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!




Film review: “Speed – In Search of Lost time”. A clever film on deceleration.

Film review on "Speed - On Search of Lost Time"

Film review on “Speed – In Search of Lost Time”

Do you often feel stressed and having no time?

That – despite of all the efficient methods you use – available time seems to diminish, rather than to increase?

You don’t remember the last time you really idled (and enjoyed it) or when you read a book for two hours without interruption?

You are often thinking: “Tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, after I finished this and that, I will take more time for friends, family and kids”?

You cannot remember the last day (or even the last half day) you spent entirely without internet or cell-phone?

If the answer to some of the above is YES, then you are not alone.
In fact you belong to the majority in western society.

You are suffering from uncontrolled acceleration.

In my opinion the main disease of our modern times.

Actually, yesterday I had a planned internet and phone free evening (at work it is hard to avoid), so I digged out from our library a nice little documentary film on the phenomena of the “accelerated society”:

“Speed – In Search of Lost Time” (link here, unfortunately German only).

A highly recommended film, where the author tries to find out why he is always stressed and tensed, what are the reasons for society’s acceleration and what are potential alternatives.

The film is available in German only, but I’ll try to extract some highlights:

  • An interview with a man of Sueddeutsche Zeitung (a very well-respected German newspaper) who did live without internet, computer and cell-phone for 1/2 year, and his experiences while looking for fax-machines or public phone booths.
  • Meeting with Douglas Tompkins, who is planting trees that need 1000 years to grow up. This guy founded the cloth labels Esprit and Northface, but then left the business and bought a huge piece of land in Chile to “deprive it of acceleration”.
  • Interviewing one of the most celebrated business consultant lady (OMG, what a cold and dead person she is) on her “mission to make the world a better place by accelerating it”.
  • Staying with mountain farmers that live entirely without watches, have no holidays and stuff thus seem very relaxed (the secret seems to be living by a rhythm instead of a tact. A tact (like the tact of the clock or the machine) is merciless and ever pressing. A rhythm instead is repeating as well, but it adapts to the nature or the body and allows for deviations.
  • An interview with the Minister of Happiness in the state of Bhutan, where the growth of the country is measured by “Gross National Happiness” instead of GNP. This guy made the most clever comment in the film:“The key to happiness and deceleration is to forget about the notion of ‘time is money’ and replace it by the notion that ‘time is life’ “.Woodpecker couldn’t agree more.
  • Meeting with the German Sociologist Prof. Hartmut Rosa (link in German) .
    His core theory on the subject can be summarized as below:
  1. Stress is caused by having too many options in today’s world, thus being forced to make decisions all the time (and forgo millions of other opportunities at the same time)
  2. Acceleration is caused by the use of competitive logic to not only economics, but to all areas of modern life, e.g. to social contacts, friends, hobbies, family, religion. People fear very much to be “left behind” and thus do all to “stay in the game”. From a historical point of you this focus on competition was never the case before.
  3. A vicious circle is started:
    “People feel stressed by the high tact of modern life” -> “They have little time” -> “They get inpatient” -> “They expect others to act quicker (e.g. the phone hotline, the computer startup, the teller in the supermarket, colleagues at work etc.) -> “Demand is generated for more accelerated technical or organisational solutions” -> “People feel even more stressed by the high tact of modern life”-> etc.

Unfortunately, the film does not really provide a more general solution, except for small tips (like testing out your internet/iPhone/blackberry addiction by internet-free days, saying “no” more often, follow a rhythm instead of a tact, stop spinning around yourself etc.) and a vague “everybody has to find out for himself”.

And actually it misses any hint at all at Downshifting!

Where downshifting at its core (at least in Woodpeckers definition) is a lot about deceleration and living in the here and now.
As well as it is a lot about breaking out from the vicious cycle of “staying in the game” and finding ways to organise life outside the competition postulate.

But apart from this little aspects missing (maybe they are saved for part two 😉 ), the film is a must-see for any German-speaking downshifting candidate!
Go to your local library and find out!

And please let me know any similar films you know in English or German!



Woodpeckers Family and Financial Balance 2012

Winter time - a good time to review last years family balance! (seen at Kitzbüheler Alpen, Austria)

Winter time – a good time to review last years family balance! (seen at Kitzbüheler Alpen, Austria)

2012 was a good year for the Woodpecker family.

