Happy June, EWI of Spokane Ladies and Gents,
As a wife, mother, and professional for the last decade or so, I can’t tell you how many times I have talked to other working women (with or without children) about struggling to conquer that never-ending, ever-growing to-do list. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like I have an endless list of things that I need to do for others from the time I open my eyes in the morning until I am finally able to lay down to sleep at night. It’s not just about the things that need to get done; it also includes the challenges that come with relationships with spouses, significant others, family, friends, co-workers, bosses, subordinates, and that guy who cut me off on the way to work this morning. At work, accomplishing work tasks are one thing but confronting challenging relationships with superiors, peers, and superiors is stressful and taxing. Then, as you’re chugging along through your work day, (if you’re a mother of a school-aged child) you inevitably get a call from time to time from the school or daycare (“Jack is sick. Can you come get him?”).
How can we manage and reduce daily stress and live lives that are not perpetually running on emotional and psychological empty? On a recent drive home at lunch time to walk my dog, I listened to a daily radio program called “Living on the Edge” by Chip Ingram, who had some helpful answers to this question. He suggested three steps:
- Say No.
- Manage Expectations.
- Create Margin.
Say No. We must set priorities (I don’t mean daily priorities. I mean life priorities). What is most important to you in life? What gives life meaning? In other words, what is your purpose? Rank those priorities. Then analyze your daily activities and honestly answer whether each activity furthers the priorities you’ve listed. Is there an existing activity you can say no to so you have more space to say yes to something that furthers one of your priorities? Moving forward, make decisions, large and small, in the light of you priorities. Say yes to those things that further your priorities and say no to those things that do not further your priorities. Of course, we all have to deal with things we’d rather not. But, to the extent you have a choice, learn to say no to those things that wear you down, stress you out, and don’t further your priorities. Saying no does not have to be an uncomfortable experience. When asked to do something you either don’t want to do or don’t have the time to do, try telling the other person how much you appreciate the request, how much you believe in what you’ve been asked to do, but that you have to say no. Be ready to stand firm in your no and repeat it.
Manage Expectations. First expectation to manage – Perfection. There are just not enough hours in the day to do all that needs to be done for you to be the best at everything you do every day. You have to be willing to be average in the less important areas of life so you can excel in the most important areas. If you’re raising a family, working, and going to school, then you might have to be willing to settle for some average grades so you can spend more time with your family. Managing expectations is also where relational conflict is best addressed. Come to terms with the fact that there will be conflict as long as there is more than one human being living on this Earth. Conflict is simply opposing, incompatible or divergent ideas, interests, or people. And compromise is necessary to resolve conflict, including a compromise of expectations. If you and a co-worker have a difference of opinion on a management issue, it takes humility to swallow your pride and step away from your position or perspective to identify and acknowledge your opposition’s diverging idea or interest. What is motivating your opponent? If you don’t know, respectfully inquire. Seek to understand your opposition. Then consider your options to resolve the conflict in a way that satisfies as many needs and desires of you and your opponent.
Create Margin. In other words, build in buffers of time to deal with the unexpected. When you work in Downtown Spokane and have a meeting in the Valley at 4:30 p.m., give yourself more than 15 minutes to get there! Obviously, there will be traffic. Without margin, your stress will go through the roof as Alexa or Galaxy tells you that you’ll reach your destination at 4:40 p.m. Plan ahead by marking off extra time in your calendar to get where you need to go with time to spare. That way, if there’s traffic, you can plod along in the slow lane with confidence. Speaking of driving and traffic, I have found that finding an alternative, low traffic route to and from work reduces my stress. The last thing I need is a bad morning commute experience to kick off the day. Very literally, as Robert Frost recites in The Road Not Taken:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
You’ve got this,