Create Some Breathing Space for Your Life
A Harvard MBA, New York Times bestselling author, award-winning blogger, and one of the most popular TED speakers in the world, Neil Pasricha is “a pied piper of happiness”* who dazzles audiences with ideas and frameworks that skyrocket happiness into the stratosphere. With infectious enthusiasm, heartfelt authenticity, and a “what works” authority, Pasricha draws on the latest research in happiness to increase individual performance and create a more positive and productive workplace. In this column for The Toronto Star, Neil explains that if you’re feeling like the off switch is hard to push, you need the “Three Bs”:
I was speaking to a group at WestJet recently.
It was a great night with an inspiring group of people from coast to coast. We talked about the themes we discuss in this column. What does it mean to live a good life? What can we do to be happier? How do we create space in our days and weeks?
And then a gentleman put up his hand and asked me a tough question. He said, “I have a role which requires emergency backup which means my team has roles which are on call. How do we create space if we’re always on?”
We can relate to busy. We can relate to always on. I mean, are you skimming this paper right now? Are you reading this article commuting … while checking your phone?
It used to be that your phone stopped ringing at night but now the texts, updates and emails keep coming. So what do you do if you don’t have space for the practices we’ve been talking about?
Well, if you’re feeling like the off switch is hard to push in your life, then I say you can still do three things.
We’ll call them the three Bs of creating space:
When I was at university I felt like I was always doing laundry. Slow, painful, with a day sorting clothes on my dorm room floor, an afternoon pushing quarters into dusty machines in the basement and then folding. Or usually, not folding. Most times I left that pile of warm clothes in the basket collecting wrinkles while yanking a new T-shirt out each morning. By the time I’d fold the remaining clothes it was time to do laundry again. The entire practice felt like a paper cut that never healed. What about now?
Well, with little kids we batch our laundry into one busy morning a week. Machines hum constantly, we fold clothes for an hour, but because it’s batched together it creates space for the rest of the week. So what can you batch in your life? There are always elements you can do together. Can you pay all your bills a certain day of the month? Can you file expenses once a quarter instead of once a week?
I have an aunt who batches all her Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday dinners into a busy Sunday night in the kitchen. I spend a day batch writing these columns and then send my editor at the Star a series of them. As a side benefit, she says it makes her life easier, too. What can you batch?
It’s time to stop the warrior mentality. We’re placing a pretty sticking plaster on top of a deep purple bruise called burnout whenever we say phrases like: “I’m the guy who plows through overnights,” “I’m available whenever my boss needs me,” or “It’s about delivering at all costs with no excuses.” Does this sound familiar?
Well, I’ve got news for you, Cubicle Lou. You’re not a warrior. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Sleep is the source of all health and energy.” Study after study shows proper sleep is the leading indicator to a great day tomorrow. It’s not rocket science. But it does mean you have to stop skipping lunch or cramming all night.
When I used to take vacation I would set my “out of office” automatic email reply like everybody else. “Sorry I missed you, I’ll get back to you next Monday.” Sounds good in theory, but what did I do every day of my vacation? Check email. I was worried there would be an emergency.
Over time I got smarter. I built a small bridge people had to cross to get to me. Say I was going to a hotel in Niagara Falls. I gave the hotel phone number to Michele who sat next to me at work. Then I’d set my out of office to say something like: “Sorry I missed you, I’ll be back next Monday. If this is an emergency, Michele can get hold of me.” Do you know how many people contacted Michele to get my contact info? Nobody. OK, maybe one person over the few years I did this. It wasn’t worth their time.
By giving them a tiny bit of work to do … they tapped out. Side benefit? I stopped checking work email from vacation. Completely stopped! Because I knew if there was an emergency I’d get a phone call. I rested easy because I’d built a bridge people could cross if they wanted. But I stopped making it my responsibility to always check in with them.
Now, look. I’m an author. I write books. I give speeches. I spent a decade working in leadership at Walmart. I get that I’m not an emergency room nurse or the IT guy playing Tank from The Matrix at his hypergrowth startup. I get that I haven’t walked in those shoes.
But let’s remember that the goal is never to be perfect. The goal is just to be a little better than before.
So try dropping one of these three Bs into your busy life and watch as a little more space bubbles up.