The joy of less

In a society where more is more, Ottawa parents discover that sometimes, cutting back is the answer

Is cutting back the answer?


Kristen Perneel had it all – a family and a full-time job as a high school teacher. But when her younger son started school, the Ottawa mom of two found it was just “too much.”

“I worked out of the city so I had an hour commute everyday,” she says. “I was finding that very draining… I was finding myself rushing things so I could get my work done that I brought home. I was giving most of myself to work so the kids kind of got what was left and my husband got none. I felt like I was doing all my ‘jobs’ really poorly.”

The solution? Perneel and her family decided that she would cut back to part time. “I needed more time during regular work hours to get my work done so that I didn’t have to bring stuff home,” she says.

The nine-to-five never worked for Ottawa mom Mariette St-Denis.

“I struggled everyday with it when I was working full time,” says the Ottawa mom of a teenager. “Unfortunately, my turning point was falling very ill for a few years. I burnt out trying to burn the candle from both ends. I was working 12-hour days on average and often on weekends too, to catch up and organize my week ahead. That two-to-three-year pause from the rat race let me get back into my own routine.”

These days, she plans her life according to how she feels.

“I do what I want, when I want,” says St-Denis, who works with seniors and their family members. “I work when I have energy… I need to rest/nap every afternoon too. That was hard to do in a workplace so my body paid the price ultimately. I’m at my most productive in the evenings. That’s when I tackle the harder tasks.”

The choices that Perneel and St-Denis made might be shocking in a world where being busy – even overloaded – all the time is a badge of honour, and being connected is a must. But after years of just too much, many Ottawa parents are learning to let go.

Father of two Derek Abma is doing it on a smaller scale.

“I find I’m unsubscribing to a lot of email lists lately,” says the Barrhaven resident. “For years, I’d just delete them, but now it’s like, enough already.” That simple task of cutting down makes him more effective: “it just helps me organize myself mentally when most of my inbox isn’t junk.”

With everyone being so busy, writer Kate Northrup saw a need for what she calls the Do Less method. She is a fierce advocate for revolutionizing the way we work, seeing that women and working mothers are often under immense pressure to “just get it all done” at the end of the day without complaint.

“The Do Less method is a new way of approaching our work and lives that looks at reducing the amount of time and energy we’re putting on things that drain our energy, don’t get us the results we want, or that don’t matter so that we can invest our precious time and energy on the things that energize us, get us results, and truly matter in our lives and work,” says Northrup, the author of Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms.

Putting in more hours doesn’t actually get us better results, she says. She cites a study published by Business Insider that showed that people who take regular breaks (about one per hour) are actually significantly more productive than those who push through fatigue.

She’s a big proponent of taking care of your body first, which can pay off in all areas of life, including our careers.

“Our bodies are our source of energy and our energy levels source our best work,” says Northrup. “However, most of us have been trained to work as though we don’t have a body and push through fatigue and other needs. As a result, our work suffers and, over time, our health suffers.”

She recommends checking in with your body and making sure you give it what it needs (sleep, movement, good food, time outside, etc.) which will ensure that you then have optimal energy to devote to your work. “It’s better to take an hour out of your day to be outside and move than it is to waste that hour sitting at your desk without having anything to show for your time there because you were in such a brain fog from not taking care of your body that you were completely unproductive,” she says.

Doing less doesn’t just have to apply to work. Fundraising strategist and 1310 NEWS talk show host Sam Laprade consciously cut dating out of her life.

“It is so complicated with children, careers and ex-partners that the benefit did not outweigh the challenges,” says Laprade. “I am a busy professional who travels… my daughter, mom and work are my priorities and my constants… Time is a currency and I’m not investing any more into the romantic game. There are many good guys in the world, but I’m not willing to engage in any dating.”

Cutting back in this area has been worth it, says Laprade. “This has simplified my life in so many ways! I’m razor-sharp in my priorities and this keeps me focused… work opportunities have opened up, my lifelong friendships reveal themselves and I’m more myself than ever before.”

These days, Perneel is also getting more out of life by scaling back her work hours.

“Life is still crazy, but I find I have more time in the evenings for my family,” she says. “I’m a lot more relaxed in the evenings because I don’t feel like there is work that I have to get done… I really like working part time.”

As for what the future holds, Perneel isn’t ruling out returning to work full time – “but I feel, as long as (the kids) are living at home, I will want to do part-time work to have more time for them.”



What is stress?

