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More how-to guides for life
Sunday, October 12, 2003
How to's for life A monthly guide

By Sherry Stripling, Seattle Times staff reporter

If Americans quit working on Oct. 24, and didn't work for the rest of the year, we would be working the same amount as the average European, say the organizers of the Oct. 24 "Take Back Your Time Day." Even with high unemployment, the country is experiencing near-record mandatory overtime. Can we learn to slow down and enjoy our families, our lives and even our food? Small changes can help. Here are some ideas on how to find a better life balance, including how to approach your company.


1. Prioritize your day. Do what you need to do, then enjoy your life.

2. Learn when to say "No." Delegate what you do not personally need to do. Set appropriate boundaries to your workload, both personally and professionally. Help out when it is not a burden to do so.

3. De-clutter your life (more time, less stuff). Initially this will take some "time," but the rewards you will reap in the long run are enormous. Eliminate the nonessentials at home and office. What you do not need or use, try to sell, donate, or recycle. Organize your files, closets, desk and life. It saves time in the long run.

4. Be efficient: Handle every piece of paper, e-mail, mail only once. Don't leave it for later, and don't procrastinate.

5. Have your own "Time Outs" (recess isn't only for kids). Make your lunch, break, dinner, family, pet and partner play times all sacred. Try shutting off the TV, videos and computers.

6. An hour a day keeps the doctor away. Health recommendations are for an hour of exercise each day. To maintain healthy habits (exercise/play, quiet time/meditation/relaxation, enough sleep and healthy eating habits) we need to be less stressed and rushed.

7. Time is a family value. Separate work from your personal life (without guilt). Take your vacation, holidays, earned time off, whenever possible.

— Jeanne-Marie Maher, MD, FACP, is a physician and life coach who can be contacted at, or by e-mail at

"Everything is future-oriented. You could get all the way through to the end (of life) and realize that you've missed what's most magnificent about our lives, which has to do with genuine contact and intimacy with people, the beauty of nature, sinking deeply into a good book, spending time with your children."
    — David Levy, University of Washington professor


What you can do as a manager:

1. Ask your employees what aspects of work keep them from spending enough time with family, volunteering in the community, exercising, or pursuing other goals outside of work. Ask them what changes they would make in their work processes — scheduling periods without interruption, eliminating unnecessary reports and paperwork, streamlining meetings — so they can spend more time on what is important at work and in their personal life.

2. Manage by results, not "face time." Reward people for getting the job done, not for spending long hours at work.

3. Frankly evaluate what you are asking employees to do. Do you really need six-digit precision? Can one person really do the job that two people used to do?

4. Investigate reduced workload alternatives to layoffs. Almost two-thirds of people would like to work fewer hours.

What you can do as an employee

1. Examine your priorities and how you spend your time. You might feel overwhelmed in a given day or week, but keep your eye on the big picture. Are you moving in the right direction overall? If not, determine what you need to do — be true to yourself, dialogue with others, solicit support.

2. Develop skills to negotiate with your boss about when, where and how results are produced. Make sure that your suggestions benefit your employer, not just yourself.

3. Resistance to change is inevitable, so do your research. Be prepared to argue the business case for reducing work overload and redesigning work processes.

4. Recognize that we have different definitions of success. Some people enjoy working long hours. Others want to volunteer in a child's school, weed the garden, or train for a marathon. Respect each other. Don't impose your definition of "balance" on others.

— Sharon Lobel, professor of management at the Albers School of Business & Economics at Seattle University

"Take as much time as you can with your children when they come. Play with them. Read to them. It's as good for you as it is for them, maybe better. It don't get no better in this world, and if you miss those days, working all the time, you don't get a second chance."
   — A worker at Kellogg Co., talking about the glories of life after "liberation capitalist" W.K. Kellogg introduced the six-hour workday in 1930.


Understand the addictive nature of e-mail and then work to discipline yourself to check it less often, perhaps taking one day off a week. There's both a social and an inner pressure to stay connected all the time (this is also true with cellphones).

"There is a fear and a hope that comes with it. The fear is 'Uh-oh! Something needs my attention,' and the hope is something wonderful: 'Come to Paris for a week, all expenses paid,' " says David Levy, a University of Washington Information School professor. (Levy will direct a public forum, "Information and the Quality of Life," at Town Hall on May 10 that will explore the quality of our lives in relation to information and technology.)

"It's like hitting the slot machine again and again and again in the hope that you're going to hit the jackpot," said Levy, who exercises, meditates and takes time off to find a balance in life. "But e-mail is my Achilles' heel."

"We work in order to have leisure."
   — Aristotle


Americans have by far the shortest vacation hours, just 10.2 days after three years on the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A poll by says Americans gave back 175 million days of vacation to employers last year.

Studies show that men who take a vacation reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 percent. A study at the University of Tel Aviv found that vacation helps to gather lost emotional resources crashed by burnout, such as social support and a sense of mastery, and that it takes a minimum of two full weeks for the emotional restoration.

Pack at least two nights before your vacation so you have time to handle last-minute problems, especially if you're likely to stay at work late before you leave.

Don't try to see everything on your vacation. Schedule open days for laying around, changing your life pace.


1. You are behind a driver who hasn't noticed that the light has turned green. How do you respond?

(a) Give the person a moment to notice the light has changed.
(b) Blow your horn immediately.
(c) Blow your horn and express your irritation verbally.

2. You are in a slow-moving grocery line with time to spare. What are you most likely to do?

(a) Engage in a conversation with someone else.
(b) Check down the line to see how fast things are moving.
(c) Become irritated.

3. In conversing with others, how often do you interrupt them in midsentence?

(a) Not very often.
(b) Some of the time.
(c) Very often.

4. How much time during the day do you devote to prayer, pondering, meditation and/or just taking it easy?

(a) At least an hour.
(b) At least 30 minutes.
(c) Less than 30 minutes.

5. Which word best describes your feeling at the end of most days?

(a) Contented.
(b) Fatigued.
(c) Stressed.

6. When you see a rainbow, how long does it hold your attention?

(a) Many minutes.
(b) Several seconds.
(c) Just a second.

7. When was the last time you paid serious attention to a child?

(a) Today.
(b) Within the past few days.
(c) I can't remember.

8. How often do you feel joy in your work?

(a) Frequently.
(b) Often enough.
(c) Are you kidding?

9. How often do you speed up one activity to get to the next?

(a) Not often.
(b) Regularly.
(c) All the time.

10. How often do you hurry when there is no reason to?

(a) Never.
(b) Sometimes.
(c) I confess, I have rushed through this test.

If you answered (a) most of the time, chances are you are not running by life, you are savoring it. Congratulations on your pace. If you answered (b) or (c) most of the time, paying attention to your pace will be helpful. You have already started the process of making a change for the better. Review some of the (a) responses and begin practicing one or two of them. Develop your own strategies. You will create a more satisfying and sustainable living speed, one small change at a time.

— Kirk Jones, Ph.D., author of "Addicted to Hurry: Spiritual Strategies for Slowing Down" (Judson Press, June 2003). The full test is available at

Other resources: Take Back Your Time Day:; Putting Family First:; Work to Live vacation campaign:; Conversation Cafes:

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