during these key hours. I asked the babysitter to clean the kitchen and prepare dinner for the children and to transport the kids from place to place.

My sense of accomplishment increased and stress declined.  I emerged from my writing cave on those days with a sense of professional  accomplishment. I was much less likely to procrastinate knowing I was paying for that time. I was also ready to fully engage with my children, rather than burdened by the tasks of parenthood of transition and mealtime preparation. On my best days, I  gave myself permission to appreciate this gift of child care rather than feeling guilty about it, knowing that these pressured days were not forever but instead a period of time in my career and in the developmental stage of my kids’ lives.

“Diminish” emails. Handling emails more efficiently and read files only once. Respond to items requiring less than ten minutes immediately. Be precise in the subject line to improve the efficiency of the emails you must send (Morgenstern, 2011).  Move longer term items to folders and add the tasks to your to-do list. Your inbox should not be your to-do list since you cannot change the order easily. Keep focused on your priorities and use your to-do list faithfully instead of email to decide your next task. Beware also of the virus that is “zeroing out your inbox” rather than doing your important work.

“Diminish” schedule gaps. Diminishing also can occur by stacking meetings. Meet with students on your schedule, not theirs. That might mean that people have to wait a few days to talk with you. Stack your meetings around your teaching time so you can limit the time you are responsible to others in your office. Have days where you are only accountable to your five-year writing timeline.

 

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