Posts Tagged ‘balance’

I often struggle with maintaining an optimal level of organization throughout my work days. I’m easily distracted — particularly by new e-mail messages — and can lose hours of precious work time reading incoming e-mails and the assortment of accompanying attachments and Web links. Other times, I log into my e-mail network to send a quick message only to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantity of unread or neglected e-mails waiting for me. Next thing I know, it’s quitting time and I haven’t achieved many of my goals for the day.E-mail inbox

Imagine my excitement when, for a work project, I had to read a book addressing online journalism that just happened to dedicate a whole chapter on digital organization. Finally, the answers to my inefficient work methods were being handed right to me — literally! Through this book, I learned of a Web site called Getting Things Done, which was founded by David Allen.

One of Allen’s best suggestions, in my opinion at least, is to spend no more than two minutes on each e-mail, whether replying, filing, or deleting the message. If you can’t respond to the e-mail in two minutes, Allen recommends filing it into a folder. However, this organizational approach only works if you already have established a detailed folder system so you can quickly and efficiently determine which folder is most appropriate and then — here’s the important part — remember to return to that e-mail for the necessary follow-up action.

I have always aimed to respond quickly to messages that require an immediate reply and often succeed at achieving that goal. It’s the follow-up that I struggle to remember, sometimes leaving my messages unanswered for long, inappropriate amounts of time. To remedy such a problem, Allen suggests creating a “waiting on” folder for storing e-mails that you can’t reply to until you receive additional information, and a “read this” folder for storing e-mails that contain attachments or more informa­tion than can be read in two minutes. You can go back to those when you have time or print them out to read later.

Well, I took this concept and ran with it, creating several additional folders for e-mails addressing subject areas about which I write, each freelance project I have worked on, each client I work with, and new ideas for future projects, among others. By setting up all these topic-specific folders, I know exactly where to place all my messages that I want to save – and they don’t clog up my inbox. I can now call up any one of them at a moment’s notice, if needed.

Allen’s overall goal is to look at each e-mail message only once, thus saving time, energy, and productivity. I have implemented this method in my own daily work routine and, so far, it has been working like a charm. I have even started to carve out time in the mornings and late afternoons to read the e-mails I place in various folders throughout the day. Now, I’m able to focus my attention on the required work at hand, while still taking breaks to read all the formerly neglected messages I receive. Hopefully, these tips can help alleviate some disorganization in your daily work days too!


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During a recent day of traveling, I found myself exhausted on the morning flight. It didn’t make any sense though — I awoke at the same time I always do and I wasn’t rushed to get ready, yet I couldn’t wait to close the plane’s window shade, shut my eyes, and nap for the duration of the flight.

I was stirred awake a few hours later and began reviewing the morning’s schedule for clues that might explain my exhaustion. That’s when I struck gold. To arrive timely for my flight, I had to get out of bed right away and immediately get ready to head out the door, whereas normally I Morning in bedam able to slowly wake, watch the news, read a few pages of my book, snuggle with my dog, and close my eyes off and on for a few minutes before actually rising out of bed and starting my day.

This relaxing routine of mine usually takes about 30 minutes, though sometimes it can extend to an hour. I recognize this is a luxury of being a self-employed writer who works at home. Regardless, this morning routine is exactly what I need to function properly each day. My body just can’t handle “abrupt wakeups,” as I call typical morning alarm-driven routines.

We all probably have some routine that calms and relaxes us, and we should take the time to acknowledge those needs and set aside time to achieve them. Maybe you relish the idea of reading the paper while savoring a cup of coffee, going for a run as soon as you arise, or listening to your favorite talk radio show. Whatever morning routine gives you peace of mind — and establishes a positive and happy vibe all day long — I urge you to allot enough time to realize it every day.

Next time necessity dictates my morning routine vary from the norm, I’ll be sure to respect my idiosyncrasies by adding enough time to slowly wake up in bed — and feel more balanced throughout the day.

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It’s official: I have become one of those people. Or at least that’s what my husband repeatedly tells me, with obvious disdain in his voice.  The annoying thing is that he’s right. I am constantly checking my smart phone for missed calls and e-mails. When I’m bored forCrackberry longer than three minutes (know how we supposedly live in an “ADD nation”? I could often be the posterwoman!), I whip out my phone to read the latest news headlines, check in with friends on Facebook, or play a game of solitaire. I must fess up — my name is Dina and I am addicted to the technology of a smart phone.

