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Note that this blog post is part of a series focusing on how to achieve better life balance through slower living. You can access all tips at Strategies for Better Life Balance and Slow Living.

For most of May and June this year, I disappeared from the blog writing world and did not compose a single post. Why? I let other parts of life take over. When we talk about ultra busy time periods of the year, we typically think of the November and December holiday season. However, spring is just as crazy in our household, particularly the mid-April through June period when everything and everyone seems to come alive again. As the ground thaws and the flowers begin to bloom, the busyness seems to multiply as well. Suddenly we have outdoor sports again – baseball and soccer and lacrosse! We have dance competitions. The schools and non-profits have their big fundraising events. Our town and neighborhood have their outdoor activities too. We have the April-May birthdays (6 people in our family) to plan, presents to buy, parties to arrange. And then there are the end-of-school-year events, parties, and programs to wrap it all up. It is all fun and positive, but too much of any good thing leads to over-extension, exhaustion, and as a byproduct, stress.

Some of my favorite months are spent feeling like I am missing the beauty of the season. I am simply unable to slow down enough during these times to really enjoy it. I end up feeling sad that it always flies by, and I’ve long wondered what I can do about this situation. Will I one day regret that I didn’t get to savor these seasons? How can we regain life balance and live more slowly during the busiest times of the year?

Step 1: Identify the Ultra Busy Times

The first step is to identify which months are your busiest. This of course could change from one year to the next, but you may find that you tend to have consistent times when your schedule becomes more packed. Mine are mid-April through June, mid-September through October, and late November through December.

Step 2: Determine What You Are Actually Doing

The next step is to play detective – go through your calendar and identify what makes these time periods so busy for you. What exactly is happening? Where is your time going? What has been added to your schedule or how has your schedule changed? For the month of May and June, I found that there were increases in several areas on my calendar, including:

  • Children’s sports and activities: additional sports practices and tryouts, dance competitions and recitals, orchestra concerts, end-of-year celebrations for team-based activities
  • Appointments:doctor appointments for self and children and hair appointment
  • Work: extra workshops to prepare for and took on more appointments
  • Celebrations and visits: four family birthdays to celebrate in May, guests visiting one weekend, two parties to plan, and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
  • Volunteer commitments:three volunteer commitments that all had large culminating events in May and June; one that I was in charge of
  • Kids’ school events: teacher appreciation week, major school fundraiser, end of year activities and parties
  • Social gatherings:additional social gatherings, a few family social outings, end of year parties
  • Other: meetings for house construction, pack for vacation

Of course this list is in addition to the “normal” schedule. During the less busy months, like February, there are also schedule changes and increases in some areas. However, not as many happen at the same time. In May and June, all events, activities, and happenings seem to converge into the perfect chaotic storm.

Step 3: Take Back Your Time

There are some aspects of our busy months that we cannot control. For example, there will always be multiple birthdays in May for my family. Thus the challenging part is figuring out where you can cut back or what you can manage differently. Consider what aspects of your schedule can be changed during your ultra-busy periods. Here are some factors to contemplate:

