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Less Stress, Starting Now

As technological wonders increasingly dominate our lives, it becomes harder to concentrate

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The news each day is bad enough. As the Internet, mobile devices, and many other technological wonders increasingly dominate our lives, it becomes harder to concentrate on any single idea, item, or issue.

Understandably, people everywhere find themselves being besieged by competing demands for their time and attention, practically commanding them to practice multitasking. “Answer the phone.” “Click here.” “Push here.” “Open me.” “Complete our survey.” “Switch me on.” “Do it all at once!”

Equally unfortunate, multitasking is often promoted as a way for us to meet the complex demands of modern society — and accomplish more in the same amount of time. Have you ever attempted to work on two things at once? You don’t accomplish much, and time mysteriously disappears.

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Juggling Tasks is not Pretty

If your like most people, you often find yourself perpetually attempting to do many things at once: continue reviewing a client’s records, handle email, be ready for an important phone call, etc. Yet, attempting to do many things simultaneously can actually have the opposite effect; it makes you less efficient and contributes to stress.

No matter what analogies or metaphors you might have heard, a human being is not a computer. Computers can multitask with ease; the Windows operating system, for example, is capable of running any number of programs without sacrificing accuracy or peace of mind.

While there are some low level tasks here and there in which you can multitask, such as eating and watching television, for you and me, multitasking is an idea whose time should never have come.

Potentially Dangerous

The primary cost of multitasking is, ironically, exactly what you are often desperate to save: time. Multitasking is not only ineffective, it’s also potentially dangerous. On the highway, concentrating on a phone call inevitably detracts from a driver’s ability to focus on the road, putting them at dire risk of injury.

Several studies have found that cell phone use while driving leads to an increased risk of automobile accidents.

Back in the office, how can handle your daily tasks without becoming so stressed or frustrated that you cannot finish any of them? The short answer: less is more. Science has shown that your brain works best when it gives sharp attention in one direction. There is no greater efficiency than focusing on the task at hand and giving it your full concentration.

When an airline flight is canceled and people rush to the reservation desk and scramble to catch the next plane or some other connection, does the gate agent attempt to take on five or 10 people at a time? No.

He or she looks at the computer and handles a particular customer’s rerouting, looking up only sparingly. The attendant is not fazed by a 20-person line because it is practical to proceed through it one customer at a time.

Seek Completions

Suppose you are continually interrupted by the phone whenever you try to work at your PC. You cannot do your best work because when the phone rings you lose your concentration and focus. How can you handle that situation so that both jobs get the best of your attention? The key is a process called “mental completion.”

When the phone rings while you are working on your computer, silently recognize yourself by thinking, “I acknowledge myself for coming this far on this project.” Then save the work on your screen and turn to the phone.

Give the caller your complete and undivided attention; take notes, even smile into the phone. Do whatever you need to do in order to be successful on that phone call. At the end of the call, put the phone down, acknowledge yourself for handling it, and turn back to your earlier task.

The process of giving yourself a mental completion on all tasks, or even thoughts, sets up a mental partition. You gain more energy, more focus, and more direction for your next task. Both your productivity and your peace of mind will improve. And that is worth experiencing.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Life

Too Tired for Your Own Good

The realization that you are fatigued is the first step to resolution

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It’s Sunday. Go back to bed and then return to this article!

Based on what you do an average day, it is understandable that sometimes you feel very tired, but when is the tired feeling that you have bordering on danger? Many signs exist, among them these:

    1. Your fatigue is prolonged. Getting several nights of extra sleep in a row or sleeping for an entire weekend doesn’t seem to put a dent in your feeling of fatigue. Perhaps worse, you feel as if you “will never catch up.”
    2. You experience indigestion or lack of appetite. You normally look forward to meals, but when highly fatigued, you have trouble getting them down. Maybe, you’re eating less.
    3. Loss of sex drive. This isn’t as obvious a sign as you might think. Loss of your libido usually takes place a little bit at a time, such that you don’t notice what’s going on. Your partner probably will, though.
    4. You begin to experience trouble getting to sleep, if not outright insomnia. During the night, you find yourself waking more often or tossing back and forth, and then to exacerbate the situation, you spend the rest of the night worrying that you’re not getting good sleep.
    5. You feel tired in the morning even after getting a full night’s sleep. Realistically, there’s no reason for this. If by 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning, you can hardly keep your head up, it’s time to take heed.
    6. Your ability to focus on the task at hand is diminished. Your powers of concentration are not what they have been in the past. Generally, this is not due to your aging.
    7. You feel that you’re no longer in control. In many ways, this is the most insidious of the signs. You doze at highly inopportune moments, such as in an important meeting, or when driving.

