OPINION: Tools of the trade: Busy women share their shortcuts, advice [Detroit Free Press :: ]
(Detroit Free Press (MI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 23--From the minute we get up each morning to the moment we collapse in our beds each night, almost every parent I know is busy, hyper-busy, the kind of busy that could make your over-scheduled head spin if you actually had time to think about it.
We rush out the door, race to work and spend our days super-connected through social media, text messages, e-mail and teleconferences. That's followed by shuttling kids to extracurricular activities, dinner, homework, laundry, dishes and paying bills.
Rinse. Repeat. Every single day.
Most of us never stop to take a breath, look around, and see that there's more to life than our dizzying state of busy-ness allows.
And it's stressing us out.
More than three-quarters of American adults say their stress levels have risen or remained the same over the last five years, according to the 2013 Stress in America study by the American Psychological Association, and 37% say that stress felt overwhelming in the month leading up to the survey.
So how do the busy people of the world slow down, cut the stress and make life enjoyable again? I asked some time-management experts along with local women for tips and tricks to simplify our too-busy lives.
Here are their secrets:
Schedule everything, share calendars
Your kids are going one way, your partner the other, and you've got stuff happening at the same time, too.
How do you keep it all straight? Shared calendars, says Michelle Rudzinski of Dearborn Heights, a mom of three kids ages 7-12.
"I can't claim to have not lost my mind," she says jokingly last week over the phone as she drove to pick up her daughter from an after-school activity. "But last year ... I discovered my husband and I could use the cloud to keep a calendar between our iPhone and iPad devices.
"Immediately, I noticed a huge difference. I stopped getting phone calls that would go something like this: 'Hey, what do we have going on this day?' " says Rudzinski, who works about 20 hours a week as an independent contractor for Oakwood Hospital's IT department and volunteers at St. Damian Catholic School in Westland.
"I am no longer the main keeper of all things going on in the family. ... My husband used to refer to me as his social coordinator, but I don't need one more thing to do. Managing the family calendar, when he can see it the same way I can see it and he can add to it, makes the whole thing easier."
Kristy Robinett, 43, of Livonia uses an app called Cozi to coordinate calendars with her husband and kids.
"Being self-employed, I am working 12 to 14 hours a day," says Robinett, who is a psychic-medium and life coach. "I'm also an author. I'm meeting deadlines. I'm a blogger. ... I've got four kids -- three are in college, my daughter is getting married and my son is 16 years old. He still keeps me hopping with his various activities. He's into pretty much every sport."
She says the key to balancing and juggling it all and fitting in time for herself is by putting it all on the calendar.
"I have to schedule that or it's not going to happen," she says. "If it's meeting friends for dinner or having that date night, even if it's a quick lunch with my husband or going to a movie with the kids, I pretty much put it on my calendar and have to schedule it in."
I couldn't believe how much easier life got when I stopped making runs to Target with all three of my kids in tow every time I needed diapers, or to Meijer for paper towels, laundry detergent and toilet paper. When I stopped dashing to the store every time one of my kids needed a gift for a birthday party or a plain white T-shirt for a school project, it felt like a huge relief.
Virtually everything I need is waiting for me online. For Target's Red Card members, there's free delivery of almost everything on its website. Plus, Amazon.com's Prime option -- even at the new, higher price of $99 a year -- is a huge, huge time-saver.
Sallie Justice, 45, of Berkley discovered the convenience of Amazon Prime over the holidays, when she couldn't find the Big Wheel bike she wanted to buy her nephew at any local stores. She signed up for Prime's free, two-day shipping and says it felt like a gift to her when it arrived.
"I remember when the truck pulled up," says Justice, the mother of two teens who works for the Area Agency on Aging 1B. "I was so happy."
Now, she says she no longer has to take her son to multiple stores in the mall to find things he likes. "He finds it online, and I just order it on Amazon," she says. "It's the first place I look if I need anything."
Along with the convenience, Amazon Prime also comes with many free book downloads for Kindle users and free streaming of dozens of movies and TV shows.
