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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Monday Morning Check In: Stress & the SR Factor

Today is the first day of school for most of us in the United States. I wonder how many of us scrambled over the weekend to be ready for this morning. How many of us made last minute shopping trips to pick up school supplies or stayed up way too late to put the finishing touches on projects that had to be completed for today? I spent hours on Saturday making sure that my house had a fresh start for the fall and my budget was caught up, organized, and ready to go. Then I spent hours Sunday making sure that my university syllabus was ready to upload to the appropriate university channels and creating student and parent handbooks for my private teaching studio.

I am ready for the first day of school, but I wish I had been ready earlier and without the pressure of the deadline hounding me. I had thought of what I needed to get everything done, and fortunately I had all my ideas, documents, and supplies at hand when the time came to pull everything together. And I knew when the deadline was and how much time was available to me. So what was the problem? Why did I have to stay up  and "cram" for this "final exam"?

There are three quick reasons I can think of. One is that I am a creative person first and foremost, and I am easily distracted from the drudgery and the mundane by activities or ideas that have creative potential. In other words, I find it is more fun to think of new ideas and invent novel projects than it is to sit down and actually complete the work that the project demands. I want to be the idea person, and I need some assistants to do the work. Once upon a time, I worked with the perfect personal assistant, who was the best paralegal I ever worked with. She thought as I did and anticipated what I would need to have done. What a marvelous talent she had for organization and concentration. This reminds me that I should give her a call. She could probably tell me what I need to do to solve my overworked status.

Another reason I was not ready for school earlier is that I am a busy person (and I just returned from a "vacation" and a music festival out of state). After half a century, I still cannot figure out if I am busy because I have high energy and need constant stimulation, or if I just do not know how to say "no" in an effective way. I suspect that it is due to a combination of both.

Another reason is that I frequently underestimate the amount of time that I need to complete the tasks on my agenda. I believe that this is a pretty common occurrence for many folks. The Pareto Principle, or the 80-20 rule, probably explains this, that 20% of something is generally responsible for 80% of the results. Dr. Joseph Juran called it the principle of the "vital few and trivial many." The idea is that we would do better to focus on the vital 20% to produce our 80% results. I have a sinking feeling that I am spending time doing the 80% and producing only 20% of what I am capable of accomplishing.

Would it not be great to reduce life to a mathematical formula? Actually, doing this might help in many ways. For example, when I plan how much time to allow for me to get ready to leave for work in the morning, I assign times to certain categories:
  • 15 minutes: dogs out (I have 10 dogs in the house)
  • 30 minutes: ranch animals (10 alpacas, 4 donkeys, 3 chickens, 1 horse)
  • 15 minutes: feed dogs, out again
  • 30 minutes: shower and dress
  • ____?____: driving to destination
Wait! You know what? I am still rushing around to be on time. Fortunately, all my clocks are set ten minutes ahead to give me a ten minute cushion. I still rush anyway.

So now, I have added the "SR Factor," or the stress reduction factor. Just as we loosen our belts one notch to ease the pressure of a heavy meal, so the SR factor works to ease the pressure of a deadline or appointment. I set the value of my SR factor at 15 minutes generally, and I enlarge it on those days when I have an important meeting or event to attend or if I anticipate unpredictable traffic. The SR factor helps me account for those things I frequently forget, such as the time I need to walk to and from my car at either end of my journey, or the sociable greetings I need to return in the faculty mailbox room, or the unexpected phone call that delays me as I head out the door.

My suggestion for the future, in order to avoid similar weekends of open-ended and never ending projects, is to reduce them as much as possible to a finite time period and include an SR factor.

Wishing you a relaxed SR factor week! I am home in Texas once again, and I have good Internet and cell connections once again. I am eager to resume a regular writing schedule. Send your ideas and comments about topics!

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