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Jewish World Review March 30, 2001 / 6 Nissan , 5761

He Works/She Works
By Jaine Carter and James D. Carter

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Consumer Reports

Take a mental breath -- A growing level of fear is being registered by working parents who feel overwhelmed with a growing list of priorities to shuffle in an inflexibly short time. They are longing for a prescription for relief from the never-ending pressures of a complicated world.

"How do you take a mental breath?" asks Stewart Carter, who has gone back to school to earn a degree in information sciences, attempting to also function in a full-time job and still find time for his wife and two children. "I can never turn off. No matter what I'm doing I know I should be doing 15 other things."

Work, family and school aren't the only priorities that parents attempt to juggle.

"There are house maintenance things like fixing a leaky faucet or changing the air filters," says Stewart. "If I work on the house, my kids complain that I never have time for them. If I spend time with them I feel pressured because I have a pile of homework to get done. As I walk out the door three evenings a week for class my entire family acts like I'm Scrooge. I'm running as fast as I can and still can't find time to breathe."

"You have to break free from the superhero mindset," said Stephanie Winston, organizing guru and author of "Getting Out From Under: Redefining Your Priorities in an Overwhelming World."

"Who said you have to do it all?" Winston asks. "There are actually many ways to lovingly cultivate the family as a key contributor to your strength and well-being, instead of a drain on your time and resources. Ask yourself where your time actually goes. You'll be surprised."

What can you do right now, this minute, to ease the pressures in your overly hectic life? Winston suggests a strategy called "flash organizing," which begins with the 10 percent solution.

Making small, incremental improvements - saving a few steps here and there - will really add up to big payoffs. Consolidate tasks both at work and at home. Once you make your weekly to-do list, create another list categorizing the various segments of your life; home, work, school, children, chores. Break each of these lists down even smaller. Try to accomplish three or four things each day in each category.

Next, divide and conquer.

While one of you does the grocery shopping, the other can be doing laundry. Switch off for variety and fairness. Whatever category you're in, give it your 100 percent focus. To avoid interruption, schedule meetings and return phone calls during pre-designated times. Inform callers to make and return calls during those times.

And move on to conquer the paper tiger. Make immediate decisions about each paper that clutters your space - toss it, refer it (to someone else), act on it or file it ... now. Every pile of paper in your home or office represents a decision delayed. Don't delay. Use it or lose it. You can always get another copy if you find you need it in the future.

Allow yourself ample time to accomplish needed paperwork, complete reports and answer correspondence. The power of focus can be your salvation.

Next, simplify your space. Analyze everything to determine if it warrants the space and time it takes up in your life. Ask yourself if that collection you started is really worth all the thought, time and energy it takes to arrange, maintain, dust, water or worry about. During this over-stressed period in your life it would be better to lovingly store unnecessary items in the attic for the time being.

Stop being the family slave. Caving in to everyone's demands is exhausting and unfair.

"Traditionally, a family has been a cooperative community, every member sharing some responsibility for the life of the household," said Winston. Today's working couples lean toward overpermissiveness, finding it difficult to make demands on their children. This hurts both children and parents in the long run.

"This misinterpretation of the parental role creates the opposite of what it hopes to achieve," said Winston. "Instead of instilling a happy, grounded connection, an aura of familial cooperation, a sense of being part of a unit and doing your part to make that unit function effectively, it creates chaos and discontent."

Put children to bed early. Recent research suggests that older and preteen children may not be getting enough sleep to meet their daily physical and mental needs. Early bedtime gives parents extra time to accomplish necessary personal tasks without feeling guilty, to spend much-needed time with each other or to take that mental breath.

Jaine Carter, Ph.D. and James D. Carter, Ph.D. are management consultants and authors of the book, ''He Works She Works -- Successful Strategies for Working Couples." Comment by clicking here.


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