Stressed? Not you, I hope!

Hope you have some time left to read this post - it might pay out...!

Hope you have some time left to read this post – it might pay out…!

Why are some fellows so relaxed and seem to have all the time in the world, while others – in similar circumstances – are always busy, stressed and seemingly close to burn-out?

Well, some of that is personality, some might be unchangeable external factors, but on the other side I belief you have quite some control over how stressed you are.

Here’s some ideas on how to increase available time and decrease stress:

1) Limit commuting time

Probably one of the most important bullets, and probably the biggest time consumer in modern times – and very often underestimated.

To make the effect of commuting clear I did two calculations for you:

a) The “holiday-equivalent”

If you commute 1h to your work, that is 10hrs a week or (at 40 work weeks) = 400hrs per year. 400hrs in turn equal about 10 weeks(!) of additional holidays. Or more than 1 additional free day per week.

That is, in this situation by simply cutting commuting time you could earn yourself additional annual spare time far beyond your yearly holiday!

b) The “I want to express everything in hard currency”-calculation

Take your commuting time per month and calculate how much you earn on your job when working that amount of hours.
In the example that would be: 2hrs commuting per day x 20 work days = 40 hrs commuting per month. Total work time per month at 38hrs per week = 152hrs.
Let’s say you take home 4.000 EUR per month, this means your commuting “costs” you time-wise: 40/152*4.000= 1.052 EUR. Per month! Additional to any costs for your car! Per year this is a >12.000 EUR equivalent cost!

Are you now seeing the real price you pay for that nice house on the countryside? Still willing to pay it? Yes? Well, fine, but then don’t complain about having little time.

2) Home-Office

If your company allows, then push for home-office.
My perception is that this is not really helpful if you want to pursue a career (at least in Germany presence seems to be key in that case), but next to working undisturbed in more concentrated, and thus less stressful, it saves heavily on your commuting-time-budget.
Assume the above example, and two days of home-office, this saves you a time equivalent of 160hrs per year (=4 work-weeks) or a money equivalent saving of 4.800 EUR per year. A good deal. Plus helping the environment, relieving traffic density and saving your employer food, subsidized coffee, energy consumption and time consumed by casual office chat etc. A clear win-win.

3) Don’t do over-hours

Unless you really love your job, always remember that the really limited resource of yours – the resource that nobody can extend – is your time on this precious planet.
Don’t take the money for the over-hours but convert them to additional holidays or leave earlier.
Btw: Most companies unfortunately did not notice yet, but scientific evidence is clear: After more than 8 hours in the office, people become fairly inefficient and error prone.

4) Let go of perfectionism

You certainly know the 80/20 principle: The first 80% of the job can be done in only 20% of the time, while the last 20% (to make it perfect) needs another 80% of the time.
I think this is very much true for almost most areas of life. And in almost all cases, you are better of doing only 80% perfection on task A plus let’s say 80% on task B, and 80% on task C, and still you need only 60% of the time that the perfectionist needed for doing only task A. At the workplace it very much depends on your boss and corporate culture whether you better go for 80/20 or perfectionism, but in private life, 80/20 really is the way to go, when it comes to cleaning your house, doing the garden, planning your holiday, thinking about your investments. You will be amazed how much you get done, how good things still work, and how much time you have left to hang out at the lake.

5) Don’t schedule private life like a business day

You certainly know all that people who have their cloud-driven and family wide connected iPad diaries always with them, with a huge column for each day, sliced by hours or even quarter hours.
They are running their private life like a business schedule!
No good idea in my humble opinion.
I recommend getting rid of all the electronic toys in personal or family planning, and only stick a small paper year-calendar on your fridge. It gives you a great overview over the already busy periods in the year and it quickly looks so crowded that you will stop filling in too many additional appointments. Our calendar e.g. is only two DIN-A-4 pages big, thus per day that is not more than two square centimeters of space, less than the space for one hour on the typical iPad diary. No way to chunk in 4 or 5 items into a saturday. You fill in swimming and having ice cream with kids…thats it, slot is full, everything else will be declined. :-)
This is a great thing to relieve yourself from excessive planning, please try it out!

