ASSOCIATES (2007, March, v. 13, no. 3) -

C. Leslie Charles

The title of this piece may lead you to believe that it’s about managing time but the subject is much broader than that. For over two decades now, we’ve been influenced by a social trend that has slowly, steadily and systematically sucked us into its wake: the compression of time. It’s not your imagination: our culture is moving at a faster pace than it once did. It’s as if we’re all stuck on a huge social treadmill that keeps gaining speed and no one can find the “off” button.

The Terrible Too’s
Many of us are suffering from the Terrible Too’s (too much to do, too little time). Maybe you know some sad souls who are chronically overwhelmed, overworked, overscheduled, overspent, and under appreciated. The demands keep going up but the delivery falls short. We’re caught in a paradox of service: be nice to everyone you serve (whether patrons or coworkers), even if they’re not so nice to you. In other words, as a member of the library’s support staff, you expend a good deal of energy helping others every day, but who helps you?

If, from the moment you get up in the morning to when you go to bed, you feel as if you’re stuck in fast forward, trying to do as much as you can, while trying to accommodate the personality quirks of students, faculty, staff, (or even your beloved coworkers) you’re not alone. If you’re tired of hearing the weary phrase, “do more with less,” or just plain tired, welcome to the club. The cost of too much busyness and too many everyday hassles is dear: stress, fatigue, sleep problems, and relationship conflicts (at work and home), to name a few. If you aren’t finding ways to care for your mind, body, and spirit (despite daily hassles and busy schedules) you’ll permanently turn off or temporarily burn out.

But in our society, busyness has become a badge of honor. How often do you hear the chirpy, “Hi! How have you been? Busy?” as if that’s the ideal state. The expectation today is that of course, you are busy and if you’re busy you’re being productive, and if you’re productive, this means you’ll prosper. Really? If you go typically home from work too exhausted to enjoy your personal life; if you constantly leave work feeling “rode hard and put away wet,” it’s about time you made some changes.

Beyond Time Management
In the late 90s, when Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, resigned from a job he loved because it meant too much time away from his family, he lamented, “Time management is a joke.” He was right. You are no longer living in an era of time management. You are now living in an era of choice management. In other words, stop trying to manage your time and start managing the choices you make every day. Frequently ask yourself what you’re longing for, or missing out on, and rearrange your life accordingly. Make sound choices. After all, life is a one-way journey, and unless Shirley MacLaine is right, we only go around once. What are you doing with your time?

At work, granted, your time is not your own. You have things to do, tasks to complete, people to assist, phones to answer, and other related duties. At some level, though, the personal level, you grasp how delicate and precious life is. Let your instincts and innate knowledge help you live with deliberation and purpose. Hold onto a big picture vision of what your life stands for: connect your sense of purpose with everyday choices to make the time of your life more meaningful. Even in the midst of chaos or confusion, do your best to keep things in perspective.

Time to Get a Grip
Just as you have a physical immune system, let’s imagine you have an emotional immune system too (we’ll call it attitude). You can give your EIS (emotional immune system) a boost by asking yourself three questions when things go awry:
Is this a small, medium, or large annoyance?
Should I get mildly irritated or wildly upset?
Would I be better off by blowing up or blowing it off instead?

You’ve probably surmised out that separating the miniscule from the momentous is a form of choice management. If more of us took a moment to consciously reflect on the big picture, we could eliminate those senseless moments when innocent people are injured or murdered over trivial matters such as traffic infractions, parking space disputes, or excesses in the grocery express lines. We simply need to get a grip!

If you find yourself complaining about stress symptoms or how rough life is, here’s a chance to put it all in perspective. You are your own “stress manufacturing plant” and you can slow down production (or even shut down the business) by realizing that your stress comes primarily from the inside, not the outside. It’s not the event, but your interpretation of the event that makes it stressful or simply an inconvenience. By consciously making the choice to monitor your perceptions and reactions you can bypass (not bury) some of that unnecessary stress you produce and toss it in the scrap heap.

Good Choice, Bad Choice
You’ll feel less overloaded and stressed if you recognize when you’ve made the choice to get upset or angry over something out of your control. Although you can credit someone else for being the source of your bad mood, you’re actually the one who chooses to pick up the “cranky baton,” or not. Consciously accept that you’re not so much a victim of circumstances, as you are the victim of a poor choice: letting someone else ruin your mood.

Make the choice to spend time nurturing your relationships and staying connected to those you care about. Longevity studies show that people who enjoy close relationships tend to live longer. Take a moment to let loved ones know they’re important. Think about how little time it takes to give a hug. Be appreciative. Write a brief love note to your spouse or partner and stick it in his or her coat pocket or briefcase. Be generous with compliments. Make a quick call. Send a card. The better your connections with others, the better your connection with yourself.

