Break time

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Photo courtesy of James Marvin Phelps (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of James Marvin Phelps (Creative Commons)

I first heard a rustling in the tree by my porch while I was sitting out there having coffee. There in the crook of the branches was a squirrel, busily fortifying last year’s nest at a frantic pace. The squirrel would scamper off to either pull a loose branch or take one his hands and bite through it. Then he would carry it back in his mouth to stuff down in the nest. One branch was so big that it got caught on some leaves and was knocked out of his mouth. He sat there looking down for a moment and then raced off for another branch.

All of a sudden, the activity stopped and I saw him lying on a branch all spread out. I guess it was time for his break! A little later, the rustling started up again.

I realized that that is a natural way to work and yet so foreign to many of us. He was focused and put his all into the work for a time and then stepped away to take a break. To refresh himself. To rest.

I know I am guilty of going hard for too long – and I almost feel guilty when I do take a break – like I have to explain myself.

Often I move from task to task , then rush home only to do the same thing all night. Just stopping at certain points would help my body and my mind reset. Even just a five or ten minute break several times a day would refresh me.

There are no awards for going the longest. I do tend to lose focus and  start making mistakes toward the end of the day.  I need to build breaks into my workday.

How much more effective would you be if you took breaks like you should?

Directing your day

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Photo courtesy of John Spooner (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of John Spooner (Creative Commons)

Does your life feel like you are flailing around in the surf being dragged by whatever current happens to be strongest?

Sometimes I feel like waves of responsibility and burden are crashing over me, dragging me away from where I’m wanting to go. It’s easy to sink into victim mode and feel like I don’t have any control.

But honestly, what is really happening is that I’m letting others dictate my life instead of directing myself.

Instead of letting the current sweep me away, it’s time to take some action. Time to be brave and get my power back.

One of my three focus words this year is DIRECT (read more here), and I realize I have done a poor job of directing. But that is shifting as I make some positive changes in how I approach each day.

I’m actually starting it the day before because I’m targeting the 2-3 main things I need to accomplish and writing them down. I use a couple of different apps for task and project management, but I find in this situation, somehow pen and paper work best.

I take a few minutes before I leave work for the day, and I review what I accomplished (or didn’t) that day, and what is critical for me to complete the following day. Those few things make my list.

I leave the list right in the center of my desk in front of my computer, with any materials needed for those tasks or projects clipped to the note. That way, it is the first thing I see the next morning, and everything I need to get busy is right there.

Is it fool-proof? No way! I’ve been doing this for about a week or so, and most days I finish maybe one of the things on the list and possibly start the others. But that is one more thing finished than I would have without the list.

Suddenly the waves seem calmer, just lapping at the shore.

How do you direct your day?

Discipline or drudgery?

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Photo courtesy of Bonnie Roalsen (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bonnie Roalsen (Creative Commons)

I was tempted to just hit the snooze button one more time – after all it felt so good under the covers.

But I knew that it would mean I spent the day making excuses for why I didn’t get the things done I had planned, so I got up.

We do the same thing with food. How often have you said, “I shouldn’t be eating this” or “I’ll start my diet tomorrow”? Another one is, “I’m going to be bad and skip my workout today.” Then the excuses start for why your clothes don’t fit, or you don’t like the way you look – or even worse, why you are experiencing health issues.

It is so easy to get up later and later and get less done, or to gain weight because you are indulging in more treats than healthy meals and talking yourself out of exercising altogether. Or you get caught up watching some silly show on TV or reading crazy comments on Facebook and suddenly the evening has passed and you’ve got nothing to show for it.

No goals met. No dream followed. Cue negative self talk.

People often talk about discipline as if it were a bad thing – like it’s punishment or drudgery. What I have found is that a certain amount of discipline can lead to a much more positive and healthy life, and helps me reach goals and accomplish greater things than if I am not disciplined. It helps me get the things done that I want to and be able to spend time following my dream.

Plus, if I am disciplined most of the time, then the few times I do indulge won’t be detrimental.

For instance, I get up early each morning and spend time with my devotions, writing and running. And yes, some days it is difficult to drag myself out of bed, but what I find is that it helps my state of mind later in the day to know that I started my day right by accomplishing these things that are important to me. And on some days off or weekends, then I can make a conscious decision to sleep in and know it’s ok every once in a while.

As I focus on spending more time on my mission, discipline plays a key role in shaping my decisions. If I am careful in limiting the non-productive uses of my time, then I end up happier because I have more time to devote to the things I am passionate about.

Less mental energy spent on berating myself for not doing the things I intended to means more mental capacity to focus on doing the things that bring the most satisfaction. Following my dream and working toward my mission takes some self-control but the end result will be so worth it.

What areas of your life would benefit from more discipline?

Wrangling time – Part 2

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Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific (Creative Commons)

Time is precious, and there is nothing worse than getting to the end of a day or week and thinking that not only was the time a blur, but you are exhausted, frustrated and unfulfilled. When all you do is look forward to the weekend or “downtime” – it’s critical to gain a new perspective on what to spend your time on in the first place.

I’ve been exploring ways to waste less time (read Part 1), but the second part of that equation is to be more intentional about what I want to spend this new-found time on.

What I have realized is that I want to be more focused on doing things that support my mission.

I am currently taking Chris Brogan’s The Owner’s Path online course (affiliate link), and the first step (on which I have been stuck for weeks) is to define your mission. In later weeks, we revisit and revise it, but this initial exercise has been key to getting me set on the right route.

One thing I have noticed is that no matter how long I spend on some things, if it fits in with my mission, then I feel satisfied and energized.

My mission, in its current version, is “To fight Fear and live with no regrets, creating positive experiences for myself and others through my actions.”

So wasting time watching mindless TV or scrolling through my Facebook feed does not fit my mission. That explains why I feel out of sorts after spending even 5 minutes at that.

But the time I spend writing and editing my blogs each week – does fit my mission, and I feel satisfied and happy afterwards.

When I work making matches in I Run 4, the organization I volunteer with that pairs runners with those who cannot run, I am completely engaged. Hours pass without even a thought of being tired as I create these relationships  that can be life changing. I love fielding questions and hearing stories of how supported and uplifted the buddies feel and how motivated the runners are.

When I can shorten the time I spend on the non-mission related tasks, then I have more time to spend on the things that really matter. I love the feeling of ending the day knowing that I made a positive difference in someone’s life. That is a good way to spend my time!

Does the way you spend your time reflect your mission?

Wrangling time – Part 1

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Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Canadian Pacific (Creative Commons)

I didn’t have enough time…

How often do you make that statement in a day? A weekend? A week?

I have caught myself saying that more often than I should lately and decided to do something about it.

I realized that it’s not a matter of not having the time, it is really a matter of me not using my time as wisely as I should. Most days I end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed because I didn’t get all the things done that I wanted to (or needed to), which leads to an unhealthy cycle altogether.

I have the same amount of time in a day as ever but I’m not accomplishing the things I should, and then regret it at the end of the day. The first step in improving that is becoming aware of how I waste time.

I’ve been paying closer attention to how I do things lately, and have noticed a few things that are crazy. One of my biggest time sucks is that fact that while I occasionally plan my day – I am not disciplined about setting out a plan and therefore get easily sidetracked and waste time deciding what to do next. I end up doing what is latest and loudest, and because I don’t have a grasp of what else I need to do, those few tasks end up expanding to fill the day.

A couple of days last week I stopped before I left work for the day to jot down 3-4 things I needed to get done the next morning. Magically, it worked! I got at least part of it done, although I realized that 3-4 things was too many on top of the interruptions I typically get. So I think 2-3 is a better number. But while I did that on Monday and Tuesday – I let it slide the rest of the week and did not accomplish as much.

I also am getting more diligent about writing things down that I need to do (well, typing them into the app on my phone). But that doesn’t help if I don’t take the time necessary to review the list during the day, and actually get them done. It’s a bit pointless to make a note to do something and then still not do it.

There are multiple things I can adjust to save a bit of time on the mundane – like this weekend I realized that my most used utensils are in the farthest spot in my kitchen, and because I didn’t have a good grocery list, I had to make two trips to the store to get everything I needed. Both simple fixes going forward.

I have set up rules for my email that speed up my processing. And I am remembering to use the 2-minute rule and just take care of those quick responses or easy tasks that will take longer to add to my list than to deal with.

All these things are helping me streamline my day, but I still need to take it a step further and make sure I’m doing the right things with the time I gain. We’ll explore that in Part 2 on Wednesday.

How do you find yourself wasting time?

Stuck in the roundabout

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roundaboutLately I feel like I am stuck circling a roundabout in which all the streets that veer off have suddenly been blocked.

I have good intentions and great ideas to make improvements and forward progress, and yet I’m caught in a frustrating place where I never seem to be able to start the new things. There’s so much of the everyday stuff, that I am never get to the things that can enrich my life and make it easier to accomplish more. I just keep circling and circling, unable to break free.

But this week I am doing something new in an effort to force open one of those side streets. Before I left work on Monday, I jotted down 3-4 things that have been on my task list for weeks now, in the expectation of accomplishing them on Tuesday. Nothing grand or complicated – just a few simple projects that I can check off. Gave me great focus when I got to work Tuesday, and helped me stay on task even with multiple interruptions. Felt good to cross those things off. That will be my new final task before I leave for the day.

Getting to the gym to do weights is on my list every single week, and yet each day comes and I’m “not in the mood” and go for a run instead. Don’t get me wrong, running is great, but I do need to supplement it with some upper body and core strengthening exercises. This week, instead of saying I will dedicate a whole day’s workout to weight training, I am adding one set of exercises each day after my run. I’ve got hand weights at home, and just three sets of 10-12 reps of one exercise doesn’t take much time or energy. I have definitely felt the soreness, and I didn’t have to dread a day at the gym.

Both of these simple steps are punching open some side streets on that roundabout and helping me make progress. By starting small, I am not overwhelmed like I would be by making a big change. And I can build these simple things into new habits that will become part of the routine, and then add something else.

How do you get off that roundabout?

What is your focus?

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Photo courtesy of Focus On Your Ability (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Focus On Your Ability (Creative Commons)

Do you have specific goals? Do you have a mission?

I ask this because I have realized once again that I do not know my mission – not exactly. I have always struggled with the idea of goals and vision. Case in point – I am in my third career. And I still don’t know what I want to “be when I grow up.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m great at short-term goals – put a challenge in front of me and I’m there:

  • Create a plan for X.
  • Hit this target sales goal.
  • Implement this strategy.

It’s the looking out into the distance and future that is difficult for me, especially on a personal level. Pinpointing what it is that makes me feel successful in the long-term, and deciding what my purpose is – well, that eludes me.

And because I don’t have a clear vision of my purpose here, I end up taking on a lot of responsibilities and participating in many activities that in the end don’t lead to fulfillment. They leave me feeling restless and looking for more activities – which leads to a sense of being overwhelmed.

I have landed on the fact that my mission is to “impact people.” But that is rather vague. There are things I am doing that accomplish that vision, but I’m not on a specific path with that ultimate goal in mind.

What does it mean to “impact people”? I guess I want to create positive experiences for them. There is so much negative in the world today, that it is refreshing when you stumble on something positive. I want to be a part of making that happen for people.

And honestly, I need to focus on my ability to impact one person at a time. Perhaps someone will glean insight from something I have written in my blog. Maybe someone I encounter at work will be able to do their job better due to my efforts behind the scenes.

As I facilitate matches between buddies and runners at I Run 4, my hope is always that they will develop an encouraging and supportive relationship that will last a long time.

All these things make me feel satisfied and content. I am happiest when I get to see the results of my actions. I need to stay focused on finding activities and work that provide those opportunities.

So maybe my mission is to “Create positive experiences for people through my work and writing in order to inspire, encourage and uplift.”