6) Don’t have too many regular appointments

“Less is more” also holds for regular appointments, like sports-club, meetings, trainings, kids-regular-things etc.
All of them might be nice and good stand-alone, but if you have your guittar training on monday, your yoga on Tuesday, swimming on Wednesday, grocery shopping on Thursday, chinese-learning on Friday etc. AND your wife AND your kids have similar schedules, then good night, prepare for your family burn-out. No fun anymore.
My rule of thumb is: Two regulars per adult and week is enough. For our kids it is one regular appointment per week for the older one (5 years old) and none for the 3-year old.
Of course, the Woodpecker clan very often does additional things, outdoor activities, short trips, sports, going out for a beer, meeting friends etc. But most of this is spontaneously, dependent on weather and mood or as a reaction on invitations (which we basically never have to decline due to our ample availability).
In the end, my feeling is that the Woodpecker clan in the end does more diverse things, experiences more and is much less stressed than the average well-planned and tight-schedule family.

7) Instead do more spontaneous things

As said, cutting on regulars frees time for spontaneous action, which can be much more fun like the 5th recurrence of a squeezed in regular activity.
E.g. last friday, Woodpecker decided to grab his boys and go for a night in an alpine club run youth-hostel in the mountains. Cost: 15 EUR. Fun: Great. Planning: Close to zero. Surprise-Factor: Very good, exactly because there was no plan and not much thinking beforehand. Weather: Horrible. But come on, who cares…! :-)
Last sunday, nothing scheduled, went bouldering with the kids. Next weekend, nothing scheduled, lets see what surprise comes in this time! Etc.

8) Stay more or less local at weekends

If you are already short on time, then no good idea to plan weekends 500km away with a lot of driving or flying on crowded roads/airports.
Weekend in Barcelona, Shopping in London, Daytrip to Lissabon? Besides the crazy costs, let’s be honest: This is more stress than real fun.
If hopefully you picked your place to live right, then most of what is interesting you should be close by anyway. Go sailing on the lake nearby or hiking in the mountains, or riding the bike on the countryside at the weekends. When you have holidays or time off and more time available, you can travel further away obviously.

9) Don’t do everything yourself

This is a point where I probably disagree with most of the otherwise admired frugal-living-community. I don’t think it makes sense to do everything yourself.
Of course you should do things on your own that you like and you are good at. But e.g. if you and your partner hate cleaning the house (more than working in your job) and a cleaning service costs you 13 EUR per hour, whereas you earn 26 EUR per hour in your job, then I see no reason why you should not outsource this work and spend one hour working in your job for two hours of cleaning get done by a third-party.
This may be different if you have ample free time left, but for somebody working full-time, or for a family, where time will always be a scarce resource, outsourcing makes sense in many cases.
Actually I very much prefer spending money on services that give you free time (cleaning service) or experiences (traveling) instead of spending it on stuff.

Edit: One more:
10) Use your Smartphone less often

Nothing much to say on that one, right?!

 

 

Any other ideas of you guys?

Curious to hear – leave a comment in case!

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Work-Life-Balance, Stage Two: Learn to Accept your Job

What can you learn from this guy?! Stoicism and to always have a grin - even in difficult circumstances! :-)

What can you learn from this guy?!
Stoicism and to always have a grin – even in difficult circumstances! :-)

A job that you like, that is challenging, not too stressful and also rewarding, is a great thing.

If you have one – congratulations! Enjoy it, be thankful and rest assured that you have an excellent chance to be happy in your life. You don’t have to read this post, move on to other areas of your life and look how you can make them as satisfying as your job.

Unfortunately, probably the majority of the people today does not have that kind of job but is missing the one or the other ingredient at the workplace.

