As someone who seems to be searching for ways to achieve peace within a world where hectic schedules are the norm, I find myself in silence on this Sunday afternoon, the only device in site, this laptop, and time to sit beside my compadre, Charlie, my two-year-old Border Terrier who seems to have life nailed down.
Of course, I am not writing this to break ground; obviously, hundreds of articles and blogs and books have highlighted the value that a dog can bring into your life. I know. I have read many of them; I have seen Marley & Me, but this short piece is more for those who struggle to find balance in life and in work. And selfishly, this is also for me, and a reminder for the days when I’m in a funk.
Below are Charlie’s top ten ways to restore work-life balance. I hope you can relate, or it makes you laugh or you share it with your coworkers.
1. Get In Alone Time: A typical adult is surrounded by coworkers, spouses, roommates, children or other relatives around-the-clock. While it’s perfectly healthy to be in the company of others, too often we seem to forget about making time for ourselves. Charlie and I are not saying that you need to meditate under a tree three or four times a week, though you probably would benefit greatly from it, we are saying that you may need to get more comfortable with you. There are days when my wife and I are both home and one of us will ask, “Where’s Charlie?” only to find him in the spare bedroom, on the bed, chewing a toy or curled in a ball, totally at peace, totally alone. When you spend time alone, you are presented with time for self-reflection. And if this frightens you, then you are due: Take this time and ask yourself if there is anything that you can change about yourself that could lead to a more stress-free workday. Do you overreact? Are you lacking patience? It isn’t always someone else’s doing. Get reacquainted with yourself.
2. Get Exercise: We all sleep better when our muscles have a real reason to rest. Charlie isn’t a vain guy; he doesn’t step on a scale in the morning, he doesn’t check himself in the mirror–for him, exercise is a necessity. Are we that much different? On the days when my wife and I are too busy to take Charlie for a walk, or engage in a thirty minute fetch/tug-of-war session, he gets antsy and bored and anxious. Without this worked-out energy, Charlie is a psycho. I sit all day at work; you probably do, too. Going to the gym isn’t always an option, but perhaps a short walk on your lunch hour will do you good. Get the blood flowing. Our legs weren’t built for chairs, and you’d be surprised what some fresh air can do for you on a hectic Monday afternoon.
3. Hang Out with Friends: We may have been blessed with a social dog, or we may just have exposed Charlie to other dogs early and frequently, regardless, he loves to be around other dogs. Do you really want to restore some balance in your life? Get out with your friends or make new ones if the ones you have are always stuck at the office. Friendship shouldn’t end at adulthood. Taking the time to have fun, cut loose and confide in friends is what makes us feel like we have partners in what often feels like a battle. Sometimes we tend to lean on our spouses too much, and pour our complaints over their heads until they drown. When Charlie sees his friends walking on the sidewalk, he’ll cry and whimper until we take him out for a few minutes so he can spend some time with someone who reminds him that he isn’t the only dog on this block.
4. Know Your Limits: Know what you are comfortable achieving. Don’t set goals that are unrealistic. Maybe staying an hour late tonight isn’t totally necessary when you are running on four hours of sleep? Do your best, of course, but know when to say when. This summer, I decided to take Charlie for a long walk. Instead of a typical stroll up and around the neighborhood, we drove to an old paved-over railroad trail. It was hot, mid 80s but Charlie was excited from the moment the car keys jingled, But less than a mile in, he was wiped. Winded. Done. If I got him to go 100 feet it was only because he had spotted a small patch of shade. He wasn’t going to push it. And I listened. Gave him a five minute rest in the shade and walked back to the car and into a car with cool water and A/C. Charlie tried.
5. Treat Yourself: OK, Charlie can’t treat himself, because he’s a dog. So it’s my job, as his owner to treat him when appropriate, and remind him that he deserves random acts of kindness. Since he loves car rides, sometimes, I will take him with me when I need to fill up my gas tank or pick something up quickly from the store. As busy adults, we can go days and weeks and months without treating ourselves. Try this: Set a small goal, and then treat yourself for accomplishing it. (I give Charlie a piece of jerky for doing his business in the grass, so it only makes sense that we do something nice for ourselves after completing a lengthy assignment at work.)The next pay period, go ahead and buy yourself something you have wanted for a while and don’t feel guilty about it. On Saturday, take a walk to a ice cream shop and get a large sundae. Get an hour massage in the middle of the week. Go out dancing on a Wednesday. Go play nine holes after work, and shut off your phone!