Now what? As I am working through this process, I’m realizing that all of my choices, including my work, commitments, and even how I choose to spend my weekends, need to be channeled through that mission. I need to examine all my activities and obligations to see if they fit into my mission. Those that do not need to be phased out.

Going forward, I need to seek new commitments that are a part of fulfilling that mission.

What is your mission and do your activities reflect it?

No backup plan

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Photo courtesy of Tim Reckmann (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Tim Reckmann (Creative Commons)

I was talking to a friend the other day about how busy I’ve been and he suggested I take a week off. My immediate reaction was that I can only take a day or two at a time because it’s so hard to deal with the backlog when I come back.

He asked if there was someone else who could help.

Then it hit me. It is my own fault that I am not comfortable taking off because I have not made the effort to find and train any backup.

There are plenty of excuses – I’m too busy, there’s no time to train anyone else to help, who I would train, it could get confusing, it might be done wrong.

In the end it boils down to the fact that I need to DIRECT my work and my life instead of letting it manage me.

DIRECT is one of my three focus words this year (read more here), and has been a key element in helping me improve my life.

I need to take the steps necessary to designate and train someone (or several people) to help with different aspects of my job so that I can be gone and not leave people hanging or have a backlog to come back to. Having some support would also take the pressure off when things get crazy busy.

I need to be more deliberate in planning days off instead of waiting “for a good time.” The breaks would refresh me and help me focus better when I am there instead of balancing on the edge of exhaustion.

Rest is an important part of being healthy, and not taking steps like finding backup is irresponsible. Not taking rest days from running can lead to injuries, and not taking breaks from work can lead to burnout.

Do you have a backup to help you when you are off?

Weeding it out

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Photo courtesy of Pat Kight (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Pat Kight (Creative Commons)

The other day, someone made a comment in an email that I’m sure was meant with good intentions, but I guess I took it wrong, and I spent more time than I needed obsessing over it. It seemed snarky, and rude, and I debated how to respond.

As it turned out, I finally decided not to respond. I let it go and everything was fine. But I have seen these kinds of things escalate when one party or the other questions the comment, and it gets blown all out of proportion.

With the number of interactions most people have daily, in person and especially online, it’s easy to run across the occasional remark that sets you off. The trick is to recognize that most need to just be tossed away and disregarded.

It’s like in the flower garden – you don’t obsess over where the weeds came from, what you did wrong that allowed them to grow, how you must have let things slide because there are so many – you just get busy pulling them up and throwing them away.

Same with those off beat statements. You know the things you need to pay attention to, who you need to listen to, and what conversations matter. All those other comments are extraneous.

Pull the extraneous ones up and throw them away.

Finding time for more

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Photo courtesy of az (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of az (Creative Commons)

I am a book lover.

I love to dive into a new book of fiction and become one with the characters and the scenery, as if I am there – peeking around the corner watching the action, cringing and crying and laughing along with my new-found friends.

I thrive on the guidance and inspiration of leadership books, learning new ways to develop as a leader myself, improve my productivity, and become a more focused, motivated person.

The problem is that I tend to fill my reading plate to nearly overflowing, and then can’t consume what I’ve served myself.

These days it’s not so much physical paper books, but books on my Kindle – which is almost worse. At least with stacks of books, you know your limits. On Kindle, I just keep filling up without realizing how many I’ve collected.

What I need to do is find a balance. BALANCE is one of my three focus words this year (read about that here), and the one with which I struggle the most.

I have freely admitted I am a workaholic – and I tend to overload my schedule with both paid and volunteer work tasks, projects, meetings, etc. and forget to leave time for me. I’m usually too busy to go to lunch, or to sit and read. Weekends are for catching up on all the things I missed during the week, including chores and errands.

I need to rethink my calendar – and start putting time for myself on there first. Then I can fill in around that with work (especially weekends), instead of the other way around.

I also need an incentive to finish these books, so I plan to start reviewing them here.

Right now a few of the titles I am working on include:

  • The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth by Chris Brogan (started and loving it!)
  • The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine (read once and need to read again for it to sink in)
  • The Power of No by James Altucher and Claudia Azula Altucher (definitely one I need to pay attention to!)
  • Simplify by Bill Hybels (he spoke on this at the recent Global Leadership Summit)
  • The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin
  • Brain Rules by John Medina
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

See what I mean? I get a little carried away but I think each of these titles offers some valuable information and advice that is worth soaking in. Guidance that will make me a better person.

Now, I’ve love to know: what are you reading?

Doing great, getting better, working on fabulous

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Photo courtesy of emdot (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of emdot (Creative Commons)

There is a particular cashier at the Costco where I shop who is always upbeat and smiling – the kind of person who can make you feel good even on a crummy day.

Last weekend, I overheard him telling someone that he was “doing great, getting better and working on fabulous!”

It made me think – how often do we WORK on fabulous?

I don’t know about you, but most days, I have the kind of day I’m going to have – good or bad – without actually putting much effort into it. I go about my work, do the things I need to do, and have “ok” days most days.

But what if we WORKED at having a great day?

What would WORKING at having a great day instead of just WORKING look like?

For me, it is not adding so much my task list that I get caught up in checking things off my list and miss savoring moments in the day. It might be taking time to have a short conversation with a friend or co-worker instead of a rushed hello, or doing a favor for someone without them asking for or expecting it.

Another thing would be taking time for myself – to read, write or just relax – before heading off to the next thing. Or reaching out to someone I haven’t talked to in a long time to reconnect.

Lastly, it is looking back at my day to recognize that it was a great day and reveling in that fact.

How do you WORK on fabulous?

What are you afraid of?

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Photo courtesy of c-h-l (paused) (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of c-h-l (paused) (Creative Commons)

Running in the fog is a surreal experience. The world is shrouded and those familiar landmarks you know are there either hide out of sight or become faint and blurred. Sounds are muffled and it’s easy to become disoriented.

Worries and fears can be like that fog surrounding you. There are the anxieties hiding in the fog just out of sight that you can barely put a name to – vague fears and uncertainties that you can hear buzzing and rustling, but can’t see clearly.

All of these things can end up being suffocating, partly because so many things are nameless.

As painful and difficult as it can be, it is important to name those fears. Identify those worries. Only then can you start to address them and make progress past them.

I think many times we are held back because we are afraid of something we haven’t identified. I have often said that I can’t fix a problem if I don’t know about it, and the same holds true for fears.

I can’t fight and overcome a fear I haven’t named. That nebulous anxiety that I feel will drag me back until I turn and look it in the face. Then and only then can I start fighting it and getting past it.

I have finally named one of my fears: I am afraid that I won’t make a difference – that I won’t positively impact people.

That was a huge realization – and it explains so much about my choices and my obstacles.

I have spent a lot of time feeling unsettled, and taking on more and more responsibilities that just seems to make me busier, but not more satisfied.

I realized I was agreeing to do all these things that are great things, but they weren’t “the” thing. Now that I have identified my fear, I can direct my efforts toward doing those things that will make a difference.

As I analyze all my commitments, I need to be honest and let go of those things that don’t positively impact people, and seek opportunities that allow me to do that. Also, I need to be wary of being overly committed because that takes away my potential impact.

When I am rushing from task to task, with hardly a moment to really focus on what I am doing, then I’m diluting my power of impact. And that in turn, feeds my fear of not making a difference.

It helps dissipate the fog to name my fears and to face them head-on. It doesn’t make them go away, but it sure makes it easier to fight them.

What fears do you have hiding in the fog? How would your life change if you named and faced them?

You’ve got this – you’re almost there!

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Photo courtesy of Nikki (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nikki (Creative Commons)

Running uphill on mile 11 of 13.1 this week, a man running the other way shouted “You’ve got this! You’re almost there! Keep going!”

I couldn’t believe how great that comment made me feel and how it spurred me on. I have no idea who he was – I’ve seen him running a couple of times but we have not met. I was on the other side of the street, and so he was not close enough to really need to say anything. And yet he chose to encourage me.

How many times do I miss opportunities to encourage others?

It takes such a minor effort to notice that someone needs encouragement. Just a quick word if you see they are struggling. Hardly any time on your part but it could make a world of difference to them.

So who can you encourage today?

Recognizing Happy

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Photo courtesy of Thai Jasmine (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Thai Jasmine (Creative Commons)

Do you even notice when you are happy?

Actually, happy may be too strong a word, when what I really mean is contented. Or satisfied.

It’s too easy to get sucked into the swirl of work, obligations and stress that we deal with every day and forget to notice when we are happy. Little cheerful moments may be obscured and forgotten in the blur of the day.

It’s important to pay attention to the good things that are happening so that you don’t only focus on the bad – or the indifferent. It might just be something to smile about, but it will improve your day to notice.

I’ve been using an app on my phone called “Happier” – and it may sound silly, but it seems to be helping. You can set it up so that you share with friends or on other social media, but I’ve set my account up as private – just for me. You can note happy moments – with pictures if you like – and it becomes a log of happiness that I can look back on.

When you share the moment – confetti falls so it’s like a little mini celebration each time I share. Plus, you can set up reminders – so in the middle of whatever else I’m doing, I’m reminded to note something I’m happy about.

A task list app I am trying called Any.Do will tell me “good job!” or “way to go!” once I have marked things off my list as completed. It makes me smile and also feel like I’ve accomplished something.

As I get bogged down in the negatives of the day, both tools are reminding me that it’s not all bad. They don’t increase my share of happiness, but they sure help me notice it.

What makes you happy?

What do you do?

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Photo courtesy of Chris Valentine (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chris Valentine (Creative Commons)

You meet someone new, shake hands, and start talking, usually by asking a common question.

“So what do you do?”

Most of us answer that question, “I work for (fill in the blank)” or “I am a (waiter, teller, writer, etc.)”.

But is your job, you?

Are we defined by the job or do we define our lives and the job is just one part of it?

I’ve recently signed up for The Owner’s Path online course with Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author and publisher of Owner magazine. I’m not even through with lesson one and I’m already rethinking my reasons for doing what I do.

Side note: He’s offering a special on all his online courses right now if you want to take advantage – click here (affiliate link). I HIGHLY recommend his classes if you want to improve yourself.

I realize that my focus needs to be on my mission – on my reason for being. My mission (in rough form) is “to impact people in a positive way.” So when you ask me what I do, I need to phrase my response in terms of “I impact people by…”

What an eye-opening realization! That changes my motivation – that can turn a difficult day into a day filled with opportunities to have a positive influence on someone else.

It spills over into other choices as well – my volunteer work, my writing, my running – all are ways I can impact someone else.

Will I always know that I have? No, but I can work with that goal in mind. And not for any glory or recognition, but simply the intention of giving of myself to improve someone’s day or making things a little better for them.

This changes my justification for saying no. It validates saying yes to new opportunities.

So let me ask you, “what do you do?”

One little slip up…

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Photo courtesy of Ville Miettinen (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Ville Miettinen (Creative Commons)

…and all the hard work of building habits can go down the drain. All it took was a weekend out-of-town for me to get all out of sync. I felt completely off my game, I was forgetting to do things, and felt like I was suffocating I was so overwhelmed.

Whew.

I was frantically trying to figure out what had happened, because things had been going pretty smoothly before. Then it occurred to me. I was just blindly scrambling through the day instead of creating a plan, following my habits and making my lists. Things were falling through the cracks, and it all felt jerky instead of a smooth operation.

I had to figure out how to get out from under the pressure – and it turns out that stopping was the trick.

Will Rogers said, “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.”

Instead of continuing to dig into the chaos, I took a step back in order to survey the whole.

Some simple things like just making a quick list of the most urgent tasks, clearing some of the clutter on my desk (which had become a big pile of amorphous “stuff” to do), and sorting some of the confusion of emails helped clear my mind, and then it was easier to get to work on the rest.

Making sure I revisited my habit stacks (read more here) was a critical part of getting back on track because those made sure I took care of critical things each day in a short amount of time.

