Daily Transition Time
By Amy Surdam, FNP
“Some days I think the most peaceful part of my day is work”
Some days I think the most peaceful part of my day is work. Work is a quiet office, uninterrupted time at the computer, a team working towards the same goals, a break with a cup of coffee, and a sense of accomplishment.
Life however, can be stressful. Life is trying to squeeze in the grocery store, cooking, laundry, and an exercise routine all while trying not to neglect what really matters most: your family and friends. I’m the first to admit that I will sometimes wash dishes instead of read a bedtime story. A day at the swimming pool might replace bath time. And I am ashamed to say it, but at times I will scroll through FB instead of really listening to the people talking right in front of me. These short cuts in life are nothing I am proud of, but often a reality and often lead to more stress.
For years I’ve studied and worked at this mythical “work life balance” thing. I conducted my thesis in 2004 on stress and how it affects patient outcomes.
After years (19 to be exact!) of being a working mother, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not “work life balance” I am really trying to achieve. I am trying to intentionally compartmentalize. Stress is not actually a bedtime story or laundry. I actually love reading to my kids! There is nothing that beats the joy I feel as I watch my kids drift off to sleep after a story. Folding a shirt is satisfying and can even be relaxing. Stress is not the grocery store or cooking. Wandering down the isles of fresh produce is enjoyable and cooking at home with some nice music in the background can be therapeutic. Individually, all of these tasks are pleasant. My stress comes from trying to overlap these experiences to a point where I don’t enjoy any of them.
Being present in one and one task only is a difficult feat and not always a luxury that is available. The solution: intentional compartmentalization.
Here is how I try to intentionally compartmentalize for maximum enjoyment of life and decreased stress.
- Intentionally transition from one task to another.
The most challenging part of my day is coming home from work. For me it’s difficult to turn off the emails and my mind, and go into mom mode. Despite putting my computer and phone in the office until after the kids go to bed, I still have a mental leap to make every evening. Some things that I find helpful: a cup of tea, a walk to the park with my dog and sons, taking a shower and/or changing into my comfy clothes. Another ritual of mine: cleaning up the house. I put away all the toys, papers, and dishes, wipe counters, sweep the floor, and get ready to make dinner without a mess. This might be one of the most annoying things I do to my family, but it helps me get from point A (work) to point B (home).
- Only do one thing at a time.
When I work on a document or am doing research, I find it easy to be very focused on that. In fact, if someone tries to talk to me when I am actively working, I won’t hear most of what they are saying unless I intentionally turn off my computer, put away my phone, and focus on that person. Case in point: three weeks ago my oldest son told me he was joining the triathlon team at his college. I did not hear him. Wow, do I feel like a bad mom because I didn’t put down my phone! The same goes with exercise. How many times have you tried to read while on the treadmill or exercise bike? It’s a much better work out if you just work out.
- Carve out time for tasks.
My day goes something like this: I run before the kids wake up, so I have a good workout without worrying about being a mom. Ideally I get myself ready, then focus on them and get them ready. I often will try to throw in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, take out the trash, water plants, etc. I then make their breakfast and maybe mine if I have enough time. If I run out of time, I throw a piece of fruit in my bag and eat at work. I rarely touch my phone during this time. If I look at it, I will get sucked into the emails and texts.
Once I get to work, I look at my emails and begin answering calls and texts. I typically try to block time in my schedule for not only meetings but also work tasks. For example: write the report on revenue sources from 2-3pm. During that hour I don’t look at email or answer the phone. If I don’t get something on my calendar done, I move it to its own time on a different day so that I’m sure to complete it.
I come home and do the transition thing, which involves putting my phone away until bed. I do the family/dinner/kids to bed thing before looking at it again. I make sure there is nothing that needs my immediate attention and leave the rest for the next morning when I get to work.
I try hard to only check social media once a day for a short period of time…maybe a half hour at the most.
I don’t watch tv. At all. Instead, after I put the kids to bed, I try to read.
- Be flexible when there are changes.
This is my life now and what works for me. This was not my life last summer when I was running for office. There was no balance and it was euphoric and stressful all at once. This was also not my life when my children were infants. This won’t be my life when they are grown. Being adaptable is important to limit stress. I try to take each day as it comes, have routine when I can, but also remain flexible as situations and life evolves.
- Enjoy the little things.
My husband travels quite a bit. I really, really enjoy it when he is home and we can have a glass of wine on the back porch together. On the few days I can take the boys to the pool, I enjoy watching them play and swimming with them. And on those precious nights when I let go of life enough to read them a bedtime story, I enjoy watching them absorb the words and the pictures.