Days of Grace is an autobiographical work by the late Arthur Ashe, a U.S. tennis player, sports commentator, and historian. Ashe died from AIDS at the age of 47, which he contracted as a result of a blood supply mix-up at a hospital lab. He was married and had a young daughter. He had finished writing a huge three-volume set on the history of the African-American athlete starting from the 1650’s.
While working to complete Days of Grace and spending time with his wife and daughter, he reflected upon the last few months of his life in a way that most people never do.
These were the Days of Grace, when time slowed down, and when each day was precious. Ashe said that he became profoundly thankful for each month, then each week, and then each day he had left.
Sharpening Your Focus
Scheduling days of grace serves a real purpose. By slowing down, clearing out the extraneous, sharpening your focus, and becoming more in tune, on a higher level, as to what activities need to be handled, you have a better chance of succeeding than you would otherwise.
Contemplate the last time you were asked to tackle any project, on your own or within a small team. Someone, probably your boss, was waiting for the results, which you needed to turn in on a deadline.
What was your immediate reflexive action? For some people it is to clear the decks. They literally create space on their desks, conference tables, or other workplaces.
Give yourself the opportunity to work without disruption. Assemble the resources you need. For the time being, let other pressing issues fall by the wayside. Give the task at hand sharp focus.
To Win, Slow Down
Rushing through any task invariably results in down time, errors, and having to do things over again. The total “rush-through” time ends up equaling what it would have taken if you had proceeded more cautiously.
You’ve heard the old saw about not having enough time to do a job right the first time, yet having to make the time later to fix it. As I discuss in my book Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped Up Society, one of the great paradoxes of our age is that often, to flourish in our sped-up society, sometimes the first and most critical step is to slow down:
* to get your bearings,
* to read the instructions,
* to reflect, or
* to rest.
If you have to, read instruction manuals, books, articles, reports, briefs, or data sheets. Allocate twice the time that you instinctively would to the organization, reading, and digestion of such materials.
Before sitting down to read or engage in any other information intake process, surround yourself with the tools that support your ability to capture the essence of what you are reading and aptly apply it.
What is it Like?
Here is an exercise for whatever you’ve been asked to handle and whatever results are to be achieved: Is there something else in your work, your life, or the world you can identify that is similar like to what you’ve been assigned?
Has there been a previous project that you can examine and learn from? Did you work on something in a previous position, come across an article or case study, or know someone who managed a situation that has some similarities to yours?
Going a step further, are there any processes in nature, politics, or relationships that have elements that you can draw upon? Looking for a metaphor is not some esoteric, airy-fairy type of recommendation.
After all, people tend to naturally do this anyway. We relate one or more things that we know to what we are presently trying to learn in order to make our learning task easier.
In the early days of personal computers, manufacturers and developers used a metaphor of the human brain in both the design and explanation of how computers work. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was sufficient to give most people an idea as to what computers could do, how they operated, and how to put them to work for you.
Giving yourself time and slack by scheduling days of grace increases the probability of seeing corollaries between what you have been assigned to manage and other things that you have come across in work or in life.
Pad Your Schedule
This sounds like heresy but to the degree practical, give yourself extra time at the start of a new week. This is time not merely for reading, but for thinking, reflecting, scheduling, and anticipating critical junctures.
Too often, you are thrown into a situation, often on short notice, and asked to perform miraculous results. Even in such instances, if you can maneuver for some extra time up-front, insights as well as genuine opportunities emerge that otherwise might not have.
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It the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work while maintaining a happy, healthy home-life
Work-life balance (WLB) is the ability to experience a sense of control and to stay productive and competitive at work while maintaining a happy, healthy home-life with sufficient leisure. WLB, also referred to by some as work-life harmony, work-life shift, work-life blend, work-life effectiveness, or work-life integration, requires focus and awareness despite seemingly endless tasks and activities competing for our time and attention.
Work-life balance entails having what I call “breathing space” for yourself each day, feeling a sense of accomplishment while not being consumed by work, and having an enjoyable domestic life without short-changing career obligations. WLB is rooted in whatever fulfillment means to you within the course of a day and a week, and however many years you have left in your life.
Several disciplines support work-life balance though, individually, none are synonymous with work-life balance:
1) Self Management
Sufficiently managing one’s self can be challenging, particularly in getting proper sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Self-management is the recognition that effectively using the spaces in our lives is vital, and that life, time, and available resources are finite. It means becoming captain of our own ship; no one is coming to steer for us.
2) Time Management
Effective time management involves making optimal use of your day and the supporting resources that can be summoned – you can only keep pace when your resources match your challenges. Time management is enhanced through appropriate goals and discerning what is both important and urgent, versus important OR urgent. It entails understanding what you do best and when, and assembling the appropriate tools to accomplish specific tasks.
