Posts in Stress
You Want Quiet But All You Hear is Noise
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The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States is very, very hectic.  I appreciate Joshua Becker’s recent post on doing holiday traditions that you want to do rather than feel that you need to do.

Still, even with an “on my own terms” mindset to the holidays, you can feel overwhelmed.  I know that I do.

The spillover of course is that when you go to pray, your mind is still racing...

  • Is the gift for Aunt Helen the right gift?
  • When is that holiday party?
  • Did we get the tickets for Breakfast with Santa? (An event I despise by the way but that’s another story.)

The list goes on and on.  A seasoned person of prayer knows how to gently hit “pause” in his head when these thoughts barge in.  A person with a young prayer life will be pulled in a thousand different directions when these thoughts come in.  Whether you are new at prayer or are steeped in holiness, silence and quiet are very important.  

St. John of the Cross said this, "What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love." 

I suggest, when the racing thoughts approach, that you do one of two things:

  1. Say to yourself, “I’m going to let that one go...” and truly let it go.  
  2. Write it down.  If it’s really important, write it down or capture it in your task manager.  This way, you can then go back to prayer and have the confidence of knowing that you can revisit the item later.

Prayer is an art and takes practice.  With these two strategies, you’ll be able to handle the distractions that come your way.

prayer, Quotes, StressMike StPierre
Four Things You Can Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

I signed my kids up for basketball this week.  Here’s a snapshot of how it went:

1. Daily emails from the school reminding me of the signups.  
2. Creating an account online.
3. Confirming my account via email.
4. Paying for the two kids to play basketball.
5. Capturing my password and login credentials in 1Password.
6. Marking on the calendar the key meetings and events that go with signing two kids up for basketball.
7. Creating a project in OmniFocus so I can “park” all of my basketball-related items in one place.

If this was the only thing in my life, it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Two kids playing basketball… sounds great right?

Except that it’s only one slice of the pie.  Life as a forty-something dad with four kids has become exceedingly complex.  The basketball signup process is just one thing that I’m managing.  

Other (similar) projects include my daughter’s Fall Drama rehearsal schedule and what role parents need to play.  There’s winterizing the house before the first frost.  Then there’s the committee that I should never have signed up for but did out of guilt.  The conference calls for that commitment add another layer of stress.  

I could keep going… but I won’t because you probably have similar things on your project list.  We all add more complexity than we’d like to our lives.

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.

And complexity equals one thing and that is noise.  

Noise is our accumulated list of projects, tasks and todo’s that need to be managed.  It’s life really.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

The key is this- do we have a system that is capable of helping us manage all of these projects?  Does a person really need to use a productivity app to manage basketball signups?  Can’t life be simpler than this?

Sadly, no it can’t.  Sure, when you’re about 10 years old life is simple.  You wake up and do whatever comes to you during the day.  But once you hit middle school and beyond, you’ve graduated to Project Manager status.  

Your system needs to keep up.  

The “problem” I have (and maybe you do too?) is that I get tired.  On some days, I just don’t want to have to manage projects in my personal life.  I don’t mind it at all in my “work life”- we use Nozbe for that.  

But it’s the Saturday morning kind of thing that bothers me.  It’s a tension to manage- having projects for my kids’ commitments and my non-work activities.  It just gets overwhelming at times.

You could just say, “the heck with it” and toss up your hands and hit delete.  This might be effective for a short while but is probably irresponsible or reckless for the long haul.

Instead, here are four creative strategies for when you feel overwhelmed by your system:

  1. Visit with a spiritual director on a regular basis.  Visiting with my spiritual director, a Catholic priest, has been the most impactful decision of my adult life.  Without someone to talk to about deep things, most of us are left to wrestle with our internal world on our own.  Overwhelm is definitely one of the things that a spiritual director can help with.
  2. Take an intentional hiatus from social media.   More and more studies show that the more time you spend on social media, the unhappier you are.  By hitting the pause button on your Facebook and Twitter usage, you’re making more time for simpler things that matter much more.
  3. Reclaim your Sabbath.  When do you take “sabbath”?  When do you stop picking up socks around the house and sticks in the yard?  When do you enjoy doing something that truly makes you smile?  By reclaiming your Sabbath, you’re not escaping your overwhelming list of projects and todos.  Rather, you’re giving them a context of the rest of your life.  I recommend Terry Hershey's Sabbath Moments as a place to start if you want to reclaim your Sabbath.
  4. Cut it out.  At a certain point, you just need to do less.  Which project can you cancel or delete? Which committee can you gracefully bow out of?  Which event can you skip?

We all get overwhelmed.  The real key is to respond with patience and calm.  Be compassionate with yourself and realize that you have much more agency than you think.  

