© 2006 by Pat McHenry Sullivan
We spend the majority of our waking hours either preparing for work, working, or recovering from work.
Being at work often feels like being Steven Covey’s proverbial woodsman with a dull saw. Once we take the time to sharpen the saw, we’ll work more efficiently. But how can we get away from the ever-growing workpile long enough to sharpen our tools or our wits?
“Every time I take a break,” said a nurse, “Work is more satisfying and I’m better able to serve my patients. But we’re so short staffed that there’s always something urgent that needs attention right now.”
Fortunately, it’s possible to find wisdom for work without abandoning your responsibilities, even in the midst of whatever chaos confronts you right now:
First and always, breathe deeply and with awareness.
Under stress, it’s easy to repress your breath. When your breathing is shallow, your energy level, your mental alertness and your confidence all drop. Conversely, when you breathe deeply, you become more alive. As you breathe consciously, you naturally trade concerns about the past and future for awareness of the present.
The connection between breath and vitality is honored in most of the world’s religions. The Hindu physical yoga tradition teaches many different breathing exercises to increase physical and spiritual alertness. The ancient Greek word “pneuma” and the Latin “spiritus” both can be translated as breath or spirit. Throughout the Hebrew Bible are verses reminding us that without breath or spirit, we are dead; with it, we come alive.
Challenge the “dragons” that inhibit good work and life.
It’s as if the business and professional world is under the spell of two wisdom-and energy-draining dragons. The fire-breathing one’s message is “Hurry up! There’s always more to be done.” The one with the paralyzing breath warns, “Be careful! Everything you do could be wrong.”
There’s only one way to handle the dragons. Face them, and admit the truth of what they say. There is always more we can do, and everything we do could be wrong. But when we accept this reality of human existence and commit to doing our best, we can tap our wisest, most efficient self.
Challenge all your beliefs about work and discern which tasks are essential and which are not.
Underlying a workaholic schedule may be based on repressed longings to feel appreciated or important. Much potentially productive time is wasted complaining about how overworked we are, or bragging about how hard we work.
In an effort to demonstrate loyalty to his firm, a senior partner said he had missed the births of all four of his children. Upon hearing that, another partner could no longer ignore the gnawing career dissatisfaction that until then she had kept at bay by being busy. Not long afterward, she found work that allowed her to have a satisfying life while she made a satisfying living. How can you make your work and life more satisfying?
This article was originally published in the “Law Practice Management Newsletter,” American Bar Association. It is adapted from two of Pat Sullivan’s 26 “Vision and Values” columns for the San Francisco Chronicle (formerly the combined Sunday publication of the Chronicle and Examiner). Pat often speaks to professionals and companies about less stressful, more efficient and more meaningful work. Reach Pat at firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-530-0284. Contact Pat for permission to publish this article in its entirety.