In fact, today’s work life is more and more characterised by increased work-density, hectic management, short-sighted decisions and more than all: constant change. Positive feedback, real humanity and appreciation of the employee is, at least in Germany, a rare thing.

All of this is proven to promote stress, burn-out and a feeling of meaningless in the job. In my opinion the resulting unhappiness in the workplace is the primary driver for so many people to think about early retirement and downshifting. An understandable starting point, but not a good motivation for the long run.

In fact – I freely admit it – unsatisfaction was one (but only one among others!) driver for Woodpecker’s downshifting journey as well. Hence, in a way I even owe my downshifting journey to some bad experience in my early work-life! Thus, irony of history: a warm thank you to two nasty and slave driving bosses that I encountered right in the first years of my work-life: I guess you did not intend so, but well done, you early on opened my eyes to a different and much better way than a career! :-)

Anyway, I now, after a few more years down the way, understand it is not wise to continue being unsatisfied in the job.

Because one of the (important!) secrets of happiness is that you have to start it here and now, and not attach it to a future precondition like working less hours in the future.
In fact this is one of the things why I don’t belief in early retirement. Because it means a future precondition for happiness, it means postponing being happy to a much later point in time. And once you start to postpone, you will postpone again and again and always find new preconditions to be met before being happy. All experts in the field will confirm: Planned future happiness is not going to work. The way is to decide for happiness here and now.

OK, so where does that leave you, assuming you are currently more or less unsatisfied with your job, but understand that just clinging to the hope of a future early retirement is way to little to get happy?

Again, it leaves you with the middle way:

1) Install downshifting measures now.
Take a sabbatical asap to think about things and develop your extra-work-life, convert your over-time into holidays, leave earlier, go to part-time, disengage from office politics and from career-plotting in favour of concentrating on your actual job (that will save a lot of time in most companies), in general shift your focus from money/job/career/consuming/status to private life/community/simple pleasures/experiencing/diversity.
Some of this measures will cost you money or career opportunities, but combined with a bit of exercise in frugality, no problem.

2) Actually, do not disengage from your job per se. On the contrary: Muster more passion for your job.
I don’t say it for your employers sake, but for your own sake as passion will lead to more satisfaction at work. The optimal combination as I understand now is: Downshifting that leads to a rich and divers private life PLUS being able to enjoy your job, leading to a good time at work as well.

3) How can you do that? Enjoying your job, while your environment spins faster and faster, or your boss is not quite supportive, or the company is doing bad commercially?
Well, is some cases of course there is no way than leaving, but in most cases you are in a grey zone, where some things are bad and some are quite ok. Try to see the whole package. Do not think about the future of your department, company or position (that’s all speculation and you cannot change it anyway), keep away from the office gossip. Learn to just wait and see without speculating. Accept the price you have to pay for downshifting.
Try to get more independent emotionally from your job. E.g. the company is not valuing your work our you as a person? Would be nice if they do (and would increase productivity) but if not, as a downshifter you should have a whole set of sources of appreciation, so why rely to get it from your company/boss? Continue to do a good job anyway. Be friendly and sympathetic to everyone and build as many personal ties as possible. Understand that many of your fellow workers are stressed too or entangled very deeply into the treadmill. Never be missionary but accept when others see the job differently or even honestly love it. Do never rate any colleague on his/her benefit for your career. Listen to others. Less often insist that you are right.

Understand that all of this will make your job much more fun and all this things are in your hand, no matter what your company or your bosses are doing.

 

In a nutshell:

In the end, your job will very likely continue to play a major role in your life. The option of just dropping it might sound compelling, but rest assured that other troubles would follow if you did so – it is the nature of life itself that always something is missing :-) .
Thus the better way to me seems to learn to accept your job as it is.
I guess this holds for many aspects of life…to be continued…

Cheers,

Woodpecker

Prometheus – on the Art of Empowering Yourself

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

Prometheus brings fire to mankind.

