As each year edges into the next one, Toronto-based career coach Eileen Chadnick reflects on where she is headed. From that deliberation, she picks a word that will help her to focus in the coming year. For 2012, she chose well-being. For 2013, ease was her motivator.
Ease is a lovely word, seductive in appeal. We all want to be at ease – even if we rarely are. But she cautioned in an interview: "It's not about sitting in a hammock. It's about working to embrace life, but without the static and angst that comes with 'the overwhelm' we face these days."
She doesn't jettison each chosen word and its direction at the end of the year, but tries to hold that course while adding a new emphasis each January. So ease will be something she strives for next year. And perhaps you will join her, stirred by the thinking and tools she has collected in her new book, Ease.
If ease is a dominant word, another term crops up repeatedly in her conversation: "crazy-busy," a descriptor for modern life. We live in times of unprecedented busyness. Many of us are quite successful in that hectic world. But she argues there is an accompanying cost of stress, and we need to navigate what threatens to overwhelm us. We need ease.
In the book, she offers a definition: "To free from something that pains, disquiets or burdens."
"Life isn't going to slow down; the pressures will likely continue," she writes. "So we have to adapt. Realistically it wouldn't be possible to simply remove all sources of burden, but we can learn new ways to engage with them and with ourselves to create more ease."
In the interview, she stressed that the tools needed to find more ease are "embarrassingly simple." The problem is we fail to integrate them into our daily lives, forgetting them in moments of "crazy-busy."
She saw this recently, as she was struggling with how to market her book while also keeping up her hectic coaching schedule. Ideas poured out, and she felt frantic at her inability to do it all.
In her book, she preaches the importance of priorities – a simple approach that we all know. But it was also something she forgot in that moment of stress. So she followed her own advice, accepting that she couldn't do it all, picking out a few must-dos, and from those, chose some actions she could take in the coming week.
"The payoff was a biological shift. I was immediately feeling more at ease. I felt lighter and I felt calm. It was like Pepto-Bismol for the brain," said Ms. Chadnick, who is also a regular contributor to the Ask an Expert series in The Globe and Mail's careers section.
Her toolkit includes ideas for getting a grip on your schedule. One client was extremely capable and wise, but flailing away because she was always arriving in a rush to meetings without prior thought. Her schedule was a free-for-all, jammed, with no white space – no time for reflection or regrouping. The solution was simple: Schedule in moments to think. Each of us, Ms. Chadnick says, have a "rushability quotient," a certain level of activity that is fine and another level that overwhelms. Find your sweet spot, and schedule accordingly.
As well as building in margins of time to get to meeting, pay yourself first – schedule essential tasks into your agenda. Make sure there is time for planning and thinking – and attacking reports or other projects. Blocking off three hours next Wednesday to work on that report for your boss will immediately provide some calm – a feeling of ease – as the brain loves a plan. Also: Slot in time for exercise and other meaningful pursuits.
She advises you not to be afraid of white space in your schedule. The day's plan doesn't need to be jammed tight. Those white spaces will get productively filled, as the day progresses.
We all know that multitasking is bad. But she finds that her clients still fall prey to its apparent charms. "We're depleting our brains. Our brains are not meant to process multiple thinking tasks simultaneously. Focused thinking is becoming compromised and we're not bringing our best to work," she said.
She recommends taming the multitasking impulse. Watch how often you succumb to multitasking, and try to reduce the incidences. Press the pause button, and focus on just one task when you catch yourself doing two or more.
She has been keeping a journal since a high school teacher assigned it as an exercise, and she recommends you adopt the same practice. "Journaling allows you to literally pause and reflect. It slows you down and allows you time to observe what you are doing – reflect – and learn about yourself," she said.
You may want to try it free-form, writing whatever comes to mind. Or you may want to pose yourself questions, such as what went well today, what am I grateful for, or how am I leading others? She's a proponent of positivity, and those questions reflect that approach. A favourite for her: What three good things happened today?
Perhaps the answer will reveal some moments of ease amid the crazy-busy times of your life.
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter