It’s one thing to take a day off on the weekend, but entirely another when you decide to take a mid-week break. For those of you new to The Power of Slow, it may seem like a daunting task to even consider taking a day off “just because”. If panic is seizing your throat as you read this, hear me out for a moment, okay?

This past week I opted to explore a new area smack dab in the middle of the week simply because I wanted to. Husband was travelling, the kids were at school for their only ‘long day” until 3 pm (don’t get me started about half-day schooling in Germany!) and I saw no reason to sit on my fanny in front of my computer when I have an iPhone to check in for any client fires I might need to put out.

And so I tapped in an address that looked fascinating in my GPS and, as my mom likes to say, took a God trip for the entire day. As if carried by angels, I maneuvered through traffic and reached my destination with plenty of time to enjoy the day. A nice walk through the park, a delightful lunch and some cherished alone time in my car as I listened to my favorite music, made me a patient, loving person again. Because let’s face it: too much stress, too many demands and too little fun are not conducive to a balanced life.

When I got home, the kids happily greeted me, did the chores I asked them to and seemed genuinely grateful to see me again. And you know what? No one died, my clients didn’t fire me and I had a song in my heart from all the fun I had that day.

If you’re thinking “yeah, but that can’t apply to me” right now, here’s the thing: it’s about creating the opening for new things to come into your life. When you say “I can’t do that,” “It’s too difficult,” “I don’t know how so I won’t even try,” you are creating the mental parameters for your predictions to come true. In other words, you are right! But if you approach your life with possibility, with the thinking that “This is what I want and I envision a world in which it happens,” there’s no arguing with you. You’re right again. With that kind of thinking, the sky is the limit.

I promise you this: if you create sacred space for your own evolution, the world will adapt to you instead of you always having to adapt to it. And who wouldn’t want to live a world of their own making? The truth is we all do. The question is what world do you want to live in?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issues an annual report called the American Time Use Survey that relies on self-reporting from a pool of respondents as to where all their time goes.

Compared to 2007, we are now reading even less, watching more TV and playing more video games.

US Leisure Time 2007

And now? Although we have even more leisure time than ever, we read less and play video games more. What will do you do with your time?

US Leisure Time 2010

Benjamin Franklin
Image via Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin meant well. He advised his tradesmen audience in the aptly worded „Advice to a Young Tradesman”  that time is money. In his day a person of trade, well, traded his time for the money he earned. In many cases today people think they still do that as well. But what they are really doing is spending a lot more time thinking about work than they are paid to do. Thanks in large part to technological advances, work has seeped into many aspects of our lives. So while we’re swinging our child on the swings, we’re solving that problem at work in our heads or on our cell phones. Many times you will see people ceaselessly thumbing their BlackBerries at coffee shops during ‘leisure time’. In today’s world, time is not money, my friend. Time is time and money is money.

In the world of slow, time does not equal money. Instead, time equals your existence.

The truth of the matter is ‘the time is money’ adage has gotten us into a lot more trouble than we realize. Because we live our lives based on the misleading premise that time is money, we attempt to do more in less time. We begin to confuse activity with productivity, as if the ‘doing’ will grant us ‘being’. Inadvertantly, we hop on the hamster wheel, running as fast as we can with a competitive mentality about the clock and what it supposedly represents.We have a negative relationship with time that gives us a sense of time starvation instead of abundance. Even our precious vacation time is not immune from the time-money equation.

According to expedia.com’s latest International Vacation Deprivation Survey conducted by Harris Interactive in April 2010, nearly one-third of the respondents admitted to engaging in work-related while on vacation. The trend seems to be increasing. In 2010 30% reported that they check work email or voicemail while vacationing as opposed to just 24% in 2009.

If you love what you do and you are not stressed by it, that’s one thing. But if you feel you can never disengage from your work to regenerate, chances are you need to entertain the idea of a lifestyle change. As this slide show proves, you needn’t worry about when you will ‘get there’. You’ve already arrived. And yes, time abundance can be yours.

Your body will tell you if you’re on the right track. Have you ever wondered why you feel so much better while on vacation? Not only is your stress level reduced, but you also tend to engage in more leisurely dining and longer sleep. Your body is a wonderful barometer for whether or not your pace of life is working for you. Inject some slow into your summer routine and see where it leads you. It might just take you off the beaten track. Take it from me, a recovering speedaholic. The road less traveled is a great place to be!

