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?

Life’s a Beach

June 13, 2012

Last month Expedia.com released its 2012 Flip Flop report. Seeing as I developed a flip-flop method for measuring your pace of life, I feel it’s only appropriate to post this nifty infographic.

Germans top the list of beach-loving nations ~ it could have something to do with the fact that summer is typically measured in days, not weeks or months here. Pardon my cynicism, but honestly~ 20°C does not equal warm, folks.

Note the Brazilians’ attitude toward the beach. They like to dance, relax, sunbathe and dine there. Anyone care to do a little Samba along the coast? In my view, the Brazilian attitude toward relaxation wins hands down!

Husband shuffled lethargically from the car to the house and back again. Three hotels and 1,000 KM later, he had had enough of vacation. Admittedly, ten days is a long time of non-stop togetherness. Eager to return to my every day life myself, I predicted he would be out of the house before 8 a.m. the next morning.

He was. 🙂

Is there such a thing as too much time off? While I am a true advocate of frequent breaks, vacation and extended periods of rest and play, work drives meaning just as much as our playtime does. It’s undeniable. And I must admit I truly missed my life (including my dear friends, pets and even my clients!) after taking time off from it all.

And that’s a good thing.

So to answer the question: can you have too much Slow, I would say no, you cannot because slow means mindfulness in this context. Being mindful is the path to great happiness. Working mindfully is a part of that too.

For instance, are you mindful after you’ve had a vacation about how you feel when you return? Have you ever taken time off, only to dread returning to your daily grind? That’s when you know a sabbatical itself won’t solve your issues. In that case, it may be time to reevaluate your life in general.

Consider:

  • What’s working for you today?
  • What isn’t?

It is easy to get overwhelmed when reflecting on how you might make changes in your life. Maybe it isn’t your actual pace of  life that is tripping you up, but perhaps it is the content with which you fill your days. Dread, in any case, is a good indicator that something is awry.

Here’s a quick dread test (as found in The Power of Slow): when you consider doing something, does it make your heart sink or sing?

That’ll tell you a lot.

How might you move your life from dread to delight today? Hint: Do one thing that excites you. Then tell me about it. Because here’s the thing: when you share your excitement, it spreads like wildfire. And who wouldn’t want to be on fire with your special kind of enthusiasm?

Vacate the premises

April 16, 2010

If you’re anything like me, you start dreaming about summer vacation the moment the first bulb sprouts from the earth. Vacation planning is not just about flipping through catalogues and finding the right place to go, however. It also involves a great deal of preparation, especially if you are steeped deeply in your work life.

The stacks of files, the influx of emails, unanswered voicemails you have to address! The horrors of returning from vacation almost make you not want to leave at all. No matter what your envious co-workers think, that trip to the beach will contribute to the bottom line as you take off your thinking cap and put on your bikini. After all, a well-rested worker is a productive one.

Karen Matthews of the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center knows the importance of leisure. According to her 2009 study of 1399 people as reported on NPR.com,  survey respondents who had experienced leisure, including vacation, said their time off had vastly contributed to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression. (That the U of Pitt even has a mind-body center speaks volumes about them!).

See! Time off is really good for you! So before you start hemming and hawing about how impossible it will be for you to leave the office for a few days, listen up:

With a little preparation you can save yourself a lot of time and heartache on both ends of your trip. If you dread the pre-vacation jitters and the post-vacation blues, follow these few simple steps to ensure a smooth transition from board room to boogie board and back.

Before you leave:

