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This young single mother was racing through life. Here’s how she learned to stop

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DAY ONE: Daniela Eaton, 40, is a single mother of two boys in Tarrytown, New York who works as an operations manager in a translation company. And she never stops. She feels she’s always busy, always rushing, always thinking 15 steps ahead, and, with all of her family in Germany, doing it all by herself – and usually on about four or five hours of sleep a night.

She worries that, with so much to do, she’s not paying enough attention to her boys, ages five and two. “I’m always thinking – my children didn’t ask to be in a situation like this. And I want them to have the best childhood ever. I want them to have a better childhood than I did, and I had a great childhood,” she said.

“But I just feel like I’m rushing through everything. There’s no time for a breather, no time for quality time,” she added.

The TIMEHACKS: Eaton worked with Melissa Heisler of It’s My Life, just outside Chicago. Heisler suggested three Timehacks:

1. Find where the time goes: Eaton was always on the go, and even had a hard time stopping long enough to begin to work with Heisler. She’d call from her cell phone after dropping the kids off at school, then have to rush into work. She wasn’t able to think clearly. So Heisler provided her with a spreadsheet and asked her to start tracking her time, to give her a better understanding of where it really goes.

“Daniela’s main challenge is not stopping,” Heisler said. “She is a fully wound-up toy spinning and spinning. She needs to become aware of her day and learn how to slow down.”

2. Make the most of where you are: All the rushing, all the tasks, work and exhaustion was keeping Eaton from really spending quality time with her boys. “I helped her shift her thinking, and instead of thinking of child care as another task, to think of child care as an opportunity to connect,” Heisler said. “There are no more hours of the day we can find,” Heisler said. “But we can find more enjoyment in the hours we do have.”

[Related: How a devoted young teacher narrowly escaped burnout and got her life back]

3. Turn Off: With all that spinning, Eaton never had time to breathe, and to figure out what’s really important, much less enjoy any moments in her life. “Daniela’s biggest stumbling block is the inability to turn off,” Heisler said. “She needs to stop running before she can make any changes.”

Heisler recommended taking at least 15 minutes a day to stop and do absolutely nothing. Heisler suggested she try taking a lunch break for the first time in years. “It’s a chance to disconnect with the rest of your day and reconnect with yourself,” Heisler said. “One can do it through meditation, running or any other repetitive motion where one can turn off their thinking mind and just be.”

By turning down the speed, even for a little while, and not always feeling stressed out, Eaton could actually become more efficient and effective, Heisler said.

DAY 21: When I caught up with Eaton, she’d just returned from a short lunch break outside, watching the Hudson River flow by.  “Things are going well. I am definitely more aware of how I spend my time,” she said. “And I’m more chill!”

At first, she found it nearly impossible to find 15 minutes to do nothing. She knew her mind raced too much to try meditation, so instead, she picked up some knitting needles. Now, after the boys go to bed, she spends 15 minutes knitting. “I really like it. It’s time to refocus,” she said. “I find it very relaxing.”

She’s feeling calmer. And because she’s less stressed out, so are her boys.

She also began to involve her boys in the chores that do need to be done, and to enjoy their time together. “Now, my little guy sits next to me on the counter stirring something, and the older one measures things,” Eaton said. “We all do things as a unit, instead of me doing everything, and me rushing them to the table to eat.”

[Related: Here’s why many working mothers have more time than they think they do]

She’s also begun to allow herself to do a puzzle with her boys, or play with them first, and left the dishes and chores for later, rather than think all the chores have to be done first before she can enjoy anything.

She’s getting to bed earlier – around midnight, intead of working until 2 am. And, now that she’s sleeping more, she’s actually exercising again – getting up at 6:15 and doing 30-minute exercise DVDs before the boys wake up. “The first few days were tough, but now it’s really second nature,” she said. “I feel a lot more energized throughout the day.”

Because she’s getting up earlier, and better rested, she’s not rushing through the mornings and starting the day stressed out and feeling behind.

She’s also finding that, slowing down even a little, has helped her be more focused and productive at work. Her job is still busy – she manages translators around the globe in different time zones. And sometimes problems halfway around the world can crop up in the middle of the night.

“I used to work crazy hours, put the kids to bed, and work another four or five hours,” she said. “Now, I have a clearer sense of what’s important. I’m much more refreshed when I come into the office. I’m discovering it’s so much better to work eight super-focused hours, than 16 tired and distracted ones.”

Melissa Heisler’s TOP TIMEHACK: “When we are stressed, our fight-or-flight system is engaged. During this time our mind is controlled by unconscious thinking. It moves all our energy to our muscles to help us fight or flee. Taking time to do nothing strengthens our anterior cingulate cortex, which turns off the fight-or-flight system. And that helps us better handle the stressors in our lives.

The bottom line is, disconnecting with the world and reconnecting with the act of just being actually gives us mental clarity to better handle the day.”

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