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Working Within Your Bandwidth

Meredith Mahon Morris January 17, 2017

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With 2017 rolling in, many of us are taking some time in January to evaluate the past year and changes we want to make in the new year. We set goals, make resolutions and start fresh.

One thing I am considering specifically as I look at my calendar and productivity is my bandwidth. In technical terms, the bandwidth on your internet determines the amount of data that can be transmitted in a fixed amount of time. When I consider my personal bandwidth this includes aspects of my mental functioning – cognitive capacity (problem solving) and executive function (attention, planning and judgment). My bandwidth basically is what I can effectively handle “having on my plate.”

Things that reduce my bandwidth are the worries and nagging thoughts that interfere with full mental functioning. Did I forget to pay that bill? Did I wash that shirt he needs for the morning? When will I have time to grocery shop? The day to day cares brought on by our busy schedules and calendars fill our minds and make it difficult to handle unforeseen problems and obstacles. That is why when you discover your tire is flat as you are leaving for work, you suddenly hit panic mode. When our bandwidth is not sufficient for all that we are trying to do each day, little inconveniences or issues become major complications that can lead to meltdowns.

So how do we increase our bandwidth? That might be the right question; or, first, we simply may need to consider where we need to adjust our lives to fit our current bandwidth. This requires taking an honest look at the season you are currently in personally, as a family and in your work life as well.

Priorities – Does your schedule reflect your priorities? Where is your time spent? If you want your family to be a top priority but you only see your kids awake 5 hours during the work week then you may need to make some changes. If your marriage is a priority but you haven’t had a date night in 6 months, then it is time to rethink your time obligations.

Schedule – You are actually in charge of how you spend your time. You do have obligations toward work but even those require yes and no answers and healthy boundaries. We all make time for the things that are important to us. Where is your wasted time going? Is it spent online or watching TV? Determine what is most important and then decide to allocate time toward those priorities. Do not turn on the TV until you have asked your spouse about her or her day. Do not allow yourself to check email at home and instead read your children a book. Small changes lead to big dividends when it comes to recapturing your time and freeing up bandwidth.

Rest – When busyness and overextending ourselves eats into our time for rest and even our ability to truly rest, this greatly reduces our bandwidth. When we are exhausted we simply can’t handle emergencies or minor interruptions to our schedules. Suddenly it all feels like too much. Society tries to tell us that unproductive time is time wasted. Our bodies and minds need rest. It is a non-negotiable, whether it feels productive or not. This year give yourself permission to schedule rest and create margin in your daily life. Just as a toddler is happier and healthier when well-rested, the same is true of adults. We are more productive and connected as people when we recognize and allow the rest we need as an individual.

Say No more than you say Yes – Make 2017 the year you don’t overcommit. Give yourself permission to say No often. Only say Yes to things that line up with your priorities and bring you joy. Do not say Yes when you feel obligated. This is key to maintaining a healthy bandwidth.

After implementing these things, the question remains, can you increase your bandwidth? Yes, and you can start by doing these things:

Simplify and streamline – Find areas in life where you get stuck, either mentally, emotionally or physically. Is there a space in your house that is cluttered and makes you feel stuck? Take a weekend and tackle it and get it organized. Does paying the bills just seem to overwhelm you each month? Set up automatic online bill pay for as many bills as you can and then schedule time each month to get the rest done. Find ways to make the tasks or areas of life that feel tangled easier.

Plan – Decision fatigue is a real thing and it affects executive functioning. This is why when we reduce the things we need to process, we increase our bandwidth. Planning your meals for the week on Saturday frees your brain up for other decisions. Taking the time to coordinate schedules with your spouse, setting out your clothes the night before and scheduling in things like exercise and date night all help avoid decision fatigue.

Delegate – Use the online grocery ordering option when you can. Teach and then follow through by expecting your kids to pack their own lunches. Ask your spouse for help with the errands that week. It is okay to need help and ask for help. Simply allowing other people to step in and carry some of your load is healthy and will free up bandwidth.

Find a Mentor – There is great value in allowing someone to speak into your life. Sometimes having a wise perspective from someone outside our daily lives can bring a healthy outlook we need. A mentor may be able to help you identify blind spots or areas that could use adjusting to create more bandwidth.

We all want 2017 to be our best year yet! What can you do this week to either free up or increase your bandwidth?

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