|September 7, 2000
Volume 31 Number 2
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Thriving Under Pressure
Time is a universal feature of life. In his autobiography, Nelson Mandela wrote that on arriving at South Africa's isolated Robben Island prison in 1964, having been sentenced to life without possibility of parole, "One of the first things I did was to make a calendar on the wall of my cell. Losing a sense of time is an easy way to lose one's grip and even one's sanity." Time is always with us. The question is what we do with it. We have many options, including filling time, making time, organizing time, wasting time, saving time, passing time, and more.
For some people, time is a friend: It brings challenge, pleasure, and satisfaction. For others, time is an enemy, bringing anxiety, boredom, or confusion. For some, there is too little time, for others too much time.
Most of us who teach, research, administer, coordinate, and counsel in the university setting feel pressed for time. The amount to do usually exceeds available time. It is equally true that most of us have substantial flexibility in how we go about organizing our time. Thriving in this environment depends upon wise and thoughtful use of our time. Here are a few time management concepts that might prove useful for productivity, job satisfaction, and good relationships, whether one is a faculty member or student, administrator or staff. These relate to time off work as well as time on the job.
PACING. Pacing has two meanings. It means starting early enough to avoid last-minute time crunches. It also means organizing tasks (to the extent possible) at a reasonable tempo, without undue rush. Both become special challenges in overloaded environments -- and for people who have become virtually addicted to the adrenaline buzz of chronic hurry. Deliberate efforts to schedule tasks well in advance and to slow one's pace of talking, walking, and eating can help.
BALANCE. When time-related stressors become distressors, it usually is the result of an imbalance among the various sectors of our lives -- for example, too little play, too much work; too much output, too little recovery; too much time with others, too little solitude. One approach to achieve better balance is to identify what is truly important to you, then to ask whether each is present too much, too little, or about right. Then identify concrete steps to improve that balance. Here are some possibilities: Basic health , Family , Quality of work , Physical fitness , Friendships , Good communication , Enjoyment of each day , Free time , Play , Experiencing beauty in everyday life , Solitude , Intimacy , Challenge and growth , Making a difference
MARGIN. Our overloaded, fast-paced way of living and working commonly includes jamming activities together with no space between them. To the extent possible, it is desirable to create margins in the way we organize time. This may mean creating space for more "lead-time" and "afterburn-time" between activities. It may mean leaving a few minutes earlier for work, for class, or for the next meeting across campus. It may mean leaving time in your schedule for the unexpected. Whatever it takes, creating margin is likely to yield substantial returns in satisfaction and long-term productivity.
RECOVERY. Some years ago, I was struck by the realization that I was doing very well on the productivity or output side of my life and less well on the recovery side. More often than I liked, I was feeling TATT (Tired All The Time). I began to experiment with closing my eyes for 10 minutes each day in my office. My appreciation of this mini-break soon escalated. It was like an hour-long nap without the grogginess. I felt refreshed, more alert, and rested. It was about this time (mid-70s) that Herbert Benson's book, The Relaxation Response, came along, demonstrating that my subjective experience was based on objective, measurable physiological changes. This relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response. Simple mental devices such as silently repeating "one" on each out breath, counting breaths, or repeating a favorite religious word or phrase can facilitate the relaxation response. Daily exercise is another way to promote recovery. Though it is physiologically opposite from a deep-relaxation break, the lingering effects of exercise are similar -- increased energy and mental clarity.
These, then, are four concepts with potential far-reaching benefits in managing time. One other idea: The next time you catch yourself about to race through a yellow light, immediately turn right and go around the block. It may help you reduce incessant hurry.
Walt Schafer, Sociology and Social Work, is the author of Stress Management for Wellness, ed. 4.
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