Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Time-Happiness Ratio

The couple of weeks have been quite different my normal routine. One of my best friends, who I hadn't seen in several years, came to visit for four days. Then came the holiday weekend, then a trip to New York to meet a wonderful mentor who until that point I'd only knew via social media. This back story would require post in and of itself, so I'll stick to that very brief description. I had one "office day" (i.e. working from the desk in my living room) before heading out to LA for an industry trade show. In the mean time, I'd come down with a vicious sinus infection/cold/something similar  (in fact I'm still dealing with it), which made it tough for me to keep my eyes open, swallow, and breathe let alone work. Looking at the expansive emails and to do list, as well as my upcoming week of busy events, I simply felt overwhelmed.

I'm pretty sure everyone knows this feeling. It's the reason we check email while on vacation, make page long lists of needed tasks, return emails and calls at hours outside of our normal work day.  Otherwise, it piles up and at some point feels like it's going to consume us.

I'm a person that's pretty conscious of taking care of my health, but I felt like I had to push through to at least get the key items done and tame my inbox. Finally, after several cups of coffee, echinacea tea - supposed to help your immune system, and crossing off the essentials, I gave in and decided to take a nap. By decided, I mean my body and brain wouldn't go any further and I all but fell asleep in mid-walk to my bed.

Post nap, I still felt like crap health wise, but I didn't feel nearly as overwhelmed. I told myself that I had pared down the emails, answered those that required it, gotten the imperative tasks out of the way, and everything else could be tackled slowly, either if I had free time during my business trip (unlikely) or when I got back. I also chose to cross some items off the list all together. They just weren't essential enough to put pressure on my sanity.

One of my best attributes and greatest downfalls is my ability to want to give my absolute all to every opportunity and task that I come across. This works well with the first one, two, even five items. But you reach a point at which you have to choose. If you try to do everything, you won't be able to give 100% to anything. If somehow you manage to, you'll probably realize you have no time left for you and your health, and at some point, you may no longer be able to do even those most important tasks.

A wonderful exercise is to look at the major items in your life, the amount of time they take, and the return on health and happiness that they bring. If the time is high and the health and happiness result are low, consider ways to pare it down, eliminate it, or turn it into something that has a more positive ratio. Of course there will be some tasks, such as household chores, that aren't particularly joy-inducing but must be done. When you come across these "must do"s, make sure they're truly essential and that you're doing them in the most efficient way. If you don't enjoy it, perhaps it can at least take up less time so that you can focus more on those aspects of life that have a positive effect on your health and happiness. While you obviously have to take your family and loved ones into account, also make sure that everything you're doing is not solely for somebody else.

I'll end by saying that I'm sure there are more specific formulas for determining how much time different aspects of your life should take. I didn't pull the phrase "time-happiness ratio" from anywhere, though I'm sure I'm not the first to use it. I'm curious to do this experiment again and see how I fare. I'd be equally curious to see where others are - I'm sure they have insights and ideas that I've yet to come up with that can help me keep my overwhelmed quotient to more of a minimum! 

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