Pat LaDouceur, PhD, helps people dealing with anxiety, panic, and relationship stress who want to feel more focused and confident. She has a private practice
Ely was excited about his new job. He’d spent a year looking, and found what he wanted – interesting work, good pay, friendly people. Perfect, right?
But Ely had also increased his responsibility, added a long commute, and decided that he wanted to make a fabulous first impression at work. He also wanted to spend time with his wife of twelve years and his two boys, seven and nine years old.
To “find time,” he gave up the very things he needed to re-energize himself. Personal time, as a result, fell by the wayside. He gave up his evening walk, ate lunch at his desk, skimped on sleep, and rarely saw friends.
But when Ely stopped taking care of himself, his energy dropped, his focus got worse, and his stress level increased. He was hoping to solve the problem by getting to be “more efficient.”
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The limits of efficiency
The problem wasn’t the job, but rather the way Ely responded it. On the one hand, I was sure that he would get more efficient. On the other hand, I didn’t think that “efficiency” is where he would find his answers. There weren’t any big blocks of time that Ely could claim.
For busy people, there are no big open spaces in the calendar. Yet that’s where we usually focus. “I’ll quit my job,” one of my over-scheduled clients announced in a moment of frustration.
Another client said, “My husband and I can’t find time to spend with each other now, but we’ll catch up once our daughter is grown.” She was serious. Her plan to handle an overbooked schedule was to put her marriage on hold for ten years. Others, like Ely, work harder and longer, and eventually decide that stress is a normal part of life.
But there is another option.
Story of a key
There’s an old Sufi teaching story about a man who couldn’t find his house key. A friend passed by and offered to help him look for it. The spent some time looking through the grasses, aided by the light from a nearby street lamp.
Finally the friend asked, “where exactly did you lose the key?”
“Over there,” the man said, and pointed to a patch of grass under some trees and deep in the shadows.
“If the key’s over there,” the friend asked, “then why are we looking here?”
“I couldn’t see a thing over there,” the man said. “This is where the light is.”
The man clearly wasn’t going to find his key unless he changed his approach. You’ll never find something if you look in the wrong places.
Where the light is
Ely was looking for chunks of “extra” time at the end of his day, when he was finished with everything else. It’s no surprise that he couldn’t find them. His “to-do” list was inexhaustible. It would keep him busy for a solid month – even if he did nothing else during that month, and nothing new was added to his list.
“After you finish” isn’t a very useful place to look. If you’re busy, a better choice is often to look for personal time in the small spaces between everything else you’re doing.
The moments we need to create a more balanced life are all around us. They are hidden in every decision we make. Each choice can help continue the pattern of constant doing, and the stress that comes with always being in motion. Or that choice can help cultivate a sense of calm and inner peace.
5 simple ways to find time
There are many “moments of choice” where you can find time every day.
- How you choose to start your day. Do you jump out of bed and check your email, or do you spend a few minutes looking out your bedroom window to admire the first rays of the morning sun?
- How you move from one task to another. Do you file one task and immediately pick up another, or do you spend a few minutes feeling good about what you’ve just accomplished?
- When you are about to do “just one more thing.” Do you fill up every free moment, or do you leave extra time for the unexpected?
- When you want to say yes. Do you agree to take on every project that seems like it might be interesting or important, or do you first take a careful inventory of your energy and time, and consider saying no?
- How you finish your day. Do you fall into bed, exhausted, after answering one last work-related text, or do you choose a stopping time that allows time to spend time with your family or call a friend?
A minute might not seem like much, but it’s a place to start. Every time you find time to pause, to celebrate, to acknowledge what’s really important, you take a step toward a lifestyle that feels connecting and fulfilling.
What to do in a minute…
Here are a few ways to use the extra time to relax and renew your energy.
- Take a few deep, relaxing breaths.
- Scan your body, from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, noticing and relaxing any tension you might be holding as you move your attention from one area to another.
- Do a simple yoga pose.
- Write someone a brief note of appreciation.
- Make a note of three things for which you are grateful.
And once you make those small moments of personal time a habit, they’ll start to grow. Perhaps you’ll want to breath for five minutes, or take an hour to have coffee with a friend. Once you get good at taking care of you, it gets easier.
Ely’s busyness wasn’t just about his circumstances, but his automatic response to them. Looking for time for himself in unexpected places was the key. Once Ely did that, he started to relax.
In the moments between tasks, he gained a clearer mind and a more balanced perspective. With that new perspective, Ely was indeed able to work more efficiently. But he was also able to make increasingly better choices about doing things he valued: taking time for family, friends, and health.
The best ways to find time for you are hidden in the small moments throughout your day. Now, what can you do for yourself in a minute?
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