Breaks are healthy but having a solid recovery plan makes those breaks even more valuable. Having some habits and systems takes the thinking out of it and allows you to use that mental energy on more important things than mundane chores and worries.

Why do you lead?

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Photo courtesy of Melanie Holtsman (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Melanie Holtsman (Creative Commons)

Leadership is a privilege, but it is easy to let it go to your head and become toxic. You’ve seen those leaders who wield their position and power like a mighty sword, with the goal of being recognized, honored and praised for what THEY did. They look down on the people below them who actually did the thinking and the work to achieve that goal. Many times, there are no thank you’s and if there are, they are sickeningly insincere.

I bet you have also had leaders who are completely selfless. They work harder and longer than anyone on the team, they do things themselves rather than ask (or demand) that someone on the team do it. They clearly and wholeheartedly have the good of the team in mind with every decision. And when the goal is met, they take no credit but give credit to the team for the work well done.

In a recent talk at the Global Leadership Summit, Patrick Lencioni, bestselling author and founder/president of The Table Group, shared that a true leader should want to sacrifice themselves for the good of others. They do things not for them, but for the benefit of those they lead.

That really hit a chord with me, and made me think back over the leaders I’ve worked with over the years.

Not only have the leaders who acted in this manner excelled, but they inspired me to excel as well. I perform at a higher level when my leader lets me know that they are making decisions with my welfare and the team’s welfare in mind and not just looking at the bottom line.

A true leader influences and encourages her team, challenging them to use their full potential but knowing them well enough to know their capabilities and limits. They have worked with and observed their team closely enough to understand the strengths of each member and what it takes to pull the best performance out of each person.

The benefit of leading FOR your team is usually reciprocated by the bottom line. Happy team members work harder and more successfully so the results usually reflect that.

Why do you lead?

Take a deep breath

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Photo courtesy of Jabiz Raisdana (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jabiz Raisdana (Creative Commons)

How do you react when things don’t go your way?

Challenges and setbacks can feel more like the norm than the exception, and it’s easy to be sucked into the quicksand of negativity where everything coming at you threatens to push you further into the muck.

There are days that feel like nothing can go right – your computer locks up, traffic makes you late, your spill your coffee, your boss finds a mistake on the report you just finished, the list goes on.

The initial reaction might be that negative loop in your mind that says things like “nothing good ever seems to happen to me,” or “why can’t I catch a break,” or “I don’t deserve anything good anyway.”

What else can go wrong? Those thoughts tend to breed more problems.

Those thoughts are toxic. They need to be stopped right away.

In his book, The Way of the SEAL, author and retired Commander, U.S. Navy SEALs, Mark Divine says, “To win at anything, we must first win control of our minds.”

He goes on to share that:

“Before you can take control of your mind, you must first calm it down. The fastest way to calm your mind, along with your body, is through slow and controlled deep breathing…This settling practice helps reduce mental chatter, prevents your mind from wandering, and is generally a great boost to your self-control efforts.”

Instead of ramping up the frantic activity to “fix” whatever is going wrong, which you will only make worse if you are just operating on nervous energy and negativity – just stop.

Take a deep breath. Refocus. Take a break and go for a walk or find a way to jar your thought process out of that pattern.

Divine suggests several exercises for deep breathing and meditation that can calm your mind and help you refocus, but I have found that just being intentional with your breathing can do wonders.

Breathe in slowly for 4 counts, hold it, and then breathe out 4 counts.

Now, think about solutions to that crisis. Better? Clearer ideas?

Worry is fear

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Photo courtesy of Domiriel (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Domiriel (Creative Commons)

“I am afraid.”

Those words on their own are not unusual. We are all afraid of a lot of things ranging from spiders to losing our jobs to an unexpected diagnosis. But it’s important to stand up to our fears and not let them take over our lives.

Saying “I am worried,” is the same as saying “I am afraid.”

Worry is fear. It’s being afraid that the results you desire won’t happen, and the bad things that you don’t want to happen, will.

A woman I know at work is one of the most upbeat people I’ve ever met. She has cancer, in fact it is pretty much throughout her body, and yet she has refused treatment. She embraces every morning as a gift. She doesn’t worry about her health issues but thanks God for blessing her each day.

I’ve known others who have a slight ache or pain and go into a tailspin of anxiety – “what could be wrong?” and “what if it’s something serious?” and “how will I deal with this?” They become so obsessed with the worry, they often don’t even check out the problem. Instead they build it up to unbearable levels in their minds, when likely it was an easily corrected condition.

Even if there is something terribly wrong, worry doesn’t do any good. It only freezes up your mind and prevents you from thinking clearly.

A more productive approach is to admit your fear, but then start looking for solutions. If it is a health issue, then research treatments, listen to your doctor, and be healthy in other ways.

If sales are trending down, you still haven’t found a job, or you’re struggling in your relationship, admit the difficulty. Be honest with yourself and anyone else closely involved and acknowledge your fear, disappointment and frustration.

Then get busy looking for ways to solve the problem. Make a list if you have to of the things that are working and the things that are not, and strip away the things that are not. Focus on what is going right and rebuild from there.

It won’t be easy, but you will get nowhere if you just wring your hands and worry about it.

Dodging the sprinklers

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Photo courtesy of Jennanana (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jennanana (Creative Commons)

I do a long run on Saturdays that takes me through a commercial area which has sprinklers. If I time it right, I get past before they come on, but lately, I seem to be passing that spot at just the wrong time so I get hit with their industrial strength water stream.

Last week, I decided I didn’t want to get wet. I jogged through the grass, out to the street, thinking I could just go right around that problem.

SPLAT!

What I had not noticed was that there was one sprinkler aimed away from the rest out near the street that hit me full in the face. Wow, that was a shock! I ended up getting soaked, more than I would have just staying on the sidewalk.

I was focused on only part of the problem, and in developing my Plan B, I went on assumptions, rather than looking around and paying attention to all the details.

How many times do we do that in planning our work and home activities?

We key in on the primary objective, create a plan, and think briefly about a contingency plan but nothing elaborate. Then when Plan A falls apart, we are left picking up the pieces and starting over rather than continuing along without missing a beat because we did not look at all the options.

I’m not saying that Plan B needs to be as completely thought out as Plan A, but when a lot is at stake, we do need to do our due diligence to make sure that if we miscalculated something on Plan A, there is a viable alternative to fall back on.

How well do you think through your Plan B?

Are you a diver or a wader?

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Photo courtesy of Dirk Hofmann (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Dirk Hofmann (Creative Commons)

You’ve got a list of things to do a mile long. Your phone is lit up with voice mails, your physical inbox is overflowing as well as your email inbox, notes are on your desk, and everywhere notifications can come in – they have. There are stacks of work covering your desk, and you’ve got helpers waiting on instructions.

Where on earth do you begin?

Dive in – that’s what I usually do. And when I dive in without a plan, just trying to swat as many incoming alerts as possible, I end up just making a mess of everything. That’s when I go off in the wrong direction and have to backtrack, or tell people one way to do it only to confuse them later by having to show them a different way.

I make mistakes when I dive in.

Wading in is always a better plan.

Instead of being reactive, it works better if I survey the situation fully, and then decide my actions.

You can see the full scope of the work you have to do and prioritize before starting anything – that way you don’t waste time, spin your wheels or get as frustrated.

It makes much more sense to go slowly rather than to blindly start answering emails or voice mails. Get a clear picture of all the information and then make progress.

Even with a new project, the wading method makes sense. Brainstorm the project from beginning to end, develop a clear picture of what “finished” looks like, then create milestones to hit in order to reach your target completion date. If you build in checkpoints, then you won’t have to change direction as much because you will know you are on track – and even if you do have to change, it won’t be as drastic as if you dove in and headed the wrong direction.

How would you benefit by wading in rather than diving in to your next project?

Follow through is key

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Photo courtesy of Flic Pics (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Flic Pics (Creative Commons)

In baseball, golf or tennis, a key part of a swing at the ball is the follow through – without it, the ball will not go where you want it to.

I’m finding that I often miss that step in a lot of the work I do, making life more difficult than it needs to be.

Have you ever gotten an email that involved going to a website to do something, you go do it, but then you forget to delete the email? Later, you go through the steps again because you aren’t sure that you finished?

Or what about when you are going through a list, checking off things as you finish, and then you forget to check something off? Makes for a lot of extra work to go back later only to realize you took care of it originally.

Sometimes the final step is to communicate to your team or boss where you are on a project.

I have discovered that part of my problem with having too much to do is because I don’t always follow through like I should. Whether it’s at work, my volunteer work or just personal things, I need to take the extra moment to finish it up before I move on.

I actually practiced it at work last week. Someone interrupted me in the middle of working on something on the computer. Normally, I would have stopped to take care of their issue and then gone back to what I was doing – discovered I wasn’t sure where I stopped, and waste time going back over it until I figured it out.

But this time, I said, “I’ll be there in a minute, let me finish what I’m doing.”

The world didn’t end. They didn’t freak out. In fact, they apologized for interrupting me and said that was fine whenever I got to it.

I finished up, closed the file, and went to take care of the other matter, knowing that when I came back, I would just start the next file.

Beautiful. I got a whole lot more done that day because I approached each interruption that way and was able to follow through on what I was doing to get to a good stopping point.

What tasks or projects would be more efficient for you if you had better follow through?

Why do I put things off?

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

Weeks ago I noticed some little dark spots on my cream-colored carpet. I made a note on my task list to take care of them. Every day doing yoga, I saw those spots and thought again – I need to get those out. But I had all sorts of excuses why now was not the time.

It will take too long so I’ll do it later. I’ll do it after work. I’ll do it this weekend. I’ll do it – when?

This morning, I decided to just get the spray and a towel and spend whatever time I needed to get those spots out once and for all. I think I was busy for maybe 3 minutes? That is all. Done.

Now I can check that off my list and feel better because I’m not beating myself up for not taking getting it done.

It’s like constantly seeing the red traffic light instead of the green.

There are so many things like that on my list, and I constantly bump up against them. There are the emails that I put aside to answer later and fret every time I see them but don’t stop and answer until the inbox fills up.

There are errands I put off, calls I don’t make, projects I don’t start – all because they seem like too much trouble or too time consuming at the time.

Leaving all that hanging just increases the noise in my head and leaves me in a constant state of being overwhelmed by all I have to do. When each of those tasks build up in my head, it becomes insurmountable.

So I need to make the decision to do it or leave it. Either block out time to take care of it now (or in the next few days) or put it on a someday/maybe list and let go of it. Action. Simple as that.

Nothing but green lights now!

What is on your list that you need to just get done?

What kind of team do you lead?

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Photo courtesy of Rob Campbell (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Rob Campbell (Creative Commons)

A boss I used to work for had a very abrasive communication style. He would bark orders, give little information other than the bare facts, wait until the last minute and expect everyone to jump through hoops continually to get things done. His standard email consisted of comments like, “make whatever calls you need to but this must get done by this date.” He was usually not part of the process and rarely gave praise.

Another boss would ask for things but give only a dribble of information. Instead of giving all the details, she would say we need to do this on that date. As the project unfolded, she would dump additional details on the team. There were often rushed orders to get the supplies we needed or panicked phone calls to set things up at the last minute, simply because she did not think through the plans and share them with the team. Her tone was usually short, and she sounded impatient when we asked questions to clarify what we needed to do.

My favorite boss scheduled a planning meeting well in advance of a big event or project with all the parties involved, and we would hammer out a plan and make sure everyone was on the same page. We would touch base throughout the process and share information. That way each person knew what they needed to do, that we had what we needed for the project, and everyone was working toward a common goal. She would recognize and praise good efforts, and even if she needed to correct, it was done with kindness and support.