  1. Give people fair warning so they can play fair, too. For vacations that are a week or more, alert your clients, co-workers and colleagues a full four weeks before you leave. Remind them again two weeks before, then again a week before to manage their expectations. Giving them plenty of notice will decrease the chance of last-minute deadlines.
  2. Delegate routine assignments to your co-workers. Answering standard queries or sorting through mail can keep you available for more pressing matters when you come back. Return the favor when they go on vacation, too.
  3. Use your tools. A vacation reply can be helpful to remind people of your return and to provide alternative contact details so easier questions can be handled in your absence. If possible, add one stated day to your absence to give you a chance to catch up when you get back. Pre-pay any bills due in your absence or instate an auto-pay function on your online bank account.
  4. Hire a plant sitter. To give yourself peace of mind while you are away, ask a neighbor to bring in your mail, take care of your plants and pets, and start your car periodically so it won’t freeze.
  5. Unplug major appliances. Believe it or not, your electrical devices still use energy when they are ‘off’. Unplugging them will not only save on your energy bill but also eliminate the possibility of damage sustained by an unexpected power surge during a storm.
  6. Turn down the air conditioning. You can save on your electricity bill by turning off the A/C while you are gone.
  7. Vacation unsubscribe. Take a few minutes to unsubscribe from unnecessary email notifications such as Facebook and LinkedIn while you are away in an effort to tame the inbox shrew.
  8. Provide emergency contact details such as the hotel where you are staying, but not your personal mobile phone. To avoid carting the office with you, plan to leave your work-related gadgets at home.
  9. Check in online. If you are flying to your destination, take advantage of your airline’s online check-in service where available. It can save you the hassle of standing in line.
  10. Don’t forget Plan B. Create a back-up plan ahead of time in the event your flight is cancelled. Alert your designated co-worker that you’ll contact him or her in case of unforeseen delays.

When you return:

  1. Plan for continued leisure. It is possible to sustain a saner pace of life by integrating some fun into your every day routine. Taking a vacation is a great reminder of how good relaxation can be for you. Nurture your creative muse by engaging in at least one leisure activity a week going forward. Mini-vacations are a great alternative while you wait for the real thing to come around again.
  2. Organize your inbox by sender. It gives you an overview of essential emails while offering an opportunity for a quick mark and delete of non-essential ones. You can even do this the night before you return to work to combat post-vacation stress come Monday morning.
  3. Write down all the voicemail messages by date. Prioritize them in order of urgency. Decide which method you will use to respond. Sometimes one email can answer several voicemails at once.
  4. Be generous. Your diligent co-workers had your back while you were on vacation. Bring them a small gift of thanks to brighten their mood (because they weren’t away) and yours (because you’re already back!).
  5. Be gentle on yourself. Getting up to speed after a prolonged absence can be overwhelming, to say the least. Let people know you are digging yourself back out of the details. Give yourself a few days to get back into the swing of things.
  6. Don’t forget to dream. Sometimes the best way to combat post-vacation sadness is to promise yourself a retreat in the future. Part of the fun is in the planning! Having things to look forward to can keep you motivated while you await your next vacation adventure.

Leisure is an essential part of your life. It affords you an opportunity to reflect, regenerate and rethink many aspects of your daily routine. It is one of life’s marvelous paradoxes that free time is indeed time well-spent!

A recent survey released by Travel Ticker, a Web site that scours the Internet for the best travel deals, reveals that 32 percent of respondents claimed they will be travelling more for leisure in 2010 because they have “more free time”. Admittedly, of those citing more free time as their reason to increase their leisure travel in 2010, more than 38 percent of respondents had an annual household income of $76,ooo and 34 percent were 51 or older. Travel may be top of mind for these age and income brackets as many may be working fewer  hours and able to take additional paid or unpaid leave or plan on retiring in 2010.

Photo courtesy of Amy L Morton

Nonetheless, even the 18-to-30-year-old age bracket intends on flying the coop for fun. Of the total number of consumers polled, 43 percent of 18-30 year-olds said they plan on taking more leisure trips in 2010, making them the most likely group of respondents who will be increasing their travel plans.

The power of slow says take a vacation. You needn’t fly to an exotic place to take a respite. But remember to slow it down a notch every now and then. Enjoy life and the time you have.

Time is the gift that is your life.

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?

Create the opening

April 14, 2009

Mini-vacations are the best. You unplug for a few days and race back to your everyday life with a sense of renewal. You’re gone long enough to appreciate your work without being overwhelmed by it.

This past Easter weekend was one such weekend. The weather was amazingly warm and inviting. We spent hours upon hours outdoors, barbequed, drank great German beer, and soaked up the long-awaited sunshine.

hammockReturning to work today, I was more productive in one afternoon than I had been all last week. People called to reconnect, reporters responded in a timely fashion, and it seemed we all benefited from a little time off.

 Create the opening, then walk through it.

The power of slow has once again proven its worth!