It all started so innocently. I promised myself when I purchased the phone (for work purposes, primarily) that I would not become dependent, engrossed, or driven by its advantages. I merely wanted to check e-mail as needed so that I was not tied down to my computer during the day. I envisioned the smart phone as freeing, granting me even more mobility with my freelance work.

But know the first thing I do when I wake up each morning? Check my phone for e-mail. First thing I do before bed? You got it, check my phone for e-mail. In fact, when the phone blinks an orange light to notify a new e-mail, voice mail, text message, or missed call, I check it every time — immediately. Sometimes I try to ignore the blinking, but it somehow tempts me with every blink of bright orange light: Message! Message! Message! I just can’t resist it.

I suspect that some may wonder whether this phone-checking habit of mine is of any real consequence. Our society readily embraces the idea of accessibility as an asset, and I am merely one more person taking advantage of our ever-ready communication abilities. Indeed, technology can be helpful, even life-saving at times.

However, I think the explosion of technology begs the question: Where is the balance? I’m not suggesting that we all toss our smart phones out the window, but rather, perhaps we should consider whether we could actually benefit from turning it off every now and then. Take some time just for you, your family, and friends. Allow yourself to be in the moment, be bored in the store checkout line, relax at a red light while driving.

One of my primary goals in life is to maintain a calm, balanced, and peaceful existence. However, if I am completely honest with myself, my recently excessive use of technology is incongruous with that goal. So I’ve decided to take a few steps to avoid becoming a slave to my smart phone, including placing it out of eyesight while working so that enticing little device of a phone can no longer bait and trap me into procrastinating. I also am creating a personal ban of any e-mailing or texting while engaging in other activities, such as conversations, walks, and drives.

Smart phones interrupt face-to-face conversations, quiet time, vacations, and relaxing weekends. We should use technology to enhance the balance and calmness in our lives — not infiltrate our lives with stress and less connection with other humans. I hope my new personal parameters bring about peace, or at least more balance, in a technologically-advanced, hurried world. And I can avoid the Crackberry Addict label, to boot.

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Menu planning2

Ever come home from a long day of work feeling tired and hungry, scan your cookbooks for something – anything – you can serve to your family for dinner, finally settle on a recipe, only to realize that you don’t have the needed ingredients in your house? Finding yourself back at square one, you reluctantly order pizza or other fast food, sabotaging your healthy diet efforts and feeling guilty for doing so.

This was a routine scenario in my household several years ago. My stomach growled louder and louder with each turn of the cookbook page; oftentimes, I gave up on the search effort before even choosing a recipe. I was just too fatigued and hungry to muster up the energy required to eat smartly. The idea of spending time selecting a recipe, gathering the ingredients, and cooking the meal was too much for my tired and food-deprived brain to handle.

All that has changed now that I plan a week’s worth of recipes at a time and grocery shop specifically for the necessary ingredients. This technique ensures my husband and I eat a variety of healthful foods, guarantees I have all ingredients on stock, and prevents desperate, last-minute hunts for dinner. I save money and avoid wasting food by not buying unnecessary ingredients, to boot.

My menu planning routine usually begins on Sunday, when I sit down for about 10 to 15 minutes with my cookbooks and other recipes I have collected, browsing them for appealing meals. I make certain the week’s dinners provide an assortment of nutrients and a variety of foods, including brown rice, whole wheat pasta, vegetables, and protein. Then I make an accompanying grocery list and head to the grocery store for the week’s foods.

Since this process can be a bit rigid, I try to inject flexibility wherever I can. If, for example, I am busy all Sunday, I allot another time to menu plan and grocery shop. If social plans arise mid-week, I save one of my planned recipes to cook at a later time. For just this purpose, I have learned to always include at least one recipe in the weekly list that does not require fresh ingredients, and I prepare the meals that do include fresh ingredients early in the week.

Now that I menu plan on a weekly basis, I am less stressed in the evenings – not to mention less hungry and, therefore, grouchy – which allows me to enjoy a healthful meal with my husband each night.Menu planning!

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eyestrain2Intense eye aches used to invade my workday. I took breaks, but by that time, my eyes were so strained and fatigued that I couldn’t focus on anything. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and shut out the world. Nothing short of the complete darkness and comfort of a cold compress over my eyes eased my pain. And at that point, it usually took several hours to feel better. That’s not how I wanted to spend my workdays.