  1. Commitments– The obvious place to start is with your time commitments. What has been more work than you expected and/or not as fulfilling? Is there something you might cut back on or say no to altogether for next year? One issue for me tends to be volunteering. Everyone needs help, and I often feel guilty saying no. But we all have limited time. If this is an issue, identify the most important volunteer opportunities to you and weed out the rest. Set a limit for yourself, such as only one major volunteer involvement per season. One mom told me that she chooses specific roles that are more behind-the-scenes at her child’s school (such as baking for the school fair) and one event that falls in January when it is a calmer time period. She then says no to everything else.
  2. Kids’ Activities– Along the same lines, review your children’s activities. Do they really enjoy all of their commitments? Do they have enough downtime? Is there a way to minimize all the driving (carpooling, walking from school)? Also, think about what you really need to attend as a parent. Can you and a partner split up attendance?
  3. Routine Appointments– Somehow several of my routine appointments ended up in May and June this year, but they really did not need to happen during this particular time period. Going forward, I will aim to schedule dentist visits, annual physicals, hair appointments, eye appointments, and so on outside of my ultra-busy months.
  4. Seasonal Experiences– I love seasons, and thus in the past I’ve tried to cram in as many “seasonal experiences” as possible. I originally thought this was a great way for our family to savor the time period as much as possible, but instead it always ends up feeling like we are scrambling to fit everything in. In the fall I especially tend to go overboard with a visit to a pumpkin farm, fall hike, trip to Central Park, Halloween party, and so on. I finally have come to the realization that it just might be more enjoyable if we choose one or two activities per season. Then the next year we can rotate to focus on the other ones we didn’t get to do.
  5. Social Outings and Events– During the busy seasons, there always seems to be many more social events. I have to remind myself that being out three evenings in a row is just too much for me. If the same events tend to come up each year, decide in advance which ones are most worth your time (e.g., the annual baseball fundraiser, trivia night, neighborhood party). If there is flexibility in when to get together with others, choose outside of your ultra-busy months, or set weekly or monthly limits. Also keep your entertaining and party plans simple.

Becoming aware of what makes our schedules so packed and busy during specific time periods can help us make effective changes that lead to better life balance and slower living. Perhaps we can then savor our favorite seasons instead of just surviving them. That is my plan for this fall!

Action Step:

Follow the three steps above to determine your busiest time periods, what increases during these times, and how you can approach these seasons differently. Then make a concrete action plan for the next upcoming busy period. As dates and requests begin to arise, even months in advance, use your action plan as a guide for making decisions so far in advance. As we all know, it is easy to say “yes” to something that is way off in the future!

Readers: What are your ultra-busy time periods? How can you slow them down? Share in the comments below!

Be sure to join Women, Work, and Life’s Facebook page where we will further discuss strategies for better life balance and slow living, in addition to flexible work, returning to work, and career change. If you are not on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter @EmilySeamone. Also, sign-up for my newsletter to keep on top of the blog series as well as other posts and information. I look forward to seeing you in all these places!

The post Tip 15: Reign in the Ultra Busy Times appeared first on Women, Work, and Life.

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Photo: Emily Seamone

Note that this blog post is part of a series focusing on how to achieve better life balance through slower living. You can access all tips at Strategies for Better Life Balance and Slow Living.

Around the Centennial of the U.S. National Park Service’s Birthday in 2016, my family and I experienced our first trip to one of the parks, Yellowstone, and we fell in love. Since then we have been to four parks over the past three summers. Our draw to these fascinating sanctuaries of heaven on earth surprised me. After all, we are more city folk than anything. My husband and I spent our childhoods right outside of Washington DC and Chicago, respectively, and we have been raising our children near New York City. We are also not exactly what people would label as traditional “outdoorsy” people. We don’t camp in tents, fish, backpack (the real way), or rock climb. When we travel to National Parks, we mostly stay in hotels, although once in a cabin. Yet we immensely appreciate all that our natural world has to offer. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that visits to the parks help me recalibrate, especially after a chaotic time period, and ease back into slower and more balanced living.

The Magic of the National Parks

So what is it that makes these parks so magical? At the surface level, they allow any individual, no matter one’s background or life situation, to connect with various forms of nature and revel in its beauty. For me, they also offer an unparalleled sensory, mindful, and spiritual experience. When I enter these comforting natural worlds, it is as if they invite me to leave all baggage behind. I ceremoniously deposit my worries, concerns, fears, regrets, tiredness, and sadness in imaginary collection bins at their protective front gates. Being surrounded by stunning wilderness, mystical forests with towering trees, jaw-dropping geological formations, exquisite wild animals, and soothing streams has a decidedly calming and empowering effect on me. I feel peaceful and centered as I mindfully focus on the pleasant sights, sounds, and smells that wash over me. I can’t help but soak in the present moment, standing in awe and delight and contemplating the wonder of it all. The wild outdoors literally beg me to slow down and pay attention. I am reminded that there is something indeed greater than us all, and this reawakens what is truly important in life.