It does not take much effort to lead a team like the last kind of leader. Leaders who communicate well with their teams accomplish more because they aren’t afraid to rely on the strengths of their team members, and use the power of brainstorming to find the best solution to challenges and issues.

They encourage the team’s efforts and praise the results, and they are part of the process instead of simply ordering the team around. Collaboration and success are the main focus instead of glory for the leader. These leaders have loyal, high performing teams.

As a leader, what kind of team do you lead?

 

Stopping the bumper cars

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Photo courtesy of trbuckley (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of trbuckley (Creative Commons)

For the past several weeks (well, who am I kidding – past few months), my life has felt out of control and completely overwhelming. Organization and productivity feel just out of reach, and the days have been flying by faster than normal because they are completely filled with stuff – not even always fun stuff – just stuff.

I’ve been wondering what happened, and then I realized that part of the problem is that I’ve neglected the practice of my three focus words. I’ve let life and work take over and shove me around like I’m in a bumper car.

I need to be more intentional.

My three words this year are MOMENT, BALANCE, and DIRECT (read more here).

MOMENT: My moments have been a blur lately, and that needs to stop. Even when I run in the mornings, my mind seems to be full.

I tried something this weekend on my long run which seemed to help. I practiced mentally skipping stones with the worries (read about that here), and then used voice to text in my task list app to collect the little “things I need to not forget to do” that kept popping in my head. That took the pressure off needing to keep that in my head until I finished, as well as the frustration that I experience when I get home and then still can’t remember what it was.

Being able to let go of those things allowed me to practice mindfulness for the rest of the run – I started noticing the things around me more – the birds singing, the flowers and trees blooming, the clouds – I felt more at peace.

BALANCE: My calendar is going to be the tool of choice for rebalancing my life. I live by the calendar already – what would I do without the chirps reminding me of meetings or to do things like stop at the grocery store on the way home from work? I need to seek more equilibrium in work and rest, giving and taking, focusing on others and on me. Making plans to have lunch with a friend or blocking off time to read will offset working all the time. Deciding to take a rest day from running to let my body recover is healthier than pushing the workouts every single day.

DIRECT: As usual, I’ve let myself be managed instead of managing and directing my days. I know what to do, I just haven’t been doing it consistently. I have plenty of tools to be able to schedule, plan, and create a productive day and week, so I need to be proactive instead of just reacting to what gets thrown at me.

For instance, I get a lot of interruptions, and tend to stop and deal with whatever it is and then struggle to get back to finish what I was doing originally. My desk usually looks like a disaster by lunch, and I find myself apologizing for not getting things done for people or for making mistakes. What I need to do is stick with my plan, and actually be strong enough to say “let me finish this first.” I suspect I will accomplish more that way instead of trying to figure out where I left off when I come back to it.

There will still be times when life gets out of control, but by intentionally staying focused on my three words, I can recover more quickly when there are disruptions.

How do you regain control?

Message Monday

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Photo courtesy of Tanakawho (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Tanakawho (Creative Commons)

I don’t know about you but I love to get mail – well, I should qualify that as “happy” mail. I’m not talking about bills or all the junk mail that just gets tossed, but actual letters.

And letters are rare these days.

People are so digitally connected that the norm is an email or text or Facebook message. That’s great and instant, but can sometimes feel distant.

The other day I got a card from a friend – just for no reason. I was opening it before I even walked away from the mailbox and it made me smile. Kind of a warm fuzzy feeling all over.

And then I realized I don’t even remember the last time I sent a card or note to someone (Christmas card don’t count).

So my solution is going to be “Message Monday.” I’m going to MAIL (with a stamp and everything) a card or note to someone dear to me each Monday. For no particular reason. Just to let them know I am thinking of them or to share a memory of time we spent together.

I don’t expect a thing in return, but it will be my quiet way of staying connected in a busy world. Maybe it will make them take a moment away from the craziness and smile. And remember that they are loved.

Who should you message this Monday?

Take a step back

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Photo courtesy of One Lucky Guy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of One Lucky Guy (Creative Commons)

It is no fun being injured, especially when it prevents you from doing the things that you love and that you are used to doing. As a runner, being out with a pulled muscle is frustrating, but it’s important to take a step back from training to allow the time necessary to heal. If not, things will only get worse.

Last year, I pulled a hamstring muscle while training for a race, and because I continued to train instead of staying off of it, my leg took months to heal completely. Looking back, that was a lot of unnecessary pain, discomfort and frustration simply because I was too stubborn to take the break I needed to.

Recently, I pulled a calf muscle, but this time, I took measures like alternative workouts that did not stress it, and using other remedies to speed the healing process. I was only out for a week.

I see that pattern in other areas of my life too – when I’m overwhelmed by a project or situation, I tend to keep pushing through it instead of stopping and taking a break. It’s important to step away sometimes to get a new perspective or to refresh you mind and spirit instead of just forcing yourself through.

Often there are better ways to get to the goal that you just don’t see when you are in the middle of it. Stepping away to plan (or re-plan) and brainstorm with others can be invaluable because you see the situation from a different perspective.

Imagine a maze, where you continue to bump into dead ends while you are in it, but if you could step back (or up) to see it from above, the path becomes clear.

Those alternative workouts allowed my leg to heal quickly just like stepping away to plan some of my projects can help me become more efficient and productive with my work.

Where do you need to take a step back?

Skipping stones

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Photo courtesy of Zabrev (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Zabrev (Creative Commons)

It was an awful day full of frustrations, interruptions and pressure. I was late leaving work, so traffic was worse. I didn’t sleep well, and then I got up, still irritated and discouraged by the events of the prior day and anticipating more of the same for the new day.

I headed out to run, hoping that it would clear my head.

During the first part of my run, I was still angry as the events of the previous day kept replaying in my head. But then I realized I was letting the past flavor my present. And that just wasn’t right.

The image of skipping stones across a peaceful lake popped into my head. The way the stone skims across the top of the water, making fewer and fewer ripples the further away from you it gets.

I pictured each of the things that had bothered me the day before as a stone – lightly dancing across the water away from me to finally sink into the muddy bottom of the lake – a perfect resting spot.

The tension began to release from my shoulders, and the clouds in my head cleared. I realized I had let the circumstances get the best of me instead of making the best of the circumstances.

Today I will direct instead of being directed – I will find a balance in the sea of interruptions and frustrations, imagining myself releasing each negative thing like that stone across the lake.

What stones do you need to skip across the lake?

More than words can express

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readingI can usually whip out at least a few words for most any situation, whether good or bad. I’m pretty good at describing my feelings, my joys, my struggles.

But I am at a loss right now.

I have not yet found the right adjectives to define how full my heart is.

Incredible. Unbelievable. Amazing. Phenomenal. None of these captures what I am feeling.

You see, I met my running buddy last weekend.

I am part of I Run 4 (read more here), a group in which we match runners and other athletes with buddies who cannot run but who struggle with a variety of special needs. We dedicate our miles to them and workout in their honor.

I Run 4 Bennett, a little boy who has Down syndrome, and who inspires me every day. As his “running mom,” I have run over 2,360 miles for him since we were matched in March of 2013. I message his sweet parents every day and we have built an incredible friendship, but until last weekend, we had never met in person.

What an experience it was when Bennett reached to me the minute I walked in, and wanted to be hugged and held. What an experience to spend time with his mom and dad who have accepted me as part of their family.

I sat on the floor to read to him, and he climbed in my lap and got settled and ready before I could even get my legs crossed! What a cherished memory that will be!

My heart ached at having to leave, and yet it soared with the sheer happiness of the memories of our time spent together.

Since I’ve been back, running has taken on even more meaning because every single mile brings back those sweet moments. I never realized how inspiring it can be to run for someone – suddenly running is not about you anymore – it’s not how hard I work or how many miles I log for the sake of running – it is getting out there even when I don’t feel like it because I’m doing it for him. It’s spending that time praying for him, thinking about him and wishing the best for him no matter what he is struggling with. And it is celebrating his milestones and progress and cheering him on to success.

I am very blessed that I Run 4 Bennett!

No time for fear

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Photo courtesy of Danielle (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Danielle (Creative Commons)

I sat down at my desk and saw him. Long legs, climbing up the wall just a foot or so away. My breath caught and a wave of fear washed over me.

I really hate spiders.

A month or so ago, the same feelings flowed out when a wasp somehow got on the inside of my screened in porch. I stood there frozen in place, wishing I could just snap my fingers and have him be gone.

After that moment of panic, I quickly pushed past the fear to take care of both the spider and the wasp because I did not have time to be afraid – I had to act.

And I realized I need to practice fearlessness that more often.

When I’m scared, I often I give myself too much time to talk myself out of things. In spite of my aversion to the word “no” in most cases, I find that when opportunities come up that frighten me – I am way too quick to shake my head and back away.

The times I have gathered up my courage and said yes have been incredible experiences that helped me grow and become a better person.

In fact, every time I have pushed past the fear I have grown and been glad I acted.

I need to learn to go toe to toe with fear and stare him down. Every. Time.

Life is too short for regrets, and I should never miss an opportunity to grow or enrich my life because I let fear convince me it would be uncomfortable or intimidating.

When do you need to push past fear?

Learning to juggle

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Photo courtesy of Cesar Astudillo

Photo courtesy of Cesar Astudillo

My work and my life seem to be a juggling act lately – only the more balls I get in the air, the more likely I am to drop them.

I bet you are juggling too.

The more I say yes to, the more balls get tossed in the mix, until it’s impossible to keep up with them all. It is all bound to tumble down in a huge mess.

So it’s important to start learning the word “no.”

If you are like me, the word “no” is not part of your vocabulary, and just thinking of using it brings on images of hurt, letdown, disappointment – but honestly, fear is probably the main reason I choose not to use that word.

Fear that I’m missing an opportunity. Fear that I’m going to upset someone. Fear that I’m not living up to my potential.

But always saying yes just means that mistakes happen, things are forgotten or neglected and suddenly even things that usually bring great joy are not fun.

Instead of being positive, it all becomes poisonous and negative.

The first step is to take stock of all those things I’ve said yes to. I include it all – work, volunteer work, church duties, family obligations – whatever it is. Seeing the entire range of things I’ve agreed to do or be part of helps me prioritize.

Once my list is completed and ranked, I can start to make decisions. Some obligations may be ending soon, or may be a once or twice a year kind of thing. Using my calendar and tools like trello.com, I can see the bigger picture and possibly decide to lessen my involvement or even phase things out completely.

Once there are fewer balls to juggle, I can direct my energy and my focus to the things that are most important to me. I can get busy enjoying what I am doing again, developing and mastering skills, and making a difference.

How many balls are you juggling?

What do you keep?

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cardsWhere does all this stuff come from?

I’ve been decluttering at home lately. I dread trying to file something because I can hardly get anything else in any of the drawers without a struggle, so I spent a morning going through old files. I discovered that the reason my file drawers were so packed is because I have kept way more than I should have!

I started with the several extra years of tax returns that I didn’t need to have, including envelopes full of the prescription info that I wasn’t able to claim on my taxes. Not sure why I thought it was important to save that, but there it was – stuffed in the file drawer.

Along the way, I also uncovered some great information from seminars and classes that I’ve attended. Now that is something I’m glad I kept. I relabeled it so it is easier to find and reference, and I need to be sure and refer to that material often so I can keep growing and learning.

Before long, the files were loose and relevant – I can file easily and see what is important.

I moved on to my box of cards and letters, thinking that would be an easy thing to clear out. The top sits propped on top of the stuff inside, so my goal was to easily thin that out so I can close the box.

Boy was I wrong about it being easy.

I ended up having a good cry while reliving some incredible memories, and remembering some awesome people who have been and are in my life. In addition to the birthday and Christmas cards with sweet messages, there were the sympathy cards, letters from my late grandmother, messages from friends I’ve lost touch with, and loving notes from my mom. All reminded me of poignant points in my life, and all made me feel so blessed.