From time to time, even the true downshifter, who is much less interested in power, money, glamour that the average chap, will feel a stitch of envy.

Especially if you are a self-made man or woman, who started without rich daddy, without great family connections, helping little ties etc.

A downshifter will typically not envy the powerful or rich career makers who made it to the top on their own account and paid their price to climb up the ladder, because he theoretically could have done the same but decided not to.

But he might envy the 1% (or 5%, whatever), who did just nothing, who did not work hard or invest clever. Those who simply and by stupid luck were born rich and powerful, in the right family, at the right time, in the right place. Those that (although they – as the only ones – will never see that) got their status, their wealth and their (apparently!) care-free life not by effort, but by pure luck.

As most human emotions envy is nothing wrong at all, but holds a function:

It’s a signal from your subconsciousness, that something is wrong here, that you seeing something unjust.
Of course the signal can be wrong, but often it is also right, because – please don’t tell your kids – life is indeed unjust.
There was never full justice in the world, there is not today (not even in your country, company, family) and there probably never will be full justice in the future. I don’t like it, but that is the way it is.

On the other hand, too much envy is certainly not helpful, so today I have something for your comfort:

 

One of my favorite “heroes” from Greek mythology and a “role model for the modern middle-class employee” (woodpecker interpretation :-) ):

Prometheus!

As you might know, Prometheus was the guy who stole the fire from the gods and brought it to humankind.

In the Woodpecker modern interpretation:
Prometheus was the anti-authoritarian self-made man, who empowered himself, built his life from scratch without the help of a devine birth and then took what needed to be taken from the powerful without caring too much about their permission (in fact no harm done, of course the gods still have their own fire too, but they just wanted to keep it all for themselves). And he had his pride about his self-empowerment and about all he had accomplished HIMSELF despite his low born start.

To better understand, read my favorite poem from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Simply replace “Zeus”/“the gods” by the “rich and the powerful born class” and “Prometheus” by yourself or “the self-made-man”.

You will see how Prometheus/you can be proud about the house he built on his own and in fact is envied by the gods for the warmth of his hearth. A warmth that they will be able to enjoy.
You will see that the gods/the rich born are poor in a sense that they all depend on the mercy of the people plus owe their whole status to our all masters: time and fate.
You will see that Prometheus/you overcomes disappointment, empowers himself and decides on his own to be as happy as the gods/the rich&powerful, and you can be as well.

You will understand that you, the self-made man/woman, have sources of happiness at your hand that the rich born will never know.

That is independence.
That is real comfort.
That will shield you and make you an upright and self-confident person, no matter where you stand on the “social ladder” of your country.

What a fantastic piece of art by Goethe!

(English translation of the poem here)

Prometheus

Bedecke deinen Himmel, Zeus,

Mit Wolkendunst!

Und übe, Knaben gleich,

Der Disteln köpft,

An Eichen dich und Bergeshöh’n!

Mußt mir meine Erde

Doch lassen steh’n,

Und meine Hütte,

Die du nicht gebaut,

Und meinen Herd,

Um dessen Glut

Du mich beneidest.

 

Ich kenne nichts Ärmeres

Unter der Sonn’ als euch Götter!

Ihr nähret kümmerlich

Von Opfersteuern

Und Gebetshauch

Eure Majestät

Und darbtet, wären

Nicht Kinder und Bettler

Hoffnungsvolle Toren.

 

Da ich ein Kind war,

Nicht wußte, wo aus, wo ein,

Kehrt’ ich mein verirrtes Auge

Zur Sonne, als wenn drüber wär

Ein Ohr zu hören meine Klage,

Ein Herz wie meins,

Sich des Bedrängten zu erbarmen.

 

Wer half mir

Wider der Titanen Übermut?

Wer rettete vom Tode mich,

Von Sklaverei?

Hast du’s nicht alles selbst vollendet,

Heilig glühend Herz?

Und glühtest, jung und gut,

Betrogen, Rettungsdank

Dem Schlafenden dadroben?