As it turns out, I have “computer vision syndrome” — eyestrain caused by staring at a computer screen for long periods. According to various studies, this syndrome is responsible for 50 to 90 percent of all eye trouble among people who work all day at a computer screen. Although I had already taken a key first step toward easing the symptoms of this syndrome by wearing glasses when I work on the computer to enlarge the text and reduce the glare, these horrific eye aches continued to invade my work space.


To avoid popping pain pills on a daily basis and risking addiction or building resistance to them, I pursued holistic options to help my eye problems.


Chrysanthemum Tea

First, I sought the advice of my acupuncturist, who recommended that I take frequent breaks from the computer, including at least one a day to drink chrysanthemum tea. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using this flower, which is naturally beneficial for eyes, for centuries. The tea break is soothing and relaxing, to boot, which helps intersperse balance throughout a hectic work day.


I admit that I don’t take routine breaks to drink the tea, as advised, but when I sense the slightest signs of impending eyestrain — including dryness, blurred vision, eye irritation or headaches — I stop working, step away from the computer, and make myself a cup of chrysanthemum tea. Within the hour, I feel better and can get back to my regular work schedule.


Eye-friendly Workspace

Since my work requires sitting at a desk and using a computer for long stretches of time, I have taken steps to create an eye-friendly office. Here are some steps you can take to ease the strain on your eyes:

·         Adjust the monitor: Position your monitor directly in front of you at about 20 to 28 inches from your eyes (generally speaking, as long as the monitor is an arm’s length distance away, you should be fine). Keep the top of your screen at eye level or below so that you look down slightly at your work.

·         Reduce the glare: Bright lighting and too much glare can make it difficult to see objects on the screen, which strains the eyes. Place your monitor so that the brightest light sources are off to the side, at a right angle to your monitor. Consider turning off some or all of the overhead lights and use an adjustable desk lamp instead. Close blinds and shades and avoid placing your monitor directly in front of a window or white wall. Use a glare-reducing screen to minimize glare from overhead lighting. Adjust the contrast and brightness on the monitor to a level that’s comfortable for you and ensure the font is large enough to easily read.

·         Clean the monitor: Wipe the dust from your computer screen regularly. Dust on the screen cuts down on contrast and may contribute to glare and reflection problems.

·         Position your keyboard properly: Place your keyboard directly in front of your monitor. If you place it at an angle or to the side, your eyes have to focus at different distances from the screen, which tires the eyes unnecessarily.

·         Keep reading materials close: Place reading and reference materials on a document holder beside the monitor. They should at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes as the monitor to prevent your eyes from constantly refocusing.


Eye Exercises

I also have adopted some eye exercises and meditation routines to help decrease my eye aches. Experts recommend taking the following steps:

·         Exercise your eyes: Every 20 to 30 minutes, look away from the computer screen and focus on a distant object for five to 10 seconds. Or, look at a far away object for 10 to 15 seconds and then a nearby object for 10 to 15 seconds. Go back and forth between the two objects 10 times.

·         Meditate: Rub your palms quickly together until they feel warm. Cup them over your eyes, feeling the heat emanating from your palms. Slow your breathing and sit quietly in this position for five to 10 minutes.

·         Blink: Every 30 minutes, blink 10 times, closing your eyelids very slowly as if falling asleep. Blinking produces tears that can help moisten and lubricate your eyes, thereby preventing eye dryness and aches.

·         Take breaks: Try to give yourself a five-minute rest from the computer screen every hour. Do other work, such as phone calls or filing, during this time. Try to stand up and move around at least once every hour or so.


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quit-signTwo weeks into a new job, I realized I had bit off more than I could chew. I was working late every night, I was stressing about meeting deadlines, and I was generally feeling stressed and unhappy. What was I to do? My gut and intuition were telling me to quit, particularly before I became more invested in the company, colleagues, and projects, after which it would be harder to make a clean break.


I encountered a similar experience one year ago while working for a client that required jugging schedules, relying upon others to complete their work, and partnering with colleagues who did not respect my personal time — all factors I find particularly difficult to deal with. Despite my misery, I continued working on the project, ignoring my intuition and the multiple signs chauffeuring me away from the job, as well as the very real problems of my constant headaches, tense muscles, and restless sleep. If I continued on with this new job, I risked failing to benefit from the hard lessons learned from this previous experience. 


So why couldn’t I just pull the trigger and fire off the resignation e-mail? Rationally, I knew quitting was the right step for me; I could spend at least 20 minutes giving a detailed description of all the reasons I should quit. Yet I questioned whether the situation would improve and wondered whether I should try harder to make it work.


