Contributing Author: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
Time management = stress management
We know this, but we tend to start our days responding to the most urgent things. Pretty soon it is noon and these little emergencies have sucked up the best hours of your brain’s day. I’m not advocating ignoring those responsibilities and getting yourself fired, I’m just saying that blocking out quality brain hours to do deeper work, on occasion, will not only alleviate some stress, but it will also greatly improve your productivity, even if you don’t have time to do sword-fighting drills in the swamp on Dagobah.
Tool #1: Deep work
I recently listened to a podcast conversation between Ryan Holiday, the Daily Stoic, and Dr. Cal Newport, about Dr. Newport’s book, Deep Work — Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Grand Central Publishing; 1st edition (January 1, 2016). In the book, the author describes the importance of blocking out time every week for deep work — the work that is the most important to us but the stuff that requires focus and time, so we seldom get to it. Newport offers great strategies for finding time, developing a deep work routine, and using that time productively.
Using his own techniques, Newport was able to write several books and raise his family . . . while he was a grad student. I highly recommend the book. I don’t claim to have mastered the Deep Work concept but have greatly benefitted from incorporating a session or two per week and have still managed to put out most of the daily igniting fires.
Tool #2: Aggressive Scheduling
It isn’t a coincidence that the more we prepare a case, the luckier we seem to get. Similarly, we can prep for our wellbeing to improve the long-term odds for success. How can we find the time to prepare for optimal performance AND optimal wellbeing? By prioritizing wellbeing and then aggressively scheduling it into our days, weeks, and year. We must protect our sacred time like momma-bear protects her cubs.
This exercise has three parts, all related to prioritizing your time to include your own health: establish a pre-work routine; add to your weekly routine; and finally, conduct a yearly review.
Tool #3: Establish a pre-work routine.
A solid pre-work routine checks off several boxes: 1. Exercise; 2. Preventative self-care, including meditation, prayer, or checking out the sunrise; 3. Nutrition — putting together a nourishing breakfast or healthy lunch for later; 4. Purpose — anything that inspires you to keep moving toward your goals; and 5. Organization, for the remains of the day. If you are concerned about having enough time in the morning to accomplish so much,
once you get into the swing of it, it actually saves time, especially if you follow the do-not-check-email or scroll-through-social-media rule until everything else is done.
Here is my typical morning: I get up around 5:30, meditate for 10–20 minutes (preventative self-care), walk on the treadmill for 20 minutes (exercise) while listening to an inspirational speech, video, or book (purpose). Then I go upstairs and pack my lunchbox with healthy snacks, so I don’t binge on the donuts later (nutrition), and, right before I hop in the shower, review my calendar for the day and make adjustments if necessary (organization). Do I check off every one of my wellbeing “appointments”? Of course not. But the practice of setting the intention has drastically improved the quantity and quality of time invested in my overall health.
Let’s intentionalize a routine that checks as many boxes as necessary to ensure that your day will be as productive and satisfying as possible. Commit to a do-able goal for each category, or your current routine it if is working.
1. Exercise. I will _____ for _____ minutes every morning.
2. Preventative self-care. I will _____ for _____ minutes every morning.
3. Nutrition. I will _____ because my body is my friend.
4. Purpose. I will read/watch/listen/review/write _____ for _____ minutes every morning.
5. Organization. My trick for a smooth day starts with _____.
6. Other. My other priorities include _____.
Tool #4: Add to your weekly routine.
As we discussed earlier, spending more time doing things that are important is easier when you develop a deep work routine and block out time for deep work sessions. On my calendar, my weekly DWSs are green and usually cover 2 to 3-hour blocks of time. Every week I schedule a time to do food prep and an abbreviated and flexible menu for the week, which usually takes an hour or so on Sunday evening. Most of that time is used for chopping fresh vegetables while listening to a book. I also schedule in about 3–5 exercise sessions, including walking, hiking, adult education class or ballet. Finally, articulate regular time for self-care, even if it is just once a month.
1. Deep work. I commit to blocking out _____ hours each week for focused deep work. My deep work routine will include _____.
2. Food planning. I commit to spending _____ minute each week to _____.
3. Exercise. I commit to scheduling _____ sessions each week to _____.
Tool #5: Conduct a yearly review.
An annual review of your personal achievements can be so much more productive and useful than declaring New Year Resolutions. And reveal the time-worthy activities and the timesucks which need eliminated. This end-of-year commitment to spending a couple of hours reflecting back over the last 12 months is an opportunity to evaluate your personal values statement and let it evolve as you do. You don’t have to wait until January.
What are my driving values? (hint: include 6 domains of wellbeing!) Supporting values? Did I live my life in alignment with each of my values? What went well? What areas could use some work? Did I do good? Is anyone suffering less because of my actions? What did I learn? Did I stretch, grow? What am I grateful for, in order of priority? What adjustments can I make to highlight those things I value for next year?
We all wish there were more hours in the day, more days in the week. But if we practice using the precious time we have in alignment with our values as prosecutors, as people, we are able to not only better manage our stress, but don the justice capes and make the world a better place. That’s why we are here.
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves as the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.