Article:  "Spend Some Time on Myself? Who Has Time for That?"

When our family only consisted of three people, John, myself, and my then-four-year old daughter Meagan, we took a trip to visit my brother Paul and his wife Susan in Boulder (okay, I was really going to see my new baby niece Sophie).  We all have different tastes in music, so we figured with three people over an hour car ride, we would each get twenty minutes to listen to our personal music selection.  So we each grabbed our tapes and headed out.  Meagan went first, and she chose kids songs from the Disney movie collection.  John was next with his favorite Christian album.  When my turn came, I handed John my tape: a 20-minute blank tape. Ahhhhhhh!

The silence and peace of doing and hearing nothing was glorious.  If you're like me, I'm rarely able to find the time to just sit still, to relax, to do nothing, or to just BE.  When I hear myself say, “I just need you people to give me five minutes to myself!” then I know I’m not taking very good care of myself.  Being a wife, mother, daughter, volunteer, business owner, friend, etc., I’ve been conditioned to take care of everyone else before I take care of myself.  But the irony is that when I don’t take some time and space for myself, my ability to take care of others diminishes.  When I do things for myself, my mood, energy, and productivity instantly increase.

If you’re like me, it’s difficult to break out of the mindset that taking care of yourself is selfish.  I used to get the garbage emotion of guilt if I took a five-minute bath!  But after paying with headaches, back trouble, and burnout, now I know better and understand the importance of self-care.  I've discovered the secret formula for taking care of myself, and you'll have to discover your formula.  For example, I've found a little way to cherish myself on a regular basis, unwind, and get ready for tomorrow's challenges: I take a 20 minute bath almost every night, with candles, bubbles, and soft music. 

What do you like to do?  How do you affirm yourself and show you hold yourself in high regard? The key is to learn to pamper yourself!  Learn what relaxes you—whether it’s dancing, movies, deep breathing or reading trashy novels—and make time for it when feeling particularly stressed.  Make an appointment with yourself on your calendar if you have to.  You make time for everyone else in your life—aren’t you equally, if not more, important?

Don’t know what you would do, even if you did have some free time?  That’s very good information for you. Here are some things to consider:

1.   What things have you given up since you became an adult?  You started a career, maybe got married and kids; you just got busy.  What did you like doing when you were younger that you don’t do anymore?  Playing the piano, working with clay, doing puzzles?  Commit to doing one thing per day that makes you happy.  Will be easier to take life more lightly.  If you’re too busy to play, you’re just too busy.

2.   Observe what you do when you are happy.  How are you playful?  Do you whistle?  Hum?  Work out?  Sing?  Dance?  Listen to music?  I love the song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music: “ When the dog bites, when the bees sting, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.”  So whether you like raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens, when you’re down, focus on the things that will move you towards happiness.  Help your brain make the transition.  If you fool it into thinking you are happy, you will become more so.

3.  Try something new     

4.   Do something that makes you feel completely spoiled.  I love those water massage machines that you see in the mall, the 15-minute shoulder massage chairs in the airport, and the occasional 1-hour massage at a spa.  I love getting my nails manicured.  John asked me once, "Can't you do that yourself?"  I said, "Of course I could.  What's your point?"  That was the last time he mentioned it.  There's just something about holding my hands out for someone else to take care of that says, "pamper me."  I've been taking care of so many people, I deserve nail care once every three weeks.  A spa pedicure borders on delicious.  Do something that feels extravagant and guilty, and you're right on.

5.  Do nothing.  The art of “doing nothing” is a strange concept for some people.  It doesn’t mean you have to literally do nothing, however.  John knows I’m happy when I’m humming a little tune and wandering around the house.  When he asks, “What are you doing?” I love to reply, “Nothing.”  Then John will smile and wink, because he knows I’m in my happy little state I call “puttering.”  Not feeling driven to do anything important, I amuse myself for an hour by wandering from room to room and doing whatever I notice needs to be done there: put stray coffee mug in sink, water the plant, clean out coffee pot, etc.  This mindless activity is near Nirvana for me.  For others, that would drive you crazy.  So you have to determine what “doing nothing” looks like for you.

I was doing a speech in LA and read an incredible story about “doing nothing” in the LA Times about a guy named Larry Walters.  He's an ordinary guy living near the LA airport.  Every Saturday afternoon he would sit in a lawn chair in his small, chain-link-fence backyard, sunning himself and drinking a six-pack.  He must have been extremely bored one day, because he decided to attach some balloons to his lawn chair and drift one hundred feet in the air over his neighbors’ backyards.  So he went out and bought 45 hot-air weather balloons, had them inflated with helium, and brought them back to his house. He armed himself with a BB gun so that if he went too high, he could shoot out a few balloons.  He also equipped himself with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and another six-pack.  Then he was ready.  He shouted to his neighbors, “Let go!” They did, but he didn’t rise 100 feet.  He went up 11,000 feet!  He never shot out even one of the balloons because he was holding on for dear life to the lawn chair!  A Continental airlines captain piloting a DC10 spotted him as he drifted by in his lawn chair.  For four hours, LA International Airport had to divert flights (this is really a true story!)  The authorities sent helicopters up, shot out his balloons, and eventually guided him back to the ground.  When Larry landed at dusk, it was an extraordinary scene.  There were sirens, police cars with lights spinning, and hordes of camera crews converging on this man as he landed in his lawn chair.  They shoved a microphone in his face and asked, “Were you scared?”  His eyes were as big as saucers, “Yep.” Are you going to do it again?  “Nope.” “Why did you do it in the first place?”  Larry Walters replied, “You can’t just sit there.”

I thought of two things when I read this story.  First of all, I thought “This man has way too much time on his hands.”  When I ask people how they’re doing, a common response is “busy.”  I have yet to hear someone say, “I’m really bored.  I wish I had more to do.” 

But then I thought for some people, sitting on your lawn chair in your backyard on a Saturday afternoon getting some sun and watching planes go by might be your idea of Nirvana.  You can’t just sit there, can you?  Or can you.  My guess is that if most of us found ourselves doing just that, we would all of a sudden feel horribly guilty and go “do something.”  But done on purpose, “doing nothing” just might make perfect sense. 

© Copyright 2003 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP.  All rights reserved.  Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,"® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it.  She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity.  Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]