3) Stress Management
By nature, societies tend to become more complex over time. In the face of increasing complexity, stress on the individual is inevitable. More people, noise, and distractions, independent of one’s individual circumstances, require each of us to become more adept at maintaining tranquility and being able to work ourselves out of pressure-filled situations. Most forms of multi-tasking ultimately increase our stress, while focusing on one thing at a time helps decrease stress.
4) Change Management
In our fast-paced world, change is virtually the only constant. Continually adopting new methods, adapting old, and re-adapting all methods is vital to a successful career and a happy home life. Effective change management involves offering periodic and concerted efforts so that the volume and rate of change at work and at home does not overwhelm or defeat you.
5) Technology Management
Effectively managing technology requires ensuring that technology serves you, rather than abuses you. Technology has always been with us, since the first walking stick, spear, flint, and wheel. Today, the rate of technological change is accelerating, brought on by vendors seeking expanding market share. Often you have no choice but to keep up with the technological Joneses, but rule technology, don’t let it rule you.
6) Leisure Management
The most overlooked of the work-life balance supporting disciplines, leisure management acknowledges 1) the importance of rest and relaxation, 2) that “time off” is a vital component of the human experience, and 3) that one can’t indefinitely short-change leisure without repercussions. Curiously, too much of the same leisure activity, however enjoyable, can lead to monotony. Thus, effective leisure management requires varying one’s activities.
Achieving work-life balance does not require radical changes in what you do. It is about developing fresh perspectives and sensible, actionable solutions that are appropriate for you. It is fully engaging in life with what you have, right where you are, smack dab in the ever-changing dynamics of your existence.
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Let us be free to like what we like and not have others be the gatekeepers of our intellectual pursuits
I read a remarkable Letter to the Editor in a college newspaper, from a young black student. The point of his letter was so amazing and its insights so profound that it needs to be shared across the country for everyone, of all races.
This student wrote that, as a black male, it would inaccurate to make judgments about him without knowing him personally. He highlighted, for example, that while he likes some rap music, he much prefers traditional rock and roll, and even an occasional country song.
Is Your Bias Showing?
He wrote that if you think a black student should not like country music then your bias is showing. Why couldn’t a student, of any race or ethnicity, enjoy a particular type of music even if it’s not traditionally ascribed to his or her particular group? Who is in control here?
He likes historical novels, modern novels, biographies, and autobiographies. He was captivated by a biography about the Wright Brothers. He enjoys poetry and finds the poems from many writers to be relevant to him, from Maya Angelou to Carl Sandberg.
He suggests that there is a world of possibilities when it comes to entertainment, music, and literature. Why, he asks, must we be confined to the narrow band of choices that others, particularly within our own races and ethnicities, suggest that we adhere to? Who decides what is best for all members of a particular group? On what do they base their decisions?
Who determined that venturing outside of such restrictive limits is somehow being a traitor to one’s group? And what does it mean to even be a traitor when it comes to literature, history, music, and so on?
He pointed out in the most eloquent of terms that following the dictates of a small section of the populace and adhering to the stereotypes that prevail are extremely limiting to one’s personal freedom and an attack on one’s individuality and, potentially, creativity.
With so many experiences and possibilities that one can enjoy, he ponders, why limit yourself, especially at the age of 19, 20, or 21 to predefined, limiting confines?
No Free for All
I marveled at this young man’s wisdom which seems to transcend his years. I certainly was not as wise and perceptive myself at that age.
Over the next few days, I was eager to see if there would be any responses to his letter. Surely, he’s going to get some blowback. Someone of his own race will tell him that he needs to get “back in his lane.” Someone will tell him he’s “not acting black,” or not black enough. Somebody else will say that he’s been brainwashed, probably from an early age and he’s trying to capitulate to the predominant Caucasian culture. Someone might call him an “Uncle Tom.”
While I was monitoring the publication, actually nothing was said of his letter. I hoped maybe somebody else, or lots of somebody else’s, understood the man’s viewpoint. They could see the wisdom in his observations. I thought perhaps someone would comment in that direction, but that didn’t happen either.
Free to Choose
In the larger sense, it’s a shame that blacks and other minorities, as well as Caucasians, are supposed to act this way or that way. Hispanics are supposed to prefer this versus that. Asians are supposed to do this versus that. Why, exactly, do these illegitimate confines continue to rule the perceptions of vast numbers of our population?
Why can’t we be free to like what we like, to prefer what we prefer, and have others not be the gatekeepers of our intellectual pursuits?
I have no knowledge of this young man and how he has fared in his studies and overall life. I surmise that whatever he’s doing, whether it’s continuing in his education, landing a job, entering the military, volunteering, traveling, or simply taking time off, he will continue to pursue his interests and remain unique.
Bound for Success
Hopefully, he’ll continue to sidestep unwarranted, prevailing norms that dictate what he can like, think, and be. May we all strive to have such personal freedom.
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