Feeling time-pressed and stressed is the realty for many people these days, and I believe it has something to do with the constant spinning plates we chase day after day. Our culture has become increasingly task-driven, and somewhere around the end of the 20th century, being busy became a badge of honor. The busier you are, the more you multi-task, the more important you are, right? Wrong.
It seems that our society measures competence and success based on the metrics of busyness. But, I believe better success criteria and, consequently, better stress management, come from the same place: developing a new mindset. A mindset that prioritizes being present and productive at the right time of the day, and that places rest and recharge at the top of the must-do list.
Rather than continuing to search for that mythic grail we call work/life balance, we need to learn how to shift gears and slow down. Instead of focusing on being busy all the time, or feeling frustrated that we aren’t accomplishing enough, we need to find the gears that allow us to slow down and connect with the people who matter most. We need to practice being present. And we need to recharge.
So that new mindset I speak of? The first step in achieving it involves getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, long enough for a new pattern of thinking to emerge. Most of us are used to multitasking all day long, so intentionally slowing down feels uncomfortable. We’ve forgotten that being still or quiet is where our best insights come from, or that those real conversations that happen eye to eye (when we’ve intentionally put down our smartphones) are what make reconnecting to a spouse or a child possible.
Learn to Shift Gears
There’s time enough in every day to be productive, as well as to connect with the people who matter in your world — if you are willing to be intentional in creating a rhythm to your day. The key word here is intentionality. You can hope you’ll have meaningful connections with your family or friends, or be productive at work, but if you really want these things to happen, you have to plan how you’re going to accomplish it.
Here’s what that looks like: Imagine your daily routine like the stick shift on a manual transmission car. The higher gears, 4 and 5, are for multi-tasking and total focus. The lower gears, 1 and 2, are for recharge and connecting. Third gear is for socializing (and you can shift up or down, depending on what the situation dictates.) And reverse is for backing up and apologizing. The idea is that we need to recognize there are certain times of day to be “doing” productive things in 4th gear, and certain times we need to shift into a lower, slower gear so we can practice “being” present with others and connecting relationally.
In our constant busyness, we live in 4th gear most of the time. How many times have you been sitting with your family halfway listening to what they’re trying to tell you about their day, while simultaneously reading an email on your smartphone? You’re stuck in the wrong gear when that happens! If you stay in 4th or 5th gear too long in your car, particularly when the pace should be slower (say, going downhill) you’ll wreck your transmission. In real life terms, being in 4th gear when you need to be in 2nd wrecks your relationships, creating unnecessary drama and stress.
Learn to Recharge
Spending too much time in 4th or 5th gear also prevents us from getting the kind of rest and recharge we need to be truly effective in every area of our lives. This also creates stress — both physical and emotional. We’re like the spinning paint wheel on an iPhone. When our batteries are low, we don’t process anything well. But if we learn what complete recharge is for our personality type and seek out intentional time to rest, everyone in our lives benefits.
For some, a recharge is a round of golf with friends or dinner out with a group. For others, it’s taking a walk or having time alone to read or think. Whatever it is for you, make it a priority. Then, when it’s time to listen intently to a loved one’s concern, you’ll have the energy for the conversation that helps the other person feel valued and affirmed. When it’s time to shift to 5th gear and crank out that report for work, you’ll be sharp and ready because your tank is full.
Ultimately, your new mindset means relationships come before opportunity. Put the people in your life ahead of the tasks on your to-do list. Make connecting with those you love and those you lead a priority. The work will always be there waiting. But will the people? Take it from one who was running over his family constantly and realized the solution to better productivity was actually found in learning to slow down, connect and recharge: developing a different mindset will reduce the stress in your life.
Bestselling author Jeremie Kubicek is co-author of 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time and co-founder of GiANT Worldwide, a global company dedicated to transforming and multiplying leaders and teams. Follow him on Twitter at @jeremiekubicek.