 

Ich dich ehren? Wofür?

Hast du die Schmerzen gelindert

Je des Beladenen?

Hast du die Tränen gestillet

Je des Geängsteten?

Hat nicht mich zum Manne geschmiedet

Die allmächtige Zeit

Und das ewige Schicksal,

Meine Herren und deine?

 

Wähntest du etwa,

Ich sollte das Leben hassen,

In Wüsten fliehn,

Weil nicht alle Knabenmorgen-

Blütenträume reiften?

 

Hier sitz’ ich, forme Menschen

Nach meinem Bilde,

Ein Geschlecht, das mir gleich sei,

Zu leiden, weinen,

Genießen und zu freuen sich,

Und dein nicht zu achten,

Wie ich!

 

(side note: Prometheus was harshly punished by the gods for his theft, thus be a bit careful with the “stealing” part ;-) )

Cheers,

Woodpecker

 

 

Book Review: Stop Thinking Start Living

stopWhen doing the winter trip last week and writing the last post, about the importance of the here and now, I actually had a few insights in mind from a book I read recently:

 

“Stop thinking, start living” by Richard Carlson.

 

The book is a bit repetitive in parts, but the central idea is quite compelling:

 

  • How you feel is entirely dependent on your current thoughts.
  • I.e. whenever you feel unhappy, bad, stressed, it is a result of “negative” thoughts that stayed in your mind too long.
  • You cannot control what thoughts enter your mind (they are created by your sub-consciousness) but you can learn to control if you allow them to stay in your mind.
  • Most people cling to negative thoughts too long and turn them around and around in their minds, thus creating an unnecessary feeling of unhappiness.
  • Too the contrary what the mainstream says, “Thinking problems through” is in most cases not helpful but harming.
  • Most “problems” are better solved when not thinking about them but letting the subconsciousness (your “wisdom“) solve them without active thinking-effort.
  • Querying your wisdom (i.e. listening to your intuition) will yield much better results and save you from bad feelings due to negative trains of thoughts.
  • If you are in a bad mood, always understand that this is just a symptom of some bad thoughts you had before, and not reality.

In a nutshell, Carlson is opposing basically all the psychological opinion in saying you should not dig around in your problems, your bad thoughts and the reasons for that.

According to him, you should learn to let negative thoughts simply pass by and get a distance between you and them.

I am not yet sure if I would go as far as Carlson in all of his conclusions, but in some points he seems to be damn right:

  • Learning how to not follow negative trains of thought is very valuable. Especially if you are already aware that you cannot change the situation now.
  • Getting a better connection to your intuition sure also is a good advise. Intuition is not something esoteric, but it is neglected in today’s world as it is not seen as “rational“.
  • Getting distance to your negative thoughts and also to negative feelings makes sense. The trick is to accept both the negative thoughts and negative feelings (not to fight them), but to say to yourself in the same instance: “This is just a negative thought or feeling, it is not reality. My mind is currently clouded, thus I do not see things realistically but much more negative than they are in fact.”

At least for Woodpecker, especially the last bullet was a very valuable advise that seems to work.

Try out yourself or better read the book!
If bought used, it’s not more than 3-4 EUR. :-)

Cheers,

Woodpecker

The Importance of the Here and Now

 

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of "perfect" - if you are able to enjoy it...

View from Benediktenwand, close to Munich. A day nothing short of “perfect” – if you are able to enjoy it…

An important (and a very difficult) ingredient to leading a good live is living in the here and now.

To not spend unnecessary thoughts on facts and circumstances that you cannot change anyhow.
The idea is very simple on the one side and VERY difficult to put into practice on the other side.Basically – if done right and taken to the extreme – living in the here and now means that you never spend any thoughts on anything that you are not doing right now.In other words: In the optimal case, your thoughts and your doing is always fully aligned.