Above all we increased our family size by 33% due to the birth of our second son beginning of 2012 – Welcome to this beautiful earth, little man!

Definitely, two kids is a different story also from a stress and sleep point of view. But this will pass and a new family member adds a new interesting complexity to the family: instead of 3 possible social matchings there are now 6 possible matchings, and the family feels a lot more complete – at least for us.

But 2012 was also a great year with regard to downshifting efforts:

Time worked (in the job) was flat for Mrs. Woodpecker and down 40% for Woodpecker (5 months of parental leave).

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Time: The Ultimate Killer and Most Important Ressource

Ticking away the hours that make up a dull day…

OK guys, this is a more philosophical one, but sitting here in the night with the sound of the mediterranean waves in the ears and only the stars above (kids fortunately sleeping happily), that’s just what fits.

So let’s go:

Travelling for a longer time and with the luxury to do so with a quasi-open end leads to an interesting phenomenon sooner or later:

You completely lose your sense for time. Or you gain it. Difficult to say which of both.

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Italy – part 1: Internet and the „Fear Of Missing Out“ – underestimated potential for addiction?

A view from the camp site at Lago di Garda, Northern Italy.

Currently in La Spezia, Cinque Terre, after staying 5 days on a campsite at lake Garda in Italy.

Finally some travelling again! Home lent out to good friends, and on the road for a bit of time…hurray!

What I really love about travelling is that you come to see different things, leave your every-day life and surroundings behind you and get open to see everything from a different angle. For me that’s like a retreat from common life, like being raised to a kind of meta-level where you can see life more clearly and understand better what is important, what already goes right and what could yet be improved.

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TV – the (Un)Happiness-Effect

In the previous post, we were discussing the money and time-consuming aspect of having a TV.

Now let’s look on what happiness economics has to say on watching TV:

Source of the following is the book “Glück – die Sicht der Ökonomie”  from the  swiss professor Bruno Frey, who was one of the first to start scientific research on the measurement and causes of happiness.(English version here).  Highly recommended reading for those who speak German.On his website there are a pile of publications to download in English as well, however mostly very scientific papers and more complicated to read. I happend to hear an excellent lecture of Prof.Frey at the Ludwig-Maximilans-University of Munich in 2001 or so – another great leap on my journey to more good days to live.

First of all, average TV consumption is massive throughout the world:

3h 30min for the average German.

Even more, 4h 50min, for the average US citizen.

That’s a hell of a lot of time!

Let’s make some comparisons:

I don’t know what happened to this guy. Maybe he was watching too much TV?! (seen at Oktoberfest, Munich, Bavaria)

  • Over their lifespan many people will spend more time watching TV than working.
  • The average US guy will spent 1.700 hrs (or 70 days) watching TV per year.
  • He will have spent 13,5 years watching TV at the end of his life (assuming age of 85, start watching at 15 – rather optimistic I’d say).
  • Assuming 10 ads per hour, you will see 17.000 ads per year and – OMG – 1,2 million ads in your lifespan. (Given that ads increase your desire to buy things you don’t need that fact alone should be frightening and alarming to anybody looking for a more frugal life.

OK, fine, but what now are the outcomes of the economic research?

Well, first finding is, that people tend to be unable to control their TV consumption, thus in economic terms they are overconsuming, or consuming beyond what is good for them. They later tend to regret that they watched so much TV say on a given weekend, but they struggle to get rid of the habit (That’s probably why Mrs. Woodpecker wisely proposed to get rid of the TV-set finally).

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Guide to Happiness & Money: Do you need a TV?

Did these guys need a TV? (seen at the amazing ancient greek city of Ephesus, today in Turkey)

Woodpecker’s last TV

Do you remember these bulky huge TVs, one bought in 90s?

Big as a wardrobe and energy-consuming in a way you could heat your flat with them?

That was the last TV I owned.

I don’t know how many hours I spend in front of it…
…until finally it broke down in 2004.

I was going to let it be repaired, but it was Mrs.Woodpecker (Mrs.Woodpecker in spe at that time), who voted for putting it away in the basement for some time, as she felt that she could not control her TV consumption.
Because of that she was one of the few persons who never possessed a TV, until we moved together some years before.

So the TV set went to the basement, and guess what:

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