I am so thankful that I have kept those cards and letters – and really only rearranged the way they were in the box to be able to get the lid to stay on. I obviously don’t look in that box much at all – usually I just tuck something in there when it comes in the mail. Now I see that it is a huge dose of happiness in the form of rekindled memories of both events and people.

Often the treasures get lost in all the other “stuff” and are forgotten. I’m happy that things are more streamlined and organized, so I can see and touch the things that mean so much to me.

Whether it is the notes from inspirational speakers at seminars, or the sweet comments of a dear friend in a letter, what a way to lift up a bad mood or redirect a sour day.

What treasures do you keep and cherish? 

What do you make time for?

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Photo courtesy of Brian Indrelunas

Photo courtesy of Brian Indrelunas (Creative Commons)

If you did an inventory of how you spend your time during a normal week, would you be satisfied?

I don’t think I would be. I spend more time than I should checking email. I sometimes turn on the tv and just zone out watching reruns of Criminal Minds or Leverage. I sit idly in traffic listening to country music radio on the way to do errands or back and forth to work.

I basically waste time by letting it be spent on things like that. By not being intentional and making time for the things that are important, I’m letting time slip away.

I want to know that I am spending my time impacting and enjoying others and learning to be a better person. That’s what I want to make time for.

So what if instead of listening to the radio, I listened to a podcast or audio book in the car? How much more valuable would that time be in my personal development? Or I could use the time to call and touch base with a friend.

By setting up filters, rules and shortcuts, I can spend less time getting through all the unimportant emails quickly, so I can spend quality time on those that matter. Instead of letting time seep away browsing social media or watching TV indefinitely, I could set a time or alert so that after a certain amount of time, I can stop that and get back to more productive or satisfying activities.

Wasting less time means I can focus more on my volunteer work, my writing, and connecting at a deeper level with friends.

I have had too many days lately which end with me not even knowing what I did all day, or feeling like the day was a waste because I did not accomplish any of the things I set out to accomplish. More often than not I feel completely overwhelmed at the end of the day, and unsatisfied with the value of the things that I did.

Being more intentional with my calendar, my plans and my time may seem tedious, but at the end of the day, I want to know I made a difference. And the only way I know to make a difference it to make time for it!

Put it in front of you

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Photo courtesy of Chapendra (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chapendra (Creative Commons)

The other day, I gathered up my things to head home after work and got halfway home before I remembered that I had not picked up the mail I was supposed to drop off at the post office. I had to drive all the way back to work to get it.

That is not the only time that has happened, so now I put the outgoing mail with my purse, so I will be sure to take it with me.

If there is something I need to be sure to do first thing the next day at work, I leave either the file or a note right in the center of my desk, so it will be the first thing I see when I walk in the next morning.

It may seem silly to have to prop the book I need to take to the library in front of the door, but it is the only way I seem to be able to ensure I take care of it. I basically have to move it to get out the door and therefore cannot forget it.

We all have so much on our minds, that putting something in front of yourself like that takes the chance out of it and ensures you take care of that important thing.

I’m looking for more ways to put things in front of myself too. I hate the feeling of getting to the end of a day only to realize I did not order those supplies that were needed, or fill out that form, or make that phone call. If I don’t write things down (either on paper or electronically), well then I likely won’t do it.

I am testing some new tricks to help me remember to do things, in addition to the “put it in front of the door” technique. Reminders on my phone, even if it is something seemingly silly like laundry, or stopping at the grocery store, help me when otherwise I would just zip home and get busy on other things.

I have also been using Trello as my task list application and instead of making it a destination, I have set it up so that it is the first screen I see when I open my browser. As tedious as that may seem, it reminds me to check my to-do list and make sure what I am doing is the best way to use my time right then. It also helps me to let go when I see that there isn’t anything urgent I need to be doing – a great tool for being able to say “not now.”

These tricks have been real time savers because by making sure I take care of things early, I relieve that scrambling that happens when you’ve forgotten to do something at the right time.

How do you make sure you’ve done what you need to?

Change of pace

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Photo courtesy of Liesel Elliott (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Liesel Elliott (Creative Commons)

Just as the sky begins to lighten up, I am out running. Most days anyway.

I love running that early because it’s cooler, I see more birds and creatures, there’s less traffic, and it’s quiet. Makes it possible to have a peaceful, prayerful run that jump starts my day.

But recently, I had an injury, so I had to substitute gym workouts for a few days while I healed. What a change of pace!

I decided to take advantage that weekend and start my days a little slower since there was no need to get to the gym so early. I made a little extra coffee, and headed to the porch. What a treat – birds singing and fluttering about, quiet (well, except for the neighbor’s air conditioner), comfortable. Time to write and dream a bit.

Did I miss my long run that week? Absolutely. But I embraced the break from running as well. It felt good to change up my schedule as well as my workout.

Do you change the pace in your own work and life periodically? While there is great value in routine and habits, I do think it helps your mind and your body to switch it up periodically. Going away on vacation is one way, but I often find that vacations just provide stress another way – and how many times have you commented that you needed a few days to recover from your vacation?

We pack our days and lives so full and work at warp speed so often, it is important to stop that cycle every once in a while. Cross training your body is healthy because you utilize other muscle groups at a different intensity. Altering your schedule or your focus is healthy because you expand your mind and explore other interests. And get a break from the usual.

What if you had your next staff meeting at an offsite location? I bet you might spur some new ideas that way. Maybe your family could have a movie night at home one weekend evening, complete with popcorn, instead of each doing their own activity. Or plan a day at the park or a museum as a way to bond.

None of this is new information. I know I should be cross training instead of running every day but sadly it takes an injury to jar me out of my routine. Don’t wait to be injured or burned out to change things up.

Is communication an afterthought?

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Photo courtesy of Paul Shanks (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Paul Shanks (Creative Commons)

Communication is such a critical piece of everything we do, and yet for many, it is a missed step, or a quick add on at the end of a project.

In reality, good communication should be the first step in everything we do, especially in situations where changes are being made.

Without communicating clearly to everyone involved, rumors, hurt feelings, and miscommunication result, which then complicate and possibly damage a potentially successful project or situation.

Most often, the “why” is the overlooked piece of information – why are we making this change? Why must we do things this way?

People are so frightened of change and resistant to doing things a new way, but often if they understand why the old way doesn’t work, they are perfectly happy to adopt a new routine. The potential good just needs to be pointed out for people to get onboard. And it needs to be pointed out early instead of as an “oh by the way.”

We cannot just assume everyone knows because a few do, and we cannot just hope that word gets out. I’ve been involved in several situations lately that would have been so much easier had the facts been shared earlier. I felt like I was spinning my wheels in the mud for a bit until I got the traction of better information.

In fact, one situation had to be completely rethought once the information was shared with those involved – that was a lot of wasted time.

Next time you are planning a big project, make communication the major piece of it and I bet it will go more smoothly.

Which dog are you feeding?

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Photo courtesy of Bruce Fingerhood (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bruce Fingerhood (Creative Commons)

I have fallen into the trap too many times. I have a plan for the day which makes perfect sense on paper – a way to get tons of work done and check lots off my list. Then I get to work.

The phone starts ringing; there are interruptions, issues with the registers, problems with the computers, questions, complaints – yikes! It’s midmorning and I’ve finished nothing, I’m facing a larger stack of work, and there are scribbled additions to my list of things to do.

At that point, I often fall into the hole of negativity – it’s hard not to fall in. If it feels like everything is going all wrong, the easiest thing to do is to sink down and start making your excuses.

But that doesn’t help get the work done, and really doesn’t even make you feel any better.

I am determined to find a better way.

I’m reading a book called The Way of the SEAL by Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL, and he describes Fear Dog and Courage Dog. His question is, “which dog are you feeding?”

As he explains, “Negative thoughts and energy feed Fear Dog, weakening us, leading to performance degradation and poor health. We can lock Fear Dog up and redirect his energy into assertiveness and discipline. Meanwhile, we need to feed Courage Dog, Positive thoughts and energy feed Courage Dog, strengthening the mind, body, and spirit. Feeding Courage Dog makes us more kind, patient, tolerant, powerful, and present. We’ll avoid conflict and become better leaders. We won’t hesitate to lean in to the hard tasks; fear won’t control us.”

I’ve been paying more attention since I read that and realize that I do often feed the wrong dog. With that in mind now, I find it easier to steer away from that cycle of negative thoughts and self-talk. I’m better able to keep Fear Dog kenneled, and focus on nourishing Courage Dog.

Staying positive makes me much more productive, even with the interruptions and challenges. Instead of stewing in the unpleasantness of the situation, I can refocus and get back to work. In fact, if I make it a game, then the interruptions are just part of it – I see how much I can accomplish before the next interruption comes!

How can you make sure you are feeding the right dog?

Talk to me

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Photo courtesy of Magnus Franklin (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Magnus Franklin (Creative Commons)

Ever have one of those situations where you find out that something is not right but only because it gets back to you? And by then it is a huge deal and difficult to resolve?

The other day, I had someone upset over what they perceived as an insult, but they talked to several other people who really had nothing to do with the situation and did not understand what had happened.  It was ultimately my decision and responsibility, and I could have easily explained it, but no one came directly to me.

Consequently, the whole issue got blown all out of proportion by the time I found out and there were a number of people upset and hurt by the whole thing. I was left cleaning up a mess.

It would have been so much better if they had just come to me to get the full explanation and we could have avoided all the drama.

It can be like that telephone game, where someone makes a statement and it gets passed from person to person. By the end of the line, it’s all twisted around to be something completely different from what was originally stated.

People love to share, and unfortunately, a lot of people just blurt things out without taking into consideration who they are talking to and what harm those statements might cause, like gossip in an office setting. If you complain about a situation to a co-worker who has no control or authority over the situation, all you are doing is stirring up negative feelings. That person cannot do anything to change or improve the situation, but if they mention it to someone else, then before long, it becomes a huge cloud of bad feelings over the office.

Instead of grumbling that “nothing ever changes around here” or “no one listens to me,” bring your concern to your supervisor or the person with responsibility over that area. If you explain the facts without unnecessary emotion, then you can make progress to fix the situation.

Gossip is never beneficial and creates such an unhealthy environment. Think about how much more pleasant your office could be without all that negative energy.

What can you do to eliminate gossip from your office?

Take a break

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Photo courtesy of Daniel Go (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Go (Creative Commons)

One of the most important things you can do when you are in the middle of a huge task, a big project, or a busy day is to take a break.

That’s also the easiest thing to forget to do.

You know the feeling. You are looking at the growing stacks of work on your desk, the task list that just goes on for pages, the phone that won’t quit ringing, and the email inbox that is chirping and flashing with each new email.

Take a break? Are you crazy? There’s no time – I’ll never get all this done!

That is precisely the moment that you MUST take a break. Actually, you should have taken one earlier, and I bet you would have prevented that panicked feeling. Even just stopping long enough to get a cup of coffee or make some hot tea can refresh your mind and body.

I am hugely guilty of just powering through. I rarely actually stop for lunch, but just eat at my desk while I work. Because of interruptions, I tend to start and stop many different tasks and then the piles on my desk become so completely overpowering that I find myself not even knowing what all I need to get accomplished. I feel like I am swimming in work by early afternoon and become so weighed down that I feel like I will never finish.

That happened yesterday in fact. I commented to someone that I felt like I was sinking under all the work I needed to finish. As I heard myself saying that, it dawned on me that I was overdue for a break!

So I took one. One of my duties is to take the store deposit to the bank every day. At first this errand was an annoyance, just something else in an endless list of things to do. But then I realized it was good for me.

It’s the one thing that makes me stop and get away from my desk. It makes me take a break. Yes, it’s still work related but it resets my brain, and lets me change my focus for 15 minutes.

So yesterday, as I felt myself sinking, I stopped. I straightened the stacks on my desk. I went to the bank.

