Play is vital to getting everything done

March 31, 1993|By Gail Stewart Hand | Gail Stewart Hand,Knight-Ridder News Service

This just in: "You Don't Have to Go Home From Work Exhausted."

That's not only contrary to what every time-crunched working parent experiences, it's the title of a helpful book by Ann McGee-Cooper (Bantam Books, $10).

No one is suggesting people stop working hard. The trick is finding ways during the day to cultivate self-renewing energy. Ms. McGee-Cooper grew up watching her workaholic father come home from the job and collapse into a heap in his easy chair.

The author interviewed thousands of people, concentrating on high-power executives and productive artists. One reason they are not burnout cases is that they have balance in their lives. They value play, they schedule in time for "joy."

Ms. McGee-Cooper also studied toddlers, those human dynamos who seem to have more energy than anyone. Although it may feel like they never slow down, in fact they do. Just try to hurry a recalcitrant toddler. Each child's on an individual speed that's highly variable during the day. Toddlers will spin like a top, then lounge around absorbed in quiet play. Then, they rev up again.

What adults typically do in an effort to manage too many things is turn manic. That can only last so long. They end up exhausted, and likely frustrated. Learning to follow one's own rhythms can increase energy, while it frees a person to enjoy personal and family life.

At the heart of feeling so out of control is what one doctor calls "hurrysickness." That's the misbegotten notion that "if only we can speed up enough we can finally get everything done," Ms. McGee-Cooper says.

Working parents addicted to that adrenalin rush of doing everything are headed for a fall. "Driving yourself beyond endurance is detrimental to others as well as yourself," says Ms. McGee-Cooper.

She advises paying attention to your feelings. "Begin to recognize which projects at work demand the most energy from you. Start noticing which chores leave you feeling the most pressured and fatigued and which make you feel the most enthusiastic and stimulated and the most relaxing and satisfying."

When it comes to children, Ms.McGee-Cooper says, "We blame ourselves for anything and everything that goes wrong for our children. We can't see that their problems are their opportunities to grow and learn. Stepping back and trusting children to find their own solutions, then allowing them to live with the consequences of their decisions results in healthier, happier, more balanced families and more responsible children."

As our lives become fuller, with more demands at home and work, superhumans try to "maintain their normal roles and commitments while expanding their schedule into 80 and 90 hours per week of work and traveling combined with their busy schedule. By sleeping less, relaxing less, eating on the run and skipping meals, they push and push themselves. They become mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. They also tend to look for new causes to pursue rather than taking care of their own personal needs and areas of growth."

Her answer: "Play, fun and enjoyment can provide the energy needed for work," she says. "Be sure to balance your work with refreshing, invigorating play."

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