Several days of hemming and hawing later, I had an “ah-ha” moment while discussing the topic with my mom. My problem was that I equate quitting with failing. Quitting, to me, meant admitting that I was wrong. In this case, I was wrong for accepting the job, wrong for being unable to complete the task, wrong for disliking the work. But in reality, quitting is about taking control of your own life and setting clear parameters for yourself. When you realize that an action, project, friendship, or situation does not fall in line with your particular boundaries, you must take steps to self preserve.


That doesn’t mean that you were wrong for trying something new. We were not meant to do everything. We are not perfect. The best thing we can do for ourselves is clearly identify our own limits and balance them with new endeavors, recognizing that not all of our goals will be realized — and that’s okay. Instead of believing that quitting a venture that is too painful or not worth the effort means that you failed, consider quitting a step toward controlling your own life, digging the boundaries in deeper to secure your balance.


Personally, I value time with my family and friends more than I value a high-powered career riddled with stress and pressure. Since this new project was requiring longer than I wanted to give, it wasn’t right for me. It doesn’t matter how my husband, friends, or family might have been able to respond under the same conditions, since parameters and boundaries for balance are inherently personal. All that mattered was I became conscious that this particular career move was compromising my life/work balance. So I sent that resignation e-mail and, not surprisingly, immediately felt relief. I had succeeded.


Next time you find yourself in a situation that feels out of control, consider whether quitting would preserve your mental well-being, overall health, and balance. Quitting just may be the most successful step you can take.


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knee-painI have had chronic knee pain for 13 years (I can’t believe it – 13 years!). My knees hurt after standing for 20 minutes or longer, so it obviously limits my activities. I have taken several steps to ease this pain, including two knee surgeries, multiple rounds of physical therapy, consultations with countless doctors, and acupuncture. The ancient Chinese tradition of acupuncture has by far been the most successful approach, but it has not completely eliminated my knee pain.


For the first 10 years or so of this chronic aching, I lamented my situation, rhetorically asked why this happened to me, and whined and moaned whenever I had to sit out some activity due to my “bad knees.” But my tune has changed during the last three years as I have begun to accept the persistent knee pain and explore whether it can add balance – and perhaps even a spiritual element – to my life.  


My knees are the weakest spot in my body, so when they start to hurt (particularly when I am not engaging in an activity known to cause pain), I know something is amiss within. I now take the cue to explore whether I am too stressed or unbalanced at that point in my life and then take various steps to regain my footing. My chronic knee pain even helped signal excess stress due to a demanding job that provided no satisfaction. Acupuncture had lessened my pain overall, yet I was still experiencing unexplainable pain in my knees at all times of the day and night. After some reflective thinking, I ended the job and my knee aches eased up again.


Although that might sound far-fetched, it’s true; and so my knees have become my internal compass, my guide to balance. I am now conscious of taking self care and don’t mind sitting down and resting, enjoying the moment and intentionally observing my surroundings. Rest is crucial to our well-being and overall health; however, we rarely make it a priority, instead often choosing to cram in every last to-do list item and social activity. My knees force me to recognize the importance of rest. I now schedule rest in between long stretches of errands, house cleaning, and exercising, for example. Knee pain also can be a sign that I need to stretch my muscles, particularly those in my legs and hips, to ease the pain, and also to engage in deep breathing and quiet moments where I turn my thoughts inward.


My bad knees have also created opportunities for me to cultivate new interests in exercises that I previously would not have explored. As my normal routine of stair-step machines, aerobic classes, and other hard-hitting activities became too painful, I was forced to slow down my workouts and re-evaluate my goals. I am now an avid walker and swimmer – two activities I considered too low impact to be worthwhile before my knees acted up. And I now love yoga and tai chi, which I credit for bringing more spiritual awareness and meditative practices into my life.


This limitation, as I formerly considered it, has actually become one of my keys to balance – warning me whenever I am about to step over the edge and tip the scale in the wrong direction.  Don’t get me wrong, I would love to completely eliminate my never-ending knee ache, and I continue to explore options to do so. In the meantime, I think the pain is a unique tool I have been given to help me achieve balance, and I continue to look to it as my gauge to enhance my quality of life.


Next time you feel the urge to lambaste your particular ailment, pause for a moment. What is your body trying to communicate? Perhaps you’ve found your own balance barometer…and maybe it is suggesting that changes are in order.


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