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Vacation Deprivation

June 15, 2009

According to the annual Expedia.com Vacation Deprivation survey, we’re in trouble. We don’t have much time off, and we don’t even take the time off we have.

vacation timeStudying the vacation habits of employed workers from the US, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, Expedia.com reveals that the French take the most time off (an average of 36 of their 38 vacation days) while US workers limp in last place with the number of days they have available: 13 (it is forecasted that they will take  only 10 of them in 2009). Juxtaposed to the Japanese, 7 of their 15 vacation days will be left on the table this year.

I’m in love with my work just like many people I know. But, like my family, I can leave it behind for a few days and still feel good about myself. After all, I am contributing to a higher rate of efficiency by filling the tank, greasing the engine, whetting the knife – you get my drift?

The survey goes on to report that 34% of employed US workers do not take all their vacation days in one year (this trend is rising – in 2008, it was 31%). Thirty-seven percent of employed US adults work more than 40 hours a week (need I mention France’s baseline 35-hour work week? Prime Minister Sarkozy has taken measures, however, to loosen the grip of the shorter work week to stimulate the economy.)

More work and less play makes Pièrre, well, less playful. And that goes for us working stiffs, too.

Are you vacation deprived? Do you yearn for the brightness a holiday can bring to your life? What are your plans this summer?

Power tools

June 2, 2009

Sunday is a day of rest like no other in Germany. A fairly traditional society, Germany observes more religious holidays than any other European country I know (with, perhaps, the exception of Spain). I live in Bavaria, which is the most conservative state in the nation. Hanging your wash on the Lord’s day is enough to get you expelled from the city walls. Or so I thought.

Last Sunday my husband and father-in-law attempted to finish the porch they had worked twelve hours to assemble the day before. Mind you, we were looking at not only a Sunday, but also a Monday holiday with great weather and a job to do. I grew increasingly concerned that we wouldn’t be able to get it done because of the no-noise law on Sundays and holidays.

My husband and father-in-law decided to bend the law a little and turn on the circular saw. Not once. Not twice. But three times. Now I would have turned a blind ear to the light knocking of the hammer. They were being really quiet. But when they whipped out the saw, I got nervous.

They’re gonna get us! I scowled and fretted about it for the rest of the day.

My in-laws suggested we apologize for the noise, which we did the next afternoon. Approaching whom I thought would be the most difficult neighbor to address, I gave her a kind smile, which she promptly returned. I power toolsapologized profusely for the noise and for breaking the day of rest. She sang my father-in-law’s praises, saying how helpful he had been while my husband and I were away for a week’s vacation. They had moved in to care for the kids, for the house, and, as it turns out, for the entire neighborhood.

“What’s a little noise? You had to do what you had to do. Take care now!” She grinned and gave a little wave.

I was stunned.

My father-in-law had quietly laid the groundwork, chatting it up with neighbors, sweeping up the debris in the common driveaway after a major storm knocked leaves everywhere, and spent time with each of them in some way. He made his presence known and spread positive energy.

And I realized all this time my worries were nowhere else but in my own mind. Kindness pays. Worrying does not.

That’s a power(ful) tool I’ll take with me on life’s journey.

Can we just…not?

May 20, 2009

Yesterday was the pinnacle. We traversed the Greater Munich area, enjoying the scenery and commenting on how beautiful Germany is. But last evening, soaking our sore hams in the bleeding sunlight, we agreed we would make today a ‘transition day’, a day in which we upload and download our vacation photos, stare at our suitcases in disbelief (we are leaving for Ibiza tomorrow), and reminisce about what a great time we had together while it lasted.

Those days of ‘not’ are so important to process all that which has come before us. Admittedly, I welcome the slowdown. No trains to catch, no appointments to remember ~ just one foot in front of the other at a plodding pace. Tomorrow is another day (and the beginning of our vacation), and it will indeed come at the same speed as every day before it.

Vacating the premises

May 15, 2009

In a special Work-Life Balance section, CNN reported yesterday about vacation time in the United States.

Are you fearful to take time off because you think you might get axed?

Think again.

It has been proven that rested workers are more productive than those who work 16 hour days. The best thing to do is to communicate with your boss about quarterly goals. Ascertain how you might bring your own talent into the mix. Be clear about his or her expectations. Then exceed them.

That does not mean you have to pull all-nighters or weekend shifts. Be clear about your own limitations. Challenge yourself to apply your strengths, even if the job description does not require it. Always be your best. To do so, you have to unplug, take time off, and rest.

Contributing to the bottom line might mean splashing in the pool for a long weekend. Leisure time is as purposeful as work time.

Live it. Dream it. Be it. It is possible. Besides, you are only human and deserve a time-out.

In fact, everyone does.

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