Stress is the perception of a loss or a threat, says Orleans resident Dr. Cameron Montgomery, who holds a PhD in educational psychology. “Coping is the way we adapt to stress.  Stress and how we handle it, or coping, are inextricably linked. Examples of functional coping are planning, active coping, positive reframing and acceptance. Dysfunctional coping is denial, substance abuse (i.e drugs and alcohol), behavioral disengagement and self-blame.” 


Kate Northrup’s guide to streamlining your to-do list


Before you put anything on your list, ask yourself:


Does this need to be done? “We’ve all been raised to think that the more we do, the more successful we’ll be, so we often fill our time with things that don’t even get us the results we want, but make us look busy,” says Northrup. “Get in the habit of asking if the things on your to-do list result in the things you want to create in your life and work. If not, they don’t belong there.”

Does this need to be done by me? Often, we think that if something is going to get done, we need to do it. But we’re mostly wrong. “We have our spouses, our kids, our neighbours, and other folks at work who can all pitch in to do tasks or even take ownership of entire categories of things, like asking your spouse to be in charge of weeknight dinners, for example, during a season when you’re busier at work,” says Northrup.

Does this need to be done right now? “Often, we use our to-do list as a place to dump anything and everything we think we should or could do ever. But your to do-list should not be a dumping ground. You need to treat it as a sacred space where only the things that matter really belong,” Northrup says. If something needs to be done, but at a later time, it belongs in your project management system, not your weekly to-do list.

Can you ask for help? “So many of us try to prove our worth by doing everything alone and all it gets us is the feeling of exhaustion,” says Northrup. “Empowering yourself to ask for help means understanding that needing help is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’re human.” Ask for help early and often.


Experts teach you how to deal with stress

Expert Tip: Build a wall of gratitude

“Think of all the great things you have going on in your life. Then grab a sticky pad and list them out, one per square… Then start attaching them to a wall in your house. This wall of gratitude will be a reminder of all the good things that are still in place.” – Judy Gaman, author of Love, Life, & Lucille: Lessons Learned from a Centenarian

Expert Tip: Spend some time alone/offline

“Constantly communicating with everyone and filling every second up with information doesn’t leave any room for us to have our own thoughts – which can be seen as a perk if it seems like those thoughts are going to be scary. My advice is to spend some time walking in nature, taking a bath, or just eating a meal without constant distraction.” – Ruby Walker, author of Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen

Expert Tip: Limit stress

“The best technique to cope with stress is to remake our world so that stress triggers are less likely to occur. That can mean putting aside toxic relationships, avoiding situations that make you feel hurt or angry (turn off your smartphone and get some sleep) and finding new opportunities to like yourself.” – Michael Ungar, Ph.D., child, family and community resilience expert and author of Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and the True Path to Success

Expert Tip: Try yoga

 “One of the best all-round stress-relievers for the body is yoga. Yoga improves mental focus, helping clearing the mind of negative thoughts and also looks after your physical wellbeing by relaxing the entire body through gentle stretching of tense muscles.” – Kay Hutchison, media professional and author of My Life in Thirty Seven Therapies: From Yoga to Hypnosis

Expert Tip: Be thoughtful

“Try to be thoughtful and creative. Sell something online. Teach something online. Solicit ideas from others. Commiserate with others who are in the same boat as you are. There is still a world out there. Reach out and integrate yourself into it.” – Leslie Landis, licensed therapist and author of CHENDELL: A Natural Warrior

Expert Tip: Take back control of your mind

“Stress is only experienced in the mind of the individual. Stress is a feeling. It’s a perception of a situation; it’s not the situation itself. Once one masters one’s mind, stress begins to gradually dissipate and be replaced with self-confidence, self-control, and tranquility.  It is essential that we understand the workings of our mind in order to take control of how we will respond to the challenging situations life has to offer. This is perhaps the most empowering skill one can acquire, develop, and perfect – the ability to control one’s mind.”- Dr. John Chuback, author of Make Your Own Damn Cheese: Understanding, Navigating, and Mastering the 3 Mazes of Success

Expert Tip: Rest Often

“Unfortunately, much of society has forgotten the vital role of a rest ethic. Without it, any professional will become burned out, and the more the burnout meter goes up, the creativity, effective decision making, clear communication, and enthusiasm meters go down. Showing up to work well-rested and filled with enthusiasm is one of the best things you can do for the patience and coworkers. If you are feeling burned out, simply open up about it to your team and leaders, don’t hold it in. Nobody wins if a professional is overwhelmed and overworked. You can remind them that in order to stay professional and effective, you need to also stay well-rested.” – John Fitch & Max Frenzel, authors of Time Off: A Practical Guide to Building Your Rest Ethic and Finding Success without the Stress