When I came back, it was almost like someone had taken away some of the work – the stacks seemed more manageable, I was able to formulate a plan for the rest of my day. And I had a better attitude as I sat down and got back to work.

I was able to accomplish so much more by just giving myself a rest.

How much more could you get done if you took a short break?

 

Stack it up

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Photo courtesy of FreddieBrown (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of FreddieBrown (Creative Commons)

Ever sit down to put together your task list, and realize there are so many little things to be done that you end up completely overwhelmed? I did that last weekend, and had to step away from it. I knew there was a lot rolling around in my head, but seeing it all down on paper (or in this case, the computer screen) was just too much to take.

But then when I came back to it, I noticed that a few of the things were not really urgent, but more “would love to get to this someday whenever I have a free afternoon” kind of things, so I moved those to my “dreams” list. A couple of things were seriously 2 minute tasks – they took longer to type than to do once I just decided to do them.

Before long, the list was manageable, and I was able to make a plan to get things done over the next week. Whew.

Just like all those little things added up to an overwhelming list of things to do, little things can add up in a good way to make life better.

I’m reading a book called “Habit Stacking” by S.J. Scott that proposes stringing together some “mini habits” into a routine that can become life changing. By consistently doing what starts as a checklist of actions each day, you begin to build some effective ways to accomplish more in any area of your life.

He says, “The simplicity of each habit allows you to complete it and move on to the next habit, sticking to the routine and making a lot of positive changes quickly and efficiently.”

Stack those little things.

My aha moment was realizing that many of the things I end up spending time dealing with each weekend, could be eliminated if I spent just a few moments doing them each day during the week. For instance, I tend to just collect receipts and mail in my inbox because it seems too much to deal with when I get home every day. But then the inbox turns into such a monster, I dread going through it, and put it off until I have to spend way more time than necessary sorting through the junk, receipts, bills, and other items.

So I added sort mail and log receipts to my evening habit stack checklist.

I discovered that by spending literally a couple of minutes when I get home opening the mail, tossing the junk, and logging any receipts from the day, my inbox stays neat and manageable. The mental relief is huge.

Something I added to my morning habit stack is watering my plants. I have a bad habit of forgetting to water and killing things. I just threw out a fern because I had not watered it consistently enough. But now, that task is on my list, so even though I don’t necessarily need to water every day, the reminder is there to check. My plants are breathing a sigh of relief.

It is amazing how productive I’m becoming with my new morning and evening habit stacks. I’m also not having to look at the checklists as often, because they are becoming more routine. And boy, does it feel good to be staying on top of things. Plus, habit stacking helps by being a place to come to get back on track on those mornings when I just can’t get it together.

What little habits could you stack to make yourself more productive?

Halfway mark

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Photo courtesy of Colin Whittaker (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Colin Whittaker (Creative Commons)

When I am running, especially a long run, it is amazing the change in mindset that happens when I hit the halfway mark. No matter how much I am struggling, something about knowing that I’ve finished half of the distance really helps me both mentally and physically. Even though I might still have over an hour of running on tired legs, it’s easier knowing that I have only a few miles left.

I guess it’s the same phenomenon with “hump day” – you’re on the downhill side of the week after Wednesday, and that much closer to the weekend.

Knowing how well this mindset works, why don’t I do that when I’m working on a project or a task?

Some of the work I do is extremely tedious, and it’s difficult to stay focused knowing I still have so much do to on it. There are days when it feels like I could work all night until the next morning and still not catch up!

But what if I split it up and created milestones? That would be much better for my mood, knowing that at point X, I’m halfway to the goal I set. Then I will either change tasks or take a short break. I bet I would get a lot more accomplished in much less time – and save my sanity.

It would work just as well with projects. Create a timeline for the project, then designate the milestones to hit with dates or time periods. Break that up and work toward the halfway mark.

To me, there’s no value in just plodding along always feeling overwhelmed. If there are some tricks to be more productive with less angst, I’m all for it.

Now, got to go define some halfway marks on my ongoing projects!

Focus on the moment

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Photo courtesy of Chiot's Run (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chiot’s Run (Creative Commons)

I caught a whiff of someone’s perfume the other day as I passed her and experienced an immediate flood of memories of my grandmother, who wore the same perfume. I don’t even know what kind it was, but it was a sweet moment of reminiscence.

The sight of lightning bugs on a summer evening, rising up from the grass, brings back days of catching them in a jar and watching them glow.

There are certain hymns at church that bring me to tears with memories of my father, and I can see him standing there singing and smiling.

A cool, rainy Wednesday will remind me of swim meets, wrapped in a towel shivering between races, and the exhilaration of standing on the edge of the pool, primed to dive in at the sound of the gun.

I fear that these days I am missing the opportunity to create memories by being so caught up in the grind of work and obligations. Days pass quickly in the rush of meetings, stacks of work, and endless lists of things to get done. Months go by in a blur, and I wonder how it can be summer already, when it was just Christmas.

Stop. Focus on the moment.

In an endless quest for done, I’m missing the joy of doing.

I used to quilt and do other handwork like counted cross-stitch. I always had a project going, but I discovered that it was not so much the activity of stitching that I enjoyed, but the feeling of having finished. Once I realized that fact, I stopped stitching.

Many current activities in my life are like that. I do them out of a sense of obligation or responsibility, but I don’t so much enjoy the act of doing, but the accomplishment of being done. That is not a good enough reason to be doing it. I need to look at what I’ve said yes to, and weed out those things that are no longer fun or fulfilling.

That way I can make room for the moment. I can find the time and focus to create more memories. I want to reflect on a day or a week and savor the joy, not feel like it was a blur.

What is preventing you from living in the moment and creating fond memories?

Something is better than nothing

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Photo courtesy of David Ingram (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of David Ingram (Creative Commons)

It doesn’t have to be a full blown workout. You don’t have to completely empty your email box or your inbox. You don’t have to go all in.

Progress feels good, and often baby steps are what it takes to be unstuck.

It might mean just a short walk or a few repetitions of weights because you don’t have time for a long workout or the energy for more. But even doing a little bit works your body and adds up over time.

You might have only a few minutes between meetings or need a small break between projects. Don’t pressure yourself to completely process your email but at least check on a few. That will mean less to deal with later.

I find myself in the mindset of going 100% or not at all, and I miss a lot of opportunities that way. I also put undue pressure on myself.

Whether it’s a time constraint or a focus issue, there are times when it’s not possible to completely finish a task or project in one sitting and it’s important to concentrate on at least making progress.

So what if I can’t write the entire blog post right now – I’ll write a paragraph or two and finish later. I can clean one area of my apartment at a time instead of feeling like the entire place needs to be perfect all at once. And back to that email – just clearing a little at a time waiting in line or during a commercial will help me spend less time on it later on.

Progress, even small steps, feels good, don’t you think?

Along for the ride

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Photo courtesy of Peter Lee (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Peter Lee (Creative Commons)

When I worked for Borders, we had an all-store inventory count each year for which we would prepare for weeks. It would be scheduled on a Sunday evening after closing, and would last into the wee hours of the morning. The more smoothly the inventory went, the more accurate our systems would be throughout the following year, allowing for better customer service and improved financials and profitability.

I remember those hours just before the inventory team arrived, and commenting each year, “we’ve done what we can, and now we’re just along for the ride.” It might have felt a bit like a roller coaster ride, but at that point, there was nothing else I could do other than hang on for dear life!

There comes a point in any big challenge or project when you have to be confident that you have done the preparation necessary for success, and then just let the process flow.

It might be a presentation for which you have prepared slides and handouts, practiced what you want to say, and made sure all the equipment is set up. The audience arrives, you step onto the stage and you go ahead with it.

Perhaps you are directing a large volunteer opportunity, and have the activities planned, the leaders lined up, and the materials ready. No need to continue stressing – once the group arrives, you can just focus on that experience.

For me recently, we have begun using a new database at work. I spent a couple of weeks learning the new system, testing the reports, refining the instructions, and training my team. Once the Monday came that we were to start, I closed out the old system, and we launched the new one. I felt a bit like those inventory nights where I knew I was getting locked into that roller coaster car and we were lurching to the top of the hill, ready to go dashing down at top speeds.

The good news is that we haven’t flown off the rails! It has not been an easy couple of weeks, but it has not been because of problems. Time is needed to enter all the information and check to be sure it is accurate, but the process itself has gone smoothly.

The key is preparation in these kinds of situations, as well as having backup plans. Because I did the work on the front end, and had an alternate idea if the reports did not work the way I expected, I was able to focus on just getting the information entered. And the more my team and I work with the system, the quicker and more accurate we get.

I wish I approached more situations that way – sure does feel better going into the big day confident that you’ve done your homework instead of nervous that things might fall apart.

How can you better prepare for your big projects?

Finish something

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Photo courtesy of Enokson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Enokson (Creative Commons)

I have a bad habit of starting too much. Not that starting is a bad thing, but I start and then get sidetracked and start something else, and before I know it, my desk is a mess, I have way too many screens open on my computer, and I don’t know which end is up anymore.

The problem with that is that because I’ve started it, and then changed gears, I often don’t realize I haven’t finished it. Which can be tricky.

The other day, I wondered why I had not heard back from someone about an email I had sent. When I did go back to my computer, I realized I had started that email, but evidently got interrupted, and never finished it – so I never sent it. No wonder they had not answered an email they never got!

Not being able to check things off my list is disheartening too, and creates confusion and frustration. I find myself constantly apologizing to people because while I may have made progress, I have not delivered whatever I promised to deliver. Plus it’s exhausting to always feel like I have so much left to do.

One of my duties at the nonprofit where I work is to schedule the truck for furniture donation pickups. I receive emails or phone calls from folks wanting to donate furniture and I collect their information and get them on the schedule.

I have learned that when that phone rings, I immediately open the pickup schedule file on the computer to collect their information – I type it right into the computer while we talk. Done. Finished.

If I don’t do it right then, I risk messing up the schedule. Even though it means stopping whatever else I’m doing – it’s important to complete that process so that all the pieces are in place. It has become a habit that I don’t even think about anymore.

I need to approach more of my work that way. Build more habits. Finish, then move on to the next thing on the list.

How do you stay focused to finish?

Find an easier way

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Photo courtesy of LexnGer (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of LexnGer (Creative Commons)

I just caught myself doing something really silly this week. There’s a particular task I do at work that is tedious and time-consuming. But instead of taking some time to discover a quicker solution, I found myself thinking, “I don’t have time to stop and figure out a quicker way, I just need to get this done.”

How dumb is that?

I don’t have time to stop and figure out a better way, but I have time to keep doing it the old, time-consuming way?

That’s crazy talk!

Once it finally dawned on me how much time I was wasting, I took a few minutes to think through a solution to the problem – LITERALLY A FEW MINUTES! I ran it by the other people affected and they agreed it was a satisfactory way to do it. Done.

Now I can focus on the other work that I need to be doing, and spending much less time and energy on this task. Plus I’m looking at all tasks I do on a regular basis to see how I can streamline. I might even find time to relax in there somewhere!

What tedious tasks can you streamline to make time for more important things?

The joys of domesticity

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Photo courtesy of Rooey202 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Rooey202 (Creative Commons)

I’m a domestic goddess – at least I was over the weekend. After a week of mental gymnastics, planning, strategizing, figuring out new challenges, dealing with emotional and physical highs and lows, I was spent.

I got up Saturday morning, thinking I’d spend the day laying low – reading, snuggling, perhaps napping – basically recharging myself.

I began the morning with a long run, which started off feeling like I wanted to stop and crawl home, but ended up energizing me. When I got home, I decided to do a few of the “chores” that had been hanging over me on my list forever, just to be able to check something off and then relax.