6. Sleep In: If you have children, you are laughing at this one… I am not a father, yet, and often, I will send a text message to my father friends at 11AM on a Sunday and say, “I just woke up.” This is cruel, I know, but sleep is glorious and they need to be reminded! Charlie, of course, loves sleep, too. More than me. On the days when he is left home for several hours, you can see the divot his body has left in the bed or the couch and can assume he didn’t move all day. When we don’t get enough sleep, everyday tasks seem insurmountable. We can feel foggy and off-balanced. And sometimes, one or two bad nights of sleep can ruin our whole work week. Try to get six-eight hours a night, and if absolutely necessary, consider a sick day, and the night before, throw your alarm clock in the river!
7. Ask For Help: In my line of work, deadlines abound. I want to be able to complete every project on my own, start to finish, copy and design. How realistic a feat is this? Perhaps it’s completely doable nine times out of ten, but there are instances when you will need to ask for help. Neither Charlie nor I are saying to lean on your coworkers and become a stump, but understand that you are not an expert in every area, and recognize that you are surrounded by capable, often willing adults. Take a door for example. If it’s locked, there is no way Charlie is getting it open. Sure, he could scratch a hole through the other side, or break through the glass, but wouldn’t it be easier to stand beside it, and ask for someone to open it for you? Charlie isn’t asking to be carried outside, he just needs your help with the knob.
8. Say, “I Love You”: If you have a dog, then you know when he or she is saying, “I love you.” They do it all the time, every day, whether by snuggling up to you while you sleep, wagging their tale when you come home, or licking your face just because, they love us, wholeheartedly, and by making us feel loved, we can forget about the small stuff that has gotten us all fired-up at work. Charlie says don’t forget to tell your loved ones that they are loved. Dogs can’t speak, but as humans, we have the ability to call our spouses and get all Stevie Wonder on them. Just a simple reminder will give us some perspective on the days that feel relentless and defeating.
9. Eat Well: This is more of a joint lesson since Charlie will eat anything; he has eaten the stuffing inside our couch; he has lapped-up a pile of crumbs and dust bunnies while we swept the floor; he has eaten socks by the dozen and has even feasted on the floorboards. Still, whenever he does this, his body reacts, and he will eliminate this waste rather quickly, either in the front or the rear entrance. When Charlie sticks to his diet, his bowels are firm (I’m sorry), he never vomits and he has a pep in his step. Pretty basic stuff. The next time you are out at lunch ordering a sandwich, consider water over soda, yogurt over chips. When you eat a heavy meal in the middle of the day, it is easy to become lethargic, lazy, and in effect, irritable.
10. Enjoy Silence: I will be the first to admit that silence is a rare sound for me. There are a ridiculous number of ways to distract yourself with noise. When was the last time you drove to work with the radio off? The last time you sat in your living room and enjoyed a drink with silence? Charlie doesn’t understand our obsession with noise. Noise is an unnecessary distraction from the now. He can burrow a hole into a couch for hours and bask in the silence. In fact, the only thing that can bring Charlie out of his meditative state is what? Yep, noise. Charlie says devote a few moments a day to silence, and get comfortable with it. It is our friend. Conference calls and meetings fill our ears several hours a day, and sometimes we just need a moment, where we can shut our office, take a deep breath and count to ten.
As I finish this piece, on a Sunday night, getting mentally prepared for another work week, Charlie is lying right beside me, nestled in, watching the Cowboys on TV as he falls in and out of sleep. For right now, all is well, and he knows this, and reminds me of the importance of living in the now. Life isn’t easy, and most days neither is work. It is unrealistic to think that everyday at the office will be a picnic, but I do also recognize, too, that I have the ability to control how to react to stress and how to help restore some work-life balance.