Forest Bathing

Perhaps it is not much of a surprise that being in nature has a positive impact on most people. Experts have been studying for some time the benefits of the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing,” which is essentially immersing oneself in nature and “connecting with it through our sense of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.” There is validation that such practices can favorably impact our mental and physical health, including reducing stress, boosting immunity, improving mood, decreasing anxiety, alleviating depression, increasing concentration and focus, enhancing creativity, reducing inflammation, and lowering blood pressure and glucose levels. Essentially being in nature is good for us and makes us feel good.

Awe Helps Us Slow Down

But here is another intriguing discovery: being in nature often induces feelings of “awe,” and it is awe that seems to help us slow down. Awe is defined by Professors Dacher Keltner and Jonathan Haidt as the “often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something that transcends our understanding of the world.” A series of studies conducted by Professors Melanie Rudd, Kathleen Vohs, and Jennifer Aaker found that experiencing awe in turn “caused people to perceive that they had more time available and lessened impatience.” Furthermore, it also increased life satisfaction, willingness to volunteer, and desire for experiential goods (rather than material goods).

Photo: Emily Seamone

These findings fit with my experiences of being in the parks. Indeed, traveling through the National Parks seems to induce awe every day of our visits. Each section of a park is new and delightful to our eyes, whether we are hiking through enchanting forests with majestic trees, along seaside cliffs with waves crashing below, or through rugged canyons that have been carefully etched out over millions of years. This awe (along with the other benefits of nature bathing) in turn leads to an enhanced mood, as well as the spiritual and transcendent experience of this emotion (e.g., noticing the vastness of our world, being one small part of it all). I can relax, let go, slow down, and tap into what is key in life. Suddenly, the daily little things (e.g., the never-ending to-do list) that cause much stress seem so insignificant. I am reminded that I want to enjoy life and its experiences. I don’t want to operate on automatic pilot mode in the fastest gear possible, just trying to get everything done and missing all of life’s beauty. The National Parks and nature help draw me back to my center, allow me to feel I have more time, and appreciate life again.

Returning Home

The major challenge, of course, is retaining these feelings and lessons once returning to our homes with less-mystical surroundings. Here are a few ways we can try to extend the effects of our trip:

  • Print our favorite nature photos and hang them around our homes; these photos can also serve as phone and computer screen savers, which is a great reminder every time we log onto our computer or mobile device to breathe and slow down
  • Share photos on our social media accounts; we can even turn our favorite photos into inspirational memes that we can share regularly
  • Create a photo book of our favorite pictures to look at when we need to recalibrate
  • Carry a special memento from a park, such as a rock, to remind us to breathe and center ourselves
  • Practice forest or nature bathing as often as we can by connecting with nature nearby our homes
Action Step:

Even if you cannot visit a National Park at this moment, consider whether this might be a possibility for your next vacation. Currently there are 60 areas designated in the U.S. with “National Park” as part of their name, but did you know there are actually 417 national park sites in America? Thus you might not need to venture very far to get to one. And don’t forget smaller areas of wilderness that might be right around the corner from you!

Readers: Have you been to any of the National Parks? Which ones are your favorites? Did you have a similar experience as I mentioned here? Share in the comments below!

Be sure to join Women, Work, and Life’s Facebook page where we will further discuss strategies for better life balance and slow living, in addition to flexible work, returning to work, and career change. If you are not on Facebook, you can follow me on Twitter @EmilySeamone. Also, sign-up for my newsletter to keep on top of the blog series as well as other posts and information. I look forward to seeing you in all these places!

Photo: Pixabay

The post Tip 14: Recalibrate by Visiting National Parks appeared first on Women, Work, and Life.

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