You’ll get through it!

Be Honest- How Much Work Really Gets Done at Work?

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving a cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and having to drag his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  If only others had the guts to do the same, I told myself.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

-commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
-meetings (30-60 minutes)
-chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
-lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that you lost due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work at his strengths.  Oh, and not having to commute into the city- that's the cherry on top.

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
5. Have as short a commute as possible.
6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  It takes humility to realize that and guts to stick to the simplicity of the whole thing.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!

7 Surprising Attributes of Patient People 

Do you think of yourself as a patient person?  Do others give you feedback about your patience, or lack thereof?

This might look like a friend making a casual comment like, "As if you'd wait in line!" Or, your family might laugh when you tell them that you're patient.  

Family is good like that, sort of a built-in polishing of the stone.  There's no flaw that doesn't go unnoticed.  

My family has been telling me for years that I'm not very patient.  I wore it around my neck as an odd badge of honor.  You see, my father is not very patient and I just figured that was how it was supposed to be as a "St. Pierre man".  Add in the cultural myth that leaders are classically impatient and there I was- impatient as all get out.

Something inside me told me that this might not be a good thing after all.  What if patience was actually better than impatience?  What kinds of opportunities might open up if I could become more patient?

I chose Lent as the time of year to begin to study this further.  During a chat with a local priest, he asked me which one thing I could do to show God that I was more grateful.  It immediately came to me- I had to work on my patience.   

Since then, just before Easter, I've done just that. It's been work to flex my patience muscle and pause my impatience enough to grow and learn. I've realized that I was pretty much a zero in the patience department. 

It didn't feel good.  Something needed to change. 

After a few months, here's what I've found about learning to be more patient:

  1. Listening is part of patience.  To the degree that you can look someone in the eye and not just be waiting to say something is an act of patience.
  2. In between-spaces are part of patience.  Think of line waiting, etc.  
  3. Silence is part of patience.  How hard is silence for you?  For many people, it's terrifying.  Just closing your eyes, listening and doing nothing... this is an aspect of patience.  You're just "there".  For me, as a person of faith, this is integrated into my daily time of prayer.  
  4. Daydreaming is part of patience.  When was the last time you looked out a window and let your mind daydream?  Patient people, I've learned, enjoy a good daydream from time to time.  They're not in a rush to get to the next thing.
  5. Humility is part of patience.  To put someone else above yourself is an act of humility.  Thomas Merton, the Catholic Trappist monk, once said that the simple act of reading is a gesture of humility.  Just as it takes patience to read, it takes humility to be patient.
  6. Focus is part of patience.  A patient person can focus on thing at a time, whether it's a work task or a conversation.
  7. Contentment is part of patience.  If you can be happy doing one thing at a time, you're flexing your patience muscle.  

Patience is a rare virtue.  Our workplaces expect a lot out of us and bosses are typically impatient. As high performers, we demand a lot out of ourselves, always pushing towards excellence.

Through it all, we would do well to practice patience, with ourselves, with one another and with our work. 

How to Paper-proof Your Office

What does your office look like?  Is it neat and clean?  Is it messy and disorganized?  

Each of us has a few habits associated with our offices that we might not want others to know about.  You know what I mean: the pile of papers by your credenza, the extra pair of shoes under your desk, the batch of receipts near your phone.  

I have a few of these too... except that I'm not going to share them with you!

What I can share is one simple habit that works for me.  It's so easy that you might overlook it but trust me, it works every time.  

So here's the tip: don't put any papers on the floor.  This won't paper-proof your whole office but it will put a dent in things.

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When you put papers on the floor that belong on a desk (or in a drawer), their value decreases.  When things find their way on the floor, you have to step over them.  When you have to step over things in your office, you slow down and so does your work.  

Not good.

Do you want to know the biggest reason why papers shouldn't go on the floor? In my experience, when I put papers on the floor, I never end up tackling them.  Despite all of my good intentions, the papers just never get touched.

Will power isn't as easy to activate as we'd like. 

If you have a habit of letting papers get on the floor, you have three options:

1. Toss it.
2. Deal with it.
3. Get comfortable with clutter and therefore decreased productivity.  

With all of that said, what's in your office?

Emergent Leader Podcast Episode 14: Interview with Tim Metz

Tim Metz is my special guest for Episode 14 of the Emergent Leader Podcast.  Tim is the founder and CEO of Saent Productivity.  Saent (pronounced "saint") is a company dedicated to helping you focus while you are at work. Their new product, "The Saent" is pretty cool- a unique marriage of software and hardware.  

Tim and I talk about his journey from fatigue to focus. Assisted by his discovery of Getting Things Done, Tim found that by doing one thing at a time, his productivity increased exponentially.