I’ll be the first to admit that life isn’t perfect. But despite my setbacks and losses, I’ve also known a good deal of joy. And generous amounts of gratitude. My point is that we always have a choice about how we will handle hassles and hardships. Life teaches us that it’s not the hand we’re dealt that makes a difference; it’s that we choose to stay in the game.

Practice Your A-B-Cs
“A” stands for attitude check. What goes on in your head most of the time? How much grumbling or complaining do you do? Does your inner dialogue resemble the rant of your least favorite customer or work colleague? Take some time and pay attention to what you’re telling yourself. Consider the words that reel around in your head and then remind yourself that you’re the one who puts them there! If that stress manufacturing plant of yours is on overtime, shut down the line. Stop the presses. Take a break.

You’ve heard this before: Is it a problem or a challenge? Choosing the negative—or the positive is entirely up to you. Remember your EIS, or even better, for instant perspective, think of someone you know who is facing tough times. Compare your life to those who are less fortunate. Feel better? You should. And maybe you can make the choice to hang onto that gratitude and let it generate some compassion for those who need it.

“B” stands for breathe. Did you know that when you get stressed (correction: when you create stress) your breathing patterns change? We tend to hold our breath when stressed, or worse, breathe through our mouth, which ironically, increases stress rather than relieving it. Think about times you’ve been rushed, hurried, worried, in a frenzy, and chances are, you were almost gasping—taking short “mouth” breaths—exactly what you didn’t need!

Any time you want, you can adjust what’s happening to your body. When you feel overloaded or stressed, stop in your tracks. Inhale through your nose: take a nice long, deep relaxing breath (from your belly), hold it for a second, and then exhale through your nose. Repeat one or two more times before you start moving again. Note: for full benefit, it’s very important that you remain still while taking your “centering breath.”

“C” stands for choice. Remember that you are always in charge of your choices. You can choose to let your day become a shambles or you can shape things back up, regardless of the circumstance. No one else can do this for you. This is nothing you can delegate. But in time, you’ll be able to let your stress go, laugh it off, take it all in stride, and maybe even make an entertaining story out of your misadventures.

Face Value
Keep a ready smile on your face, even if you don’t feel like it. Think of how comforting a smile can be to a worried or insecure student, or someone you work with who is going through a rough time. There’s a ton of research concluding that smiling (real or forced) relaxes your body, refreshes your brain, boosts your metabolism, relieves tension, and creates an overall sense of well being. Who wouldn’t want that?

Let your smile be a sign that you are very much alive and functioning. Let it lighten your mood and remind you that there are people in your life whom you love and who love you. Recognize there’s a whole lot more in your life that’s right than wrong, and that comedy is simply misfortune separated in time. Some of your funniest stories started out as a disaster. Relax. Even when things go south, remind yourself that you can have a good day anyway.

It’s Not What You Look At, But What You See
You’ve probably heard the saying that we basically see what we want (or expect) to see. Chronically cranky people look for what’s wrong and they find it. Choice managers look for what’s right and they too find it. Which person are you? Whether you come face to face with those who use library services, or you assist those who do, you’re actually in the “people” business. And most human beings are drawn to people who are friendly, optimistic, resilient, and having fun.

Regardless of your age, time on this earth is a precious gift. Why squander it being negative when there are better choices? The A-B-C approach will help you choose a compassionate response rather than a cranky retort. Instead of getting mad at ill-mannered people who treat you rudely when you’re trying to serve them, think about how miserable these individuals must be, and consider about how wonderful it is not to be them!

If, when you’re the customer, a self-conscious, fumbling employee wearing a Trainee badge takes a long time to wait on you, say something encouraging. If a student or faculty member begins to set you off, remind yourself that this person may be wresting with some serious personal issues. Your heart can’t hold both contempt and kindness at the same time: choose the one that best serves you.

Every week we have 168 hours in which to live, love, learn, and pursue our livelihood. In just a few days, another week of your life will have passed. Will it make a difference, or not? If, every day, you take just a little bit of time to practice these tips and incorporate them into your everyday routine, I guarantee you’ll have a better time every day, at work, at home, and in between!

Leslie Charles, a Michigan-based professional speaker and author of the critically acclaimed Why Is Everyone So Cranky? helps people lead happier, healthier lives at work and home through her presentations and books on stress management, customer service, and motivation. Leslie is the Focus Group Facilitator for the University of California, Riverside, Employee Climate Survey Project. For samplings of her books, visit or

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