I got out the ironing board (ironing is one of my least favorite household chores), thinking I’d do it for a little while and stop when I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I put on some music, and got busy. My brain unhooked. Suddenly I realized that I was almost finished with a pretty large stack, and it felt good. My closet was more organized with all that mess put back in its proper place.

Then I tackled my dresser – another tidying nightmare that had been on my list forever. Again, I realized it had not taken long, and it felt great. I was on a roll! Laundry and a little cleaning done and then I felt satisfied.

I guess the lesson I learned is that when I let things go at home, I complicate my life in other ways too. While it seems like all the other obligations, tasks and responsibilities are so much more important, I’m doing myself a disservice if I don’t have the discipline to take care of me too.

I need to respect myself enough to pay attention to even simple things like not letting dishes pile up and making sure the clutter is kept at bay. The sense of dread I get when walking into a mess just sucks out my energy, but what a pleasure it is to walk into my apartment after a long day and be greeted by order – it is re-energizing. And it makes for a better attitude with everything I do.

What domestic chores are you letting slide? How could taking care of those improve your attitude?

A massage, the rain, and a puppy parade

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Photo courtesy of Daniela Caride (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Daniela Caride (Creative Commons)

What is your idea of a perfect afternoon? What helps you recoup after a crazy week?

I know for everyone it is different. Yours might be spending time with family, lounging at the pool, or heading to a movie.

After a week of incredible stress both physical and emotional, I was really looking forward to an afternoon spent unwinding and recovering. I worked really hard on Saturday, taking care of some of the “must do’s” so that Sunday would be more unscheduled. For me, time to myself is critical in the healing process after a week of anxiety and tension.

Getting a massage is one of the few things I splurge on every month, so thankfully, I had one already booked. What a treat to leave limp and relaxed. It’s really amazing how much better I feel without all those knots in my back and shoulders!

I headed to my porch when I got home for some reading, and was greeted with the delightful rumble of thunder in the distance, the sweet smell of rain in the air, and a building breeze. It was the promise of a perfect “juicy” afternoon, as my mom and I call it. Before long, the air cooled, and I heard the gentle sound of rain falling through the leaves of the tree just outside my apartment, cleaning the air and refreshing everything.

Just before the rain started, I noticed several dogs being walked down below on the sidewalk. I looked over and my cat was enthralled – she loves to watch dogs go by, and for her, this was like a puppy parade!

Now we were both happy!

What an incredible release to have an afternoon so pleasant and so conducive to unhooking after a nightmarish week.

How do you unwind after a super busy week?

Know your limitations

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Photo courtesy of Andrew Tarrant (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Andrew Tarrant (Creative Commons)

As a runner, it’s important for me to push hard, but to also recognize my body’s signals to slow down, walk, or not tackle that extra mile. Pushing past those limits can trigger an asthma attack or cause an injury, which would then put me out of commission entirely for a while. I must understand the difference between lack of motivation and pushing those limitations.

I need to respect the fact that there are limits like a fence marking a boundary. For my own well-being, I must not climb over the fence.

It’s not just about exercise though. In your work, do you understand your team enough to know how fast to roll out a new initiative? Disaster could result if you move too fast with a new program without proper training and preparation. But you might miss opportunities if you hesitate unnecessarily.

Finding that balance is key, and knowing yourself or your team well enough to walk that fine line is critical.

We are changing to a new client database at work, which is easier to work with than our old one, but is still new and involves change. As I have planned the rollout, I realized that I need to take a step back and slow things down.

Rather than overwhelming my team with too much new information, creating confusion and incorrectly entered information, I made the decision to have them focus on entering the client information only, and not worry about also entering what help we provided. That way, they can get comfortable with the different screens involved in entering the contact information, income/expenses and demographics for each family member and get really good at that.

When they are completely comfortable with the first part of the information, then I can show them how to enter the assistance the family received. Until then, it still helps me for them to enter that initial information because it’s less I have to enter, and it means there’s less pressure on them to change too much too fast.

After a week of the new database under our belts, I realize that was a great decision. Everyone is getting comfortable entering the information, and while they still have questions, they are becoming quicker, more confident, and more accurate every day. This way, it will not be such a challenge when we add the additional steps.

In what ways would your projects go more smoothly if you pay attention to your limitations?

Are you paying attention?

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Photo courtesy of Eric Heupel (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Eric Heupel (Creative Commons)

I love running early on Sunday mornings because it is so quiet and peaceful – I rarely see anyone else, there’s little traffic, and there just seems to be a sense of calm that has settled in. Often it feels as if my mind and body absorb that calmness.

Yesterday was no exception. It had rained hard the night before so everything felt damp and lush. I had an incredibly stressful week last week, so my mind was cloudy and overcast like the sky.

I planned to run only a couple of miles, just to get the kinks out after the long run yesterday, but that was before I got going.

I first noticed some swallows, swooping, playing and making a sweet little chirp. As I looked up, I realized what beauty I was missing by having my head down, preoccupied with my worries. I took it slow, but I started hearing the birds singing, the insects buzzing, smelled the freshness.

I saw an indigo bunting, and then lots of bright goldfinches, leaving their perches on the purple thistle. The blackberry bushes leaning on the fence were covered in berries. I kept going because I did not want to miss the scenery.

I need to be more observant in every situation, not just when I’m running. What have I missed and who could have touched my life if I paid more attention?

Even just a smile at someone I am passing, a chat with a volunteer at work, a genuine interest in the activities of my co-workers, a long email (or better yet a real letter) to a friend.

Paying attention is more than just a glance or a flippant wave. It’s choosing to focus only on that one thing for a time.

When you are multi-tasking, you aren’t concentrating on any one thing, and can’t possibly do justice to all the things are you busy with. In fact, it probably takes longer to get the same amount of work done because you aren’t focused on any one part of it. If you are like me, you either redo or have to find your place over and over again, which wouldn’t happen if you were just doing one thing at a time.

Our interactions with people are just as bad. A comment on a Facebook post, a text, a quick email. Exchanging the usual pleasantries in passing (how are you? I’m fine) tells you nothing about how that person is really doing. But imagine what you could learn about each other during a deeper conversation over coffee.

I challenge you to focus more this week – I know you have a lot to get done – believe me, so do I. And it will be difficult to direct attention to only one thing at a time with all the interruptions and changed priorities. But it’s important.

Direct your focus. Pay attention to one task at a time, one person at a time, and notice things that you usually don’t take the time to notice. I bet it will be a better week that way. Are you with me?

Picking my battles

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Photo courtesy of Edward Liu (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Edward Liu (Creative Commons)

Do you ever feel like everything you are dealing with is a battle? With all these skirmishes, it can be disheartening and frustrating, and lead to bad decisions.

It may not even be conflicts that feel like battles, but issues to deal with, problems to solve and things to get done. At that point, even good things feel like poison if you are already overloaded.

When multiple challenges rear up, it’s easy to get into fight mode and tackle each of them as if it is the ultimate battle that will end the war.

Honestly, though, all that does is exhaust you and cause you to make less than desirable decisions. It can also alienate those you work with if you are always on the edge.

I am learning to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look at all sides of the situation before I react. By obtaining full information about what’s going on, I can make a more informed decision, and approach it with a calmer attitude.

And avoid donning my battle gear.

Whether it is a project at work, a situation at church, or a family issue, we can all benefit by pausing before we react. Many situations are simply not worth getting excited about and it’s better to save your energy for things that really matter.

For instance, I live in an apartment complex, so I have many neighbors who sometimes do annoying things like making unnecessary noise, letting their dogs bark incessantly, or allowing their children to run around like wild things. As frustrating as it may be to have a lovely quiet afternoon ruined by an unruly child screaming, they have a right to live there too, and unless the disruption continues until late into the night, I’m not going to fight that battle.

However, when a teen was shooting off firecrackers right outside my apartment, then I got involved! I confronted him and told him to stop, then reported him to the office. Some things are worth fighting about.

So take a deep breath next time you start gearing up and decide if that battle is really worth it.

I hate apologizing

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Photo courtesy of LexnGer (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of LexnGer (Creative Commons)

To clarify, I hate making mistakes for which I must apologize.

I screwed up yesterday. Plain and simple, I goofed.

I schedule the furniture pickups at the nonprofit where I work, and somehow I printed out two copies of one request and neglected to print another one, so we missed one woman’s items.

I regret that she waited and we didn’t come. I felt awful when I found out.

So I called to apologize and see when we could reschedule – and you know what? She made me feel worse. I did not expect her to be happy, but she went on and on about how long she waited, etc. etc.

All I could do is to keep saying how sorry I was. And she hardly let me talk for continuing to tell me that she waited all day long. All. Day. Long.

That experience made me think about how I react when I’m faced with someone who has disappointed me. I am sure there have been times when I’ve done the same thing to them – repeating how disappointed I am and not giving them a chance to correct the problem or redeem themselves.

That’s not really fair to the person who has made the blunder. No one is perfect, so we’re going to make mistakes. We are human after all.

Unless it is a rare occasion where a person is a blame thrower and doesn’t take responsibility for anything they do wrong (I have known a few people who constantly point the finger at someone/anyone else), the person who messed up likely is already saying they are sorry and feeling bad for the situation.

Continuing to rub it in doesn’t do anyone any good. That creates a situation where they are too busy apologizing to be able to offer a solution and you are too busy being angry to listen to any options. And then you just carry the anger.

Instead, be gracious. Express your disappointment – once. Let them apologize. Then move on.

Work together to figure out a fix, and then let it go. Life is too short to dwell on little disappointments. Find a resolution and get on with your life.

How do you react when someone disappoints you?

What happened to kindness?

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Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

There is a spot on my way home from work where the right lane of a two-lane road goes away leaving just one lane at a light going over a hill.

I have often seen awkward situations as drivers realize too late that their lane is ending and they must merge into the other lane of traffic. Usually someone will let them in, but most of the time, they kind of hang back until someone motions them into the flow.

In front of me the other day, two cars were pretty much side by side at the spot where the lane ends, and instead of politely pulling behind or waiting to be motioned ahead, the merging car practically ran into the other one, pulling just in front of it only to stop at the light. It struck me as just plain rude.

It would have been a simple thing for them to slide in behind that car since there was room, but they kind of bullied their way in front.

I see that in stores or at the coffee shop too, when people push their way toward the front of the line. It is so refreshing when someone actually holds a door, allows you in front of them when you have two items and they have a full cart, or motions for you to cross the street before they turn in their car.

Such kindness takes only a moment longer, and the residual effects last for hours – both for the giver and the recipient.

What if we took it a step further and LOOKED for opportunities to offer kindness instead of just noticing in the moment? What kind of wonderful world would we create?

Avoiding the traffic jam

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Photo courtesy of Chris (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chris (Creative Commons)

I have a traffic jam in my life!

I realized that is what it feels like when my obligations, responsibilities, worries and commitments hit all at once and suddenly I can hardly breathe.

It started innocently enough. “It’s only a meeting every month or so.” “That project isn’t due for a few weeks.” “Let’s meet for lunch next weekend.”

Somehow it all seems to be happening in the same month, or week or – gasp! – weekend! No amount of prior planning can help when you have back to back meetings or activities already scheduled. The key is in directing those activities ahead of time.

One of my three focus words this year is DIRECT (read more here) and I have admittedly not paid the proper attention to this particular word. I have let my life fill up with things that interest me and that I enjoy, but too many of those things can become overwhelming.

And if I’m being honest, the key word in that sentence is “let” my life be filled up. I have not deliberately involved myself in the things I need or want to, I have casually said yes to things that are interesting, but are not necessarily my main focus.

I need to be a traffic cop, and start intentionally directing more of my activities so that I can devote the appropriate mental and physical space and energy to them.

It’s hard to enjoy a conference if you check out mentally and spend the last portion of it planning your route home through afternoon traffic in order to be at your next appointment.

The week starts badly when you are so occupied over the weekend that you don’t even have time to run errands or take any down time.

