Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Efficiency and Stress

It's 6:59 as I start to write, and cinnamon muffins have been baked, one kid is out the door, and I've already finished proofing the piece that's headed to the printer this afternoon. That's good, because if I told you everything that has to happen between now and 10pm you'd tell me I'm crazy. The two big things this evening are that Dancer has tech rehearsal, and I have to run a dinner for 225-250 people at Eldest's school.

I'm not an efficiency expert like the dad in Cheaper By the Dozen. I've noticed over time, though, that I am more efficient when I am not stressed. My brain is better at finding solutions when I don't worry about how (or if) I'm going to come up with an answer. Several years back I hit on something that revolutionized my life: I realized that logistical problems belong in the puzzle-solving part of my brain, not in the worry center. When I treat them like crossword clues I can't quite get, leaving them alone while I work on another part of the puzzle, then coming back, I make surprising progress.

I have a lot of logistical issues in my life. There's a 90-minute gap today between when I leave to take Dancer to tech and the time Dancer's godmother can arrive to take care of Little Guy and Snuggler. The younger kids are going to a friend's concert this evening. I can't take them with me to drop off Dancer, because there isn't time to get home again before I have to be at the school.

Frankly, no one is going to die or be inalterably damaged if I don't figure out a graceful solution to this. [Key point: life is easier when we stop equating solution with good solution. There's a whole spectrum of solutions, and if we're willing to entertain them all we come up with something that works more quickly.] At worst, the kids don't get to go to their concert, the friend they're going to see is disappointed, and my guys sit around cranky and bored at Eldest's dinner. But no: it's worse if I freak out, act irrationally with my kids because I'm stressed, put them on edge, and trigger misbehavior and neediness. That actually can damage kids and relationships, and have a long-term effect.

I know that most of the time when I do stress out, it's because I feel trapped. I'm stuck in some way, can't see an immediate escape path, and don't think I have the time or resources to get out gracefully. Then I remember the basic test-taking strategy of setting aside the problem and going on to the problems I can solve. I can always come back, no? Usually when I do (and especially if I've used the intervening time to get other things off my plate), my brain is clearer and the answer is easier to see.

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