  • When you take a shower, you take a shower. You do not think about the argument you had with your boss.
  • When you are driving, you are driving. You do not think about that vacation trip you still have to organize.
  • When you are doing a hike, you do a hike. You do not think about your stocks which could have performed better.

In theory that sounds like a simple thing, and you will find the idea repeated throughout all schools of philosophy and religion.

However, there are probably only a handful people on the world which are able to fully put this into practice. And in ZEN-Buddhism, a philosophy that has much to say on this idea, they would be called enlighted, so rare are they.

Anyway, as Woodpecker and probably you too are unfortunately quite a bit away from getting enlighted, let’s focus on a first step:

Realize how often your thoughts are distracted from the here and now to something negative, and how these thoughts ruin an otherwise pretty perfect moment.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

Walk through a valley, Bavarian alps. Focus on the very moment and happiness will follow.

I tried to practise this a bit during a two-days winter hike on another alpine hut with an old friend of mine.

In fact, this two days were – objectively – nothing short of perfect:

The weather was fantastic, cold and crisp, but sunshine and fresh, dry air.
A winter wonderland landscape only for ourselves, not spoilt by any other hikers, who all have been partying carnival or whatever.
A cosy hut all for ourselves alone, enough firewood to have it warm (after two hours of non-stop power-firing the stove :-) ), totally calm and peacefully surrounded by a mountain cirque. Great fresh food and wine that we carried up in large quantity to the hut.
We both being healthy, alive, not tired, no ache, all fine.

And still, it is so easy to damage that perfect atmosphere.
In that case it was not so much me (although I play that part often enough myself) who was unbalanced, but Woodpeckers friend.
I do not at all blame him, as he currently is going through a difficult time, I only want to highlight the mechanism at work in all of us in some examples.

  • We parked at the wrong parking place. Meaning +30 minutes additional walk. A walk through a very nice, winter-snow valley plus we had a lot of time, so actually something great and we were there to walk anyway! But made my friend uneasy for not having found the “right” parking.
  • He forgot to bring “vanillin sugar” that was needed to prepare a Kaiserschmarrn (traditional Bavarian sweet dish) after a recipe from his grandmother. It had to be replaced by normal sugar, not a big deal and the result still tasted fantastic, but made him rant for not less than half an hour.
  • Instead of enjoying the evening, he was repeatedly bothered by the fact we only had one night at the hut because he did decide not to take two days off but only one. A second night would have been much more relaxing.
  • A lot of discussion on Munich city government’s stupidity regarding traffic planning and what could all be better if they were not so stupid.
  • Woodpecker did ok “here and now”-wise these two days, but of course I also had my “moments”, e.g. a mood-lowering discussion with him on a car shortcut he proposed and I was so damn sure my way was better (I initially asked for him to do the navigation, and of course it turned out he was right). etc.

So you get the picture.
It was all minor normal things that happen all the day in human interaction.
And don’t mistake me, it was still two great days out in nature – fortunately not great harm done.

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

Self catering hut of the German Alpine Association. (Cost per night: 12 EUR.)

But still my point is:

All of the above happens all the time.
This kind of negative thoughts are of absolutely no use, as you cannot change the given situation anyway. And (for the given moment) this kind of thinking takes significantly away from your happiness.
If you observe closely, you will find that all of us have this types of thought very often.

But now the good news:

If you continue to observe, you will get better and better in stopping this kind of thinking.
You will not dwell on an error you cannot change anymore (the forgotten vanillin sugar) for 30 minutes but only for 10 minutes, and later for 1 minute. And even later you will just accept it and laugh about it, turn the fact from a mishap into something increasing your happiness, e.g. by seeing the absurdity of the situation and enjoying it!

This is and important step towards happiness. Start today and try it out!

Take the next situation were you feel you get upset. Observe it closely and try to put some distance between you and the situation.

It will be difficult in the beginning, but the more often you practise, the easier it will get to stay calm and let the negativity spiral pass by.

Cheers,

Woodpecker