Not Enough Sleep, but Otherwise Functional

Here’s a second list of indicators showing that you’re not getting enough sleep, but perhaps you’re not at the danger level:

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  • Your eyes are red.
  • You’re not mentally sharp.
  • You avoid tasks that involve adding up numbers.
  • You find yourself daydreaming often.
  • In situations with others you simply go through the motions.
  • You don’t want to handle any phone calls if you can help it.
  • You watch the clock frequently throughout the day, hoping it will go by more quickly.

Before I learned how to keep my stress level in check, I used to look forward to going to the dentist. When I got to the dentist’s chair, and they tilted the seat back, it was one of the few times during the day where I actually reclined and had relatively little to do. If there wasn’t to be any drilling or serious poking during the session, such as a routine visit or cleaning, in some cases I became so relaxed that I didn’t want to leave. For me, that was an indication that I was highly fatigued.

You probably have your own personal corollaries to this. The realization that you are fatigued is the first step to increasing your efficiency and defeating the problem.  A life of constant exhaustion, no matter what else you accomplish, is not a desirable situation. No one, however, is coming to bail you out.

The road back from exhaustion starts with self-awareness, then resolve, then action. Will today be that day?

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Life

Work-life Balance and the Five-Mega-Realities

Work-life balance 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 needed leisure

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In the 1st edition of my book Breathing Space which appeared in 1990, I discussed five major trends – what I called mega-realities – that influenced every aspect of our being, and from which no one was immune. Briefly, these five mega-realities include:

* an expanding volume of knowledge
* mass media growth and electronic addiction
* the paper trail culture
* an over-abundance of choices
* population growth.

Knowledge – In one way or another, everyone fears being under-informed. The enormous volume of new knowledge broadcasted and published in every field exceeds our ability to keep pace. More words are published and broadcast in a day than you could ingest during your lifetime. America leads the world in sheer volume of information generated and disseminated.

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The impasse of this over-information era is that the time necessary to learn the rules for effective living now exceeds your lifetime. This is why management books so often miss the mark: they list dozens — if not hundreds — of rules, when you are already grappling with more rules than you can handle.

Mass Media – The effect of the mass media on our lives continues unchecked. More than four out of five American households own DVD players. In 1972, three major television networks dominated television – ABC, NBC and CBS. Now, there are more than 500 full-power independent television stations. Many cable TV subscribers receive up to 200 channels that offer more than 72,000 shows per month.

With its sensationalized trivia, the mass media glut obscures fundamental issues that do merit concern, such as preserving the environment or feeding the poor.

Paper Trails – Like having too much data and eyewitness reports, having too much paper to deal with makes you feel overwhelmed and overworked. Americans today are consuming three times as much paper as ten years ago. There are two basic reasons why society spews so much paper:

* We have the lowest postal rates in the world.
* We have the widest base of paper-generating technologies.

The typical executive receives more than 200 pieces of unsolicited mail each month – about 12 pieces daily. The average family receives more than 100 catalogs that they did not request, on top of those they did request.

An Overabundance of Choices – Having choices is a blessing of the free market economy, but it’s overwhelming, increases time expenditure, and is a mounting form of exhaustion. More than 1,260 varieties of shampoo are on the market. More than 2,000 skin-care products are for sale. An excess of 75 different types of exercise shoes are available, each with scores of variations in style, function, and features.

Population – From the beginning of creation to 1,850 AD, world population grew to one billion. It grew to two billion by 1930, and is now approaching eight billion. Every three years, nearly 250,000,000 people are added to the planet.

Each day, world population (births minus deaths) increases by more than 265,000 people. Geometric growth in human population permeates and dominates every aspect of our earth, its resources, the environment, and all living things.

The Quest for Work-life Balance

Against this backdrop, the quest for work-life balance is more vital than ever. Predictably, a preponderance of speakers, trainers, authors, journalists, and others whose professions entail regular communication with the masses, proclaim the virtues of achieving and maintaining work-life balance.

However, a glaring question arises. What, exactly, is work-life balance? Compared to the legions of instances in which the term is cited, surprisingly little has been written in articles and books about what the concept actually entails.

During my 33 years in pursuit of understanding why the pace of society has sped up, what the impact has been on the typical individual, and how each of us can forge our own sense and experience of breathing space throughout our lives, I have honed and refined the tenets of what I consider work-life balance.

What Exactly is Work-life Balance ?

For several years now, those who apparently have no idea what work-life balance is and have virtually never experienced it are proclaiming that it is passe — in favor of work-life harmony or work-life integration.

The truth is, these terms all mean approximately the same things. You can split hairs anyway you want, and I suppose that’s a good way to differentiate a program if you’re seeking to offer one to clients, but the reality is work-life balance is the overarching issue of our time that all career professionals strive to achieve.

Work-life balance 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. It is attaining focus and awareness, despite seemingly endless tasks and activities competing for your time and attention.

Work-life balance entails having some 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. It is rooted in whatever fulfillment means to you within 24-hour days, seven-day weeks, and however many years you have left.

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