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The Mega Multitasker|
"I wish I had more opportunities to be creative—I love to paint—or just relax and be calm. I'm always running." —Shari Lynn Rothstein-Kramer, 45, owner of a PR agency, Miami
Her crazy-busy life "Every minute of my life is packed. Once I'm at the office, I'm all over the place doing a million things until 6:30 P.M.—emailing, tracking the news, talking on the phone, managing a staff. After an hour-long dinner with my husband, I'm right back to working at home, from 8 until 11:30. I even bring my laptop to bed! Partly, I work so much because I have several jobs—I own my agency; plus, I serve on the boards of three organizations and write columns for three local newspapers. I guess I can't help biting off more than I can chew because I feel as if the more I'm out there, the more doors open, even though I crave moments to paint and just be. I do manage to play with my dog—she comes with me to the office, which I love—and have dinner with my husband, but I'm so stressed out that even doing relaxing things can feel like yet another obligation."
The pro's take "Shari juggles a slew of activities to try to get more done, but all that multitasking is actually a bad idea," Miller says. Research shows that working on two tasks at once decreases productivity. And the more difficult the jobs, the more inefficient you'll be. To slow down and savor enjoyable moments, the experts suggest she try the following:
Be ruthless with your to-do list
Jot down all the nonessential things you do in a week and how each makes you feel. Don't include can't-avoid tasks such as "clean litter box" or "dinner with in-laws." A few items on Rothstein-Kramer's list: (1) Write newspaper columns: 1½ hours. "Makes me feel creative and accomplished." (2) Play with dog: 2½ hours. "Nourishes my soul." (3) Charity board work: 7 hours. "Hard work, lots of extra commitment." Scan your list to see which tasks excite you; nix those that don't. After you've downsized, you can devote more energy to what feels meaningful.
How it worked "When a charity board called and asked if I'd participate again, I declined graciously. It felt great to realize that life wouldn't grind to a halt because I said no. I gained seven hours a week, which I use to chill on my balcony with my dog and sip coffee for an hour every morning."
Be creative in 10-minute bursts
It's easy to dismiss 10 minutes as too short a time to do anything of quality, but taking advantage of brief, unexpected moments can feed your creative needs, Vanderkam says. Rothstein-Kramer can stash colored pencils in her bag, then keep her eyes open for inspiration. Writerly type? Draft a poem while you're in line.
How it worked "When I stopped juggling four things at once, I started enjoying each activity more. Recently, I went to the World Flower Expo, and instead of running through, I looked closely at the flowers and took photos. It gave me an amazing burst of joy. I've been painting more, focusing on one activity at a time and punctuating my day with pauses to breathe. It's blissful!"
The "I Can Handle It on My Own" Supermom
"I'd like an identity beyond mother, which means making time for dinner with my husband and for the gym." —Felicia Marie Geller, 42, fashion executive, Short Hills, New Jersey
Her crazy-busy life "I'm a type A personality, juggling a demanding job and three sons: one 9-year-old and 7-year-old twins. My husband leaves for work at 5 A.M., so I'm up with the kids at 5:45, making breakfasts and lunches, doing laundry, washing dishes, making beds and—oh, yeah—trying to get ready for my job. I do the school drop-off, then get to work by 9 A.M. At 4 P.M., depending on who can cut out of work a bit early, my husband and I trade off carting the kids around to extracurriculars. We use sitters in a pinch but otherwise juggle it ourselves. Then it's the dinner and homework routine, and by 9 P.M., we're all in bed. Before I had kids, I used to work out every day. But now? Forget it. I'm so drained, I don't even have energy for adult conversation. When my husband and I do plan a night of socializing, it feels like such a big deal that I always go overboard: A party at my house can mean a 100-person affair. I'm totally run down."
The pro's take Geller has trouble delegating, to outside help or to members of her own family, Miller notes. "To find some free time for herself, Felicia has to give up trying to accomplish everything all by herself," she says. Here's how to do it:
Outsource the small stuff
Look at your to-do list and consider who you could call on to pitch in: family, friends, even professionals. "Things may not end up getting done exactly as you'd do them, but you'll earn yourself more free hours," Miller says. In Geller's case, her husband can throw in a load of laundry every other day, or the kids can make their beds.
How it worked "I assigned my oldest son, Ryan, breakfast duty, and I passed bed making off to all the kids. My mornings are now easier: I calmly pack my bag and put on my makeup, which feels great. It's been hard for me to give up total control of the household, but Ryan enjoys his new responsibility. And even though the kids aren't experts at bed making, I'm glad to be rid of the chore and take care of my own needs."
Make socializing mellow, not Martha
Connecting with others doesn't have to entail hours of exacting preparation. "Instead of devoting a whole day to prepping for a major party, Felicia and her husband can invite another couple over for a low-key night of takeout while the kids hang out in another room with a DVD," Vanderkam says. The time she saves can go toward workouts or relaxing with her husband.
How it worked "We started a tradition called No-Frills Fridays: We invite a couple for pizza and Trader Joe's appetizers, which takes minimal prep so I can totally unwind and enjoy myself. And unlike big staged events, where the men and women tend to segregate themselves, these intimate gatherings let me talk more with my husband. Afterward, I truly feel like I'm myself, not only an exec or a mom. I've also become more laid-back about the weekday routine with the boys: I used to be a stickler about no TV, so I had to supervise their running around. Now I let them watch while I enjoy a much-needed energizing run on the treadmill. I can feel the endorphins flowing—it's great!"