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7 ways to catch your breath

7 ways to catch your breath
Coming up for air

If you have ever been in trouble swimming in heavy surf you will know the sensation. You get dumped by one wave and get the air knocked out of you. You struggle to the surface and take another gasp, only to be hit by the next wave. Wave after wave pushes you under and you just can’t get free. You know that you could swim out or ride one in to save yourself, but the waves won’t give you give you a chance. All you really need is a break – to catch you breath – and you will be OK. Isn’t that how the rest of your life feels sometimes as well?

When life leaves you gasping for air there are ways to catch your breath, but they seem impossibly distant at the time. When you are in the middle of trouble, just trying to survive, solutions seem out of reach. The best you can do is prepare yourself in advance by learning these 7 ways to catch your breath, before you need to use them:

  1. Run down your reserves – We all have reserves stored up in our lives and now is the time to use them up. You might eat out your pantry or freezer, saving time and money. You might forget the housework for a while knowing that your normal cleaning has kept things under control enough to last a few days. You might call in some favours that you have stored up. You might cut into a corner of your savings or “rainy day fund”. Reserves like these are only good if you know when to use them and this may be the time.
  2. Lean on your friends True friends are obvious in bad times. The best friends support you without contributing to the problems. Lean on them a little and show them that you trust them. Lean on their advice, their time, their wallet, their help. How much you lean will depend on how serious your situation, how strong the friendship and how much dependency you can stand. If all you need is to catch your breath, you should not be hesitant to ask your friends for support (then be willing to do the same for them later)
  3. Tear off half your to-do list – Realistically half of your to-do list is essential and half is optional. Sure, you want to get it all done, but in this case sticking to just the essentials, will leave you with spare time to catch your breath. Tear off the items that are not absolutely essential in this couple of days. Most tasks will still be there later when you come back for them. Give yourself a break from your “get it done” attitude and you will soon be back on top.
  4. Ask for mercy – No matter where the waves are coming from there is someone, somewhere who can give you mercy if only you ask for it. You should not feel bad about asking for a break just to get you through a short bad patch. If you owe money, be honest up front and ask for an extension (people will usually agree – machines will usually not). If you owe time, ask whoever demands it, to be lenient for a couple of days. If you need to jump the cue at the doctors, ask for mercy. Explain what you need, why you need it and how they can help. You will be surprised how many people will willingly help you if you make a personal request and explain why.
  5. Think long term survival first – Your problems will quickly escalate if you don’t know what to focus on. You must attend to your most important needs first. If you are in the surf, you need air. In the rest of your life, you need at least your minimum sleep, food, water. Don’t take uncharacteristic risks. Keep your eyes on the road when you are driving. Now is not the time to play with chemical dependencies. Make sure you look after the basics of long term survival because otherwise a short term bad patch could end up crippling you for life.
  6. Downgrade your expectations but mark your place – When you are in the middle of it, you may have to cut back on your achievements. Put your progress on hold for a couple of days and concentrate on catching your breath. If it is not essential, it can wait till you are back on your feet. However, before you stop doing something, mark where you are up to so that you can quickly get back on track later. Measure, bookmark, photograph, write down where you are today, so that you can pick up where you left off later.
  7. Take one step at a time and do one thing at a time – When there are different pressures rolling in from all directions it is easy to try and do too many things at once. Don’t do it. Focus on one thing and knock it off. Then move onto the next. You will find that by doing one thing at a time, you are able to achieve more and get out of trouble faster than if you tried to accomplish everything at once. There is nothing that makes a bad situation feel worse than having too many half finished things on your mind at once.

Nobody ever caught their breath by just continuing to struggle. Whether you are facing an unending set of waves or the continual beating of bad times in your life, all you need is a break. If you can find a moment of peace, high up on top of a wave, you will probably see your way out. All you really need is to catch your breath.

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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