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MCLEOD: Lessons from a boiling frog

If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it jumps out. But if you put a frog in cool water and gradually turn up the heat, the frog will boil to death without ever trying to escape.

The same thing happens to people.

If someone had told you 10 years ago that one day your life would include three events in a single evening, 32 rounds of cellphone tag and 107 emails you would have had a heart attack.

But just like the frog in the pot, the pace of your life heats up so gradually you aren't even aware of the fire.

You add one thing, then another, and then another. While each individual activity may be worthwhile, the collective total makes you feel like you're thrashing around in a hot pot 24/7.

If you want a surefire way to turn an enjoyable event into total misery pack it in with three other things on the same day and leave yourself only five minutes to get from one stop to the next.

A recent Saturday afternoon stint at the elementary school Spring Fling, provides a glimpse of the price we pay for the "we're going to get all this stuff done if it kills us" syndrome.

For those of you unfamiliar with the fling phenomenon, imagine kids hurling beanbags through the mouth of a big plywood clown, pink glitter butterflies painstakingly painted on snow cone-stained faces, and junk food galore.

What really gets flung at a fling is lots of money -- laid down by weary, well-intended parents in the hopes that the kids will have a good time and the school will raise some money.

As head prize booth monitor, my job was to assist the kids as they traded in their hard-won tokens for cheap plastic prizes. I was the last stop on the Spring Fling parade of fun and the kids were more than eager to claim their bounty.

You'd think after spending hours corralling their kids out of the Bouncy House, the parents would want to rest while their children agonized between the inflatable globe and the 3-D glasses.

But no, every single parent was trying to shuttle his or her kid through as fast as possible so that they could move on to something else. Whether it was rushing off to soccer pictures or heading out for a church dinner, "Hurry honey, we've got to go" was the refrain of the day.

The saddest part is that the parents had worked hard to make the event possible, yet they were so worried about moving on to the next thing, nobody was having any fun.

Many of us have bought into the notion that proper time management is the key to a happy and balanced life. Better scheduling means more things checked off the list, and who wouldn't be happier about that?

But the overanxious clock-watching parents at the Fling are proof that more isn't always better.

It doesn't matter whether it's a career opportunity or T-ball game, when you schedule a zillion things in a row, your mind is so focused on frantically checking things off your list, you never fully engage in any of it.

Next time you're tempted to throw one more event into the hopper, remember the boiling point sneaks up on you slowly. Throwing more into the pot doesn't always add to your life sometimes it just makes you want to croak.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," a Washington Post "Top Five Book for Leaders."