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!



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…