A professional colleague recently checked in on me to see how I was doing.
I surprised myself when I confessed that there was a lot going on in my life and work, and at times I found it paralyzing to get through the day. She said something that has stuck with me: “It’s okay to slow down.”
Slowing down is something I never considered. My philosophy has consistently been either, “Work harder,” or “Get it done now, and rest later.” I know now that I needed to hear her say that. Emotionally, I needed someone to tell me, “It’s okay to slow down.”
Slowing down... That’s a big deal. Our culture is about moving forward and faster. Public service is about being there for the community weekdays, weekends and during off-hours. It’s easy to think, “If I put all my energy into this project, event or program, that will better serve the community, and it will free up more time for me later down the road.” The reality is that it doesn’t free up more time. Something else at work will always pop up and want your attention.
So, I’m slowing down. I’m making time to reassess, reflect and refocus. Self-care is the new priority. I’ve committed to a better exercise regimen -- lots of swimming, but I still need a little more stretching and weights. Sleep has improved with longer hours (six or more), and I'm considering another try with the CPAP machine. No guarantees though. Food- and beverage-wise, more local vegetables, more yogurt, more water, and less processed food. Changes in caffeine intake will not be addressed anytime soon.
Family is first, with more home-cooked meals, after-school activities, board games, and more tromping through the hills of the of the Bay Area with my son’s Cub Scout Troop. Next week, I’ve agreed to run a first-aid class for the Webelos.
Here's how I’m slowing down for work: I’m going back and reviewing my job position and seeing if I’m still doing what I was hired for. Do the job duties still match? Am I still aligned with agency’s core values? If I’ve deviated or identified “mission creep," can I correct it with a slight shift in work focus or duties, and continue to work without setting off any major ripples? I know if I identify something much bigger, I’ll need to set up a meeting with my boss and get some clarity and guidance. I’ve found that keeping my boss in the know relieves a lot of unnecessary anxiety. I also try to provide several recommendations or solutions. The key is to manage up whenever possible.
Next up for review: I compare my department’s mission against the agency’s. Do they align? If so, as the leader of my department, I need to remind my staff of our mission and how we best serve the community, our co-workers and the seasonal staff. I will go over and review all the programming, services, and in-house training and verify that our mission is consistent and relevant or needs to be updated.
Lastly, I’ve begun to take the time to meet with staff and “check-in." I find it very easy to get caught up in the daily work details that are trivial and unimportant and not put in time with my team. If you’re going to meet with your team, see them individually. It makes a difference. It shows intention. It shows that you want to listen to them, engage with them and be emotionally and mentally available for them. Connecting is critical in both of you understanding each other and in making better decisions that are achievable and realistic in work and in life.
As a reminder, sometimes the better choice is to do three things rather than ten but do those three things exceptionally well. Life is short, so be present.