No one benefits when you have meetings scheduled so closely together that you don’t allow for a mental break to prepare for the next discussion.

Like the police at an intersection, I intend to direct the flow of my activities more, and a well-placed “stop” might be necessary. Traffic from each direction cannot move forward all at once, so it’s necessary to stop one lane while the other goes and then alternate. I need to think of my obligations this way.

Maybe it means scheduling meetings with a buffer of time in between. It might involve asking someone else to represent me at a function. I am sure it would be beneficial to schedule an appointment for ME on the weekend so that I take a needed break to just sit on the porch or read a book. Or actually block out planning time on the calendar so that I ensure it gets done.

I am putting on my uniform and badge now. In what areas of your life do you need to be a traffic cop?

Do you have too much stuff?

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Photo courtesy of Nicole Mays (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nicole Mays (Creative Commons)

I look around me and while I have a very small apartment, and probably a lot fewer material things than many people, I still have a lot of STUFF. Too much stuff, if I’m being honest.

I guess we all do. It seems to be natural to accumulate, collect, hold onto things. I’m not sure if it’s a feeling of accomplishment to be able to show off all the things we have, or laziness because we end up keeping many things that we don’t necessarily like, use or need.

Many times, it’s things we are given and therefore hate to discard. I have several items that are meaningful only because of the person who gifted it to me. Or because of who I inherited it from.

I know for me, when things start to accumulate, they become overwhelming, and then I’m not able to enjoy them. For instance, my weakness is books, but when my collection expands and gets out of control, then I can no longer see and appreciate those books that are special to me. It becomes a mess instead of a pleasure to look at and enjoy. Plus, too many choices can mean indecision and uncertainty when choosing something new to read.

I also tend to keep the cards and letters that I receive, even things like Christmas cards. Do I really need to keep them all when they are simply signed by the friend and there’s no poignant message? Right now, the top won’t go on the box I put the cards in, so that is my signal to go through and thin those out.

What I really need is to be more vigilant about what I put in the box to begin with, and save myself the trouble of having to go through it so often. Same with books, and clothes, and pretty much anything I bring into my space. What is the point of having a lot of STUFF that isn’t meaningful to me? I want to look around and see things that are important to me, and not feel crowded because of a bunch of things that don’t matter.

What about you – what collection of stuff do you need to thin out?

Wait for it

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Photo courtesy of mat_n (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of mat_n (Creative Commons)

I am not a patient person.

I often create more work for myself because I don’t wait on the computer to process, and start clicking things and get ahead of it – you do it too, don’t you? Before you know it, you’ve ended up on the wrong screen because you clicked before the mouse was in the right spot and poof, it took you away from where you wanted to be and you have to navigate back to the correct screen.

Last year, I pulled a hamstring running, and it took months to heal because I wasn’t patient enough to stay off of it. Instead, I kept attempting to run and ended up making it worse.

Relationships benefit from time. How many couples have you heard of that met and married within a few weeks, and before long, they are separated. It takes time to get to know someone at a deeper level. You need to be able to share experiences, see each other in different situations, and learn about the other person’s dreams. That doesn’t happen quickly.

On projects and plans, my inclination is to rush forward with it and get it done – that’s the name of the game – finish! But what I’m learning is that things need time to simmer.

I have been working out details this weekend on a new plan for the committee on which I serve at church, and my initial reaction was to get it all down on paper and send it out. But something held me back. Then I had a few more ideas, and realized a couple of other things made more sense a different way. By not rushing it, I think I will have a better proposal to present to the others tomorrow, and it will be easier to get their input and feedback.

But I had to wait for it to come together.

The discipline of waiting is not coming naturally, but I am making myself more conscious of the need to pause and reflect before racing in.

What areas of your life would benefit from a deliberate wait?

No more maybes

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Photo courtesy of Visionello (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Visionello (Creative Commons)

Maybe is a dream killer. Whenever I qualify a statement with the word “maybe” then I’m dooming myself to inaction.

For years, I told myself, “maybe I could be a writer.” So for years, I wasn’t a writer.

When I finally said, “I am a writer!” – my dream became a reality. Same with running – when I quit thinking, “I’d like to try to run,” and just started running, I realized I was a runner!

What does that even mean? “I’m going to try…”

By thinking that, I’ve already given myself an out – I am giving myself permission to fail – to not do whatever it is I really need or want to do.

Just like when I tell someone that I’ll “try” to meet them for lunch or a particular activity, or that I “should” to do this or that – just by using that terminology, I’m admitting that it likely will not happen.

Don’t you do the same thing? How many times do you really do whatever it is you’ve told yourself or others you will “try” to do?

To me, using those words are disingenuous. I’m hedging my bets. I’m telling someone (or myself) one thing, all the while knowing that I really mean something else.

So I plan to banish those words from my vocabulary! I will banish “try,” “should,” “maybe” and “ought to” and replace them with words that are positive and decisive – do, direct, go, stop, yes, no.

No more trying! No more maybe! Instead, I will be more honest with myself and those with whom I interact. I will write, I will run. I will make up my mind and do. Or I will admit that it is not the right time and I won’t do.

I feel free just climbing out from under the ambiguity that “try” imposes. Strength and decisiveness make me sit up taller and feel more powerful. No more wishy-washy waffling, but action only here.

What maybes can you banish?

Attitude adjustment

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deer5I almost didn’t go.

I was facing a jam-packed day and it was tempting to skip my run and just get a head start on work. But something made me lace up my shoes and head out anyway.

I have to admit it was a perfect temperature, light breeze, sky just getting light. Before I knew it, I felt the worries, pressure, lists and anxiety melt away, like water washing off me.

It was almost a sensory overload, the powerful sweet scent of the honeysuckle, the symphony of birds, the lush green everywhere.

Then I noticed the deer, who seemed oblivious to my presence. The flash of deep blue as an indigo bunting flew off. The clear song of a towhee sitting on the fence. The jangle of my dog tags reminding me that I run for Bennett.

I realized I was totally and completely in the moment. I was practicing mindfulness. As thoughts came in my head, I was able to notice and release them. I was aware of my surroundings and seeing things I haven’t seen before even though I run that route every day.

Coming home, I realized that the day laid out before me now seems exciting – challenges to meet, problems to solve, people to interact with and meaningful work to do on all levels.

May your day be exciting as well!

Loosen your grip

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wheelWhen I drive in snow (or really bad rain for that matter), I find myself clenching the steering wheel so tight my knuckles turn white. That really accomplishes nothing except make my hands cramp.

When I run, especially long distances, I clench my neck and shoulders. I discovered this after I ran a half marathon a few weeks ago, and my back and shoulders were as sore the next day as my legs! That doesn’t help me run better or faster – in fact, it probably limits my endurance because I’m spending energy tightening those muscles that have absolutely nothing to do with running.

Do you do the same thing when you worry? I bet you clench a part of your brain that has no control over whatever you are worrying about and therefore makes the situation worse by limiting your ability to think clearly about other things.

I plan to unclench now that I’m aware of what I’m doing. Instead of worrying about things I have no control over, I will focus on the things I do influence.

We are launching a new initiative at work soon, but I don’t have the details yet. Instead of worrying about the potential problems or issues or that I don’t have details – I am catching up on the other things I can work on. That will free me up to focus on the new initiative when the time is right.

Whether it is anxiety about a friend who is sick, or fretting about the future, I will release my fears and do what I can do now. No more wasting precious energy on things I cannot change or anticipate. I will direct my energy to those things in front of me and deal with the other if and when it comes about.

Being mindful when I start to clench up is half the battle. When I run now, I make a conscious effort to shake out my arms and stretch my shoulders periodically. At the computer, same thing. Really, whenever I feel myself tense, I stop and take a deep breath to release the tension. Doesn’t solve any problems, but sure does help me make sure I’m focused on the right things that I can do something about.

Let’s make a pact to unclench. Are you with me?

What is my excuse today?

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Photo courtesy of vandys (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of vandys (Creative Commons)

I’m tired so maybe I’ll wait to pay those bills tomorrow. It’s cold or hot or raining, so I guess I can’t run today. I have to finish this before I can do that planning, and oh, look, I ran out of time.

The day can be filled with excuses. It’s very easy to get so wrapped up in the tedium and the drudgery that you just never get to the things that might make your job or your life more meaningful.

I know for me, it’s sometimes easier to just crank through the mind-numbing busy-work rather than actually spend mental energy planning a project or figuring out a better way to do something. But at the end of the day, I’m not doing myself any favors when I think that way.

Instead, I need to banish excuses, and break out of that routine. Instead of jumping right in to the busy-work, spend an hour or two working on that plan. Instead of wasting time coming up with a reason NOT to exercise, what if I just get out there and run – or go to the gym?

When I do just get busy instead of finding an excuse, I end up feeling energized. For instance, I move emails that I need to read or spend time with into an “Action Needed” folder to review later on. I know you see this coming – what happens, then, is that frequently, by the time I’ve finished clearing the other email, and doing all the other things that seem to crop up, I make an excuse like my mind is tired or I don’t have the energy now to go back and review those emails. So suddenly, I have so many in there that it becomes overwhelming to even think about it, and I delay even more.

So recently, I decided to step over those excuses and go through those emails. What a freeing experience! Not only did I take care of some critical things that would have been disastrous left undone, but I got it back under control and now the excuses will be easier to ignore – since it won’t take much time going forward to stay on top of it.

Same with exercising – if you do it regularly, it’s not so hard and your feel those endorphins. When you skip a lot of days, it feels difficult, and you get sore and that makes you not want to do it again. So I get out there and run.

What excuses will you step over?

The little things

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Photo courtesy of Jamg_94 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jamg_94 (Creative Commons)

It is the little things that can be my undoing.

I have been overwhelmed lately with major shifts and concerns in several areas of my life. And I have realized that because my mental power is consumed with thinking through how to handle these changes and ways to resolve the worries, little decisions or issues can send me over the edge, or freeze me in indecision.

For instance, just figuring out what to wear in the morning, what to have for supper, or what to watch on tv (or sometimes whether to even turn the tv on or not) have me wavering for far longer than I need to. I might change clothes 3 or 4 times, wasting precious time, or decide not to even eat because nothing sounds good. Not healthy.

So now that I’ve realized that, I’m taking some steps to counteract that indecision. For instance, I bought the makings of some healthy salads at the grocery, along with a couple of frozen dinners, so the dilemma about what to have for supper is less overwhelming.

Over the weekend, I made sure everything was ironed, and then I took a few moments to plan a few outfits so I can just grab and go each morning. What a huge time and sanity saver that is!

I planned out my week, so that I knew what I needed to accomplish at work, what meetings to prepare for, and what blocks of time were needed for projects. I even put some of that on my calendar to take the pressure off as to what to start and work on during the day.

What a difference it has made in my week! Not only am I more focused on what I need to get done, but I have more positive energy and mental capacity. I’ve written here about how difficult Tuesdays tend to be for me, and I even had a good Tuesday!

The flip side of this is that by taking care of these little things that can cause a day to go wrong, it frees me up to enjoy those little things that definitely make a day go right – like enjoying a beautiful sunrise, a cup of coffee with a friend, or breakfast on the porch. What you overlook when you are stressed out about other things can be the difference-maker in your day.

What little things do you need to take care of so you can have a better day?

Are you chasing a dream or pursuing your calling?

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Photo courtesy of Jorge Mexicano (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jorge Mexicano (Creative Commons)

I have been agonizing over identifying my vision and dreams for the long-term future. Nothing seems to pop out as a passionate goal, and when I think about where I’d like to be and what I’d like to be doing in 5 years, or 10 years or more – it doesn’t really look much different from what I’m already doing now.

Then it hit me. I had read a report put together by my pastor, and in it he mentions his calling. That’s the puzzle piece I have been missing! I need to focus on my calling, what I am intended to do, not on some far