Kelly Loeffler, a 37-year-old mother of two from Grosse Ile, not only uses Amazon Prime for toiletries and household goods, she also gets food delivered from Door-to-Door Organics.
"I do it at night when my kids are sleeping, and bam, I've finished my shopping," says Loeffler, who works for Hewlett-Packard. "I rarely go to the store for stuff."
A box full of organic produce, eggs and dairy products arrives on her doorstep each Wednesday afternoon.
"I do a small box, so it feeds a family of two to four. We're also vegetarians, so it works well for us," says Loeffler. "The prices are competitive."
Most of the food comes from local farmers, including Calder's Dairy products and baked goods from Avalon in Detroit or Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. The company also delivers fresh meats, spices, condiments, oils, rice, pasta, canned goods and more. It picks up the previous weeks' packaging for recycling with each delivery.
"They're wonderful," she says.
"When I take the time to actually plan out our meals, we eat better; we save time. I don't have to go to Kroger very much. The only thing I go for is like soy milk and a few other things."
Another way to alleviate stress and free up time for fun is by being more efficient at work.
Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and author of "Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom-line Results and the Power to Deliver Both" (Greenleaf Book Group, $24.95), says that almost all of her clients tell her they are overwhelmed by all they have to do.
She helps them be more effective at work so they can spend more time away from their desks doing things they love. Sometimes that means avoiding the watercooler conversations or dawdling on social media so you can finish a project.
"I think the first thing is to really take an honest look at how you're spending your time," she says. Try to be super-efficient starting the minute you step foot in the office each morning.
Another tip: Schedule meetings back-to-back, she says, so you're not losing 30 minutes to an hour of productive time between meetings. If you get all of your meetings out of the way at once, it frees up larger chunks of time later to get other work done.
And when you are off, really be off, Eurich says.
"Maybe it's not as easy as saying, 'I'm not going to check e-mail in the evenings or on the weekends,' " she says. "But you do have to really set boundaries for yourself. Just get away from your phone. There's a lot of neuroscience research that shows the act of checking your e-mail or your Facebook feed has the same rewards as gambling. It's dopamine. You have to work really hard to curb those urges because they really, truly are physiological."
It's good to say no
Lots of us spend time making to-do lists. But the not-to-do list is more important, says Steve Chandler, a native Michigander and author of "Time Warrior: How to Defeat Procrastination, People-Pleasing, Self-Doubt, Over-Commitment, Broken Promises and Chaos" (Maurice Bassett, $15.99).
To reclaim some control over their lives, the first thing people ought to do is "decide what not to do," he says. "In other words, they need to be really ruthless about dropping things that are creeping into their day that they really didn't need to do. ... They need to include things like 'I'm not going to get on Facebook until I finish my work today, and then I'm going to treat myself.' "
The vital step in reclaiming your time is to stop allowing interruptions to sap productivity.
"People are open to all their friends and relatives communicating with them at all days and times," he says. "They're so afraid to not be available to all their friends and family throughout the day." The fear, he says, is rooted in the idea that a lack of availability equates to a lack of love.
"It's the endless, limitless desire to please other people that is taking up so much of the time that we have," Chandler says. "It's the open door sending the message that there is nothing but chaos here. ... Every time your focus is broken, you have to refocus, the quality of your work goes down, and it takes time to refocus."
Gail Innis, an educator for the Michigan State University Extension, says she learned the art of saying no to avoid over-scheduling when her kids were growing up in the 1980s in the Thumb. The trick is to do it politely, but be firm.
"When someone asks: 'Could you, Mrs. Jones, bake four dozen cookies for the school fund-raiser?' You say, 'I can't, but thanks for asking.' "
Limit how much your children can do after school. Innis had a one-sport-at-a-time rule for her kids.
"I do think we have an obligation to teach our children, too, that life will say no, that the world will say no, that the employer will say no. If we don't teach them that at home, they're going to have a very difficult lesson to learn. They need to understand that sometimes the answer is no."
What it all comes down to is that we are all really only as busy as we allow ourselves to be. We can slow down. We can say no. Each of us has the power to change the way we're living. All we have to do is make the conscious decision to do it.
What have you got to lose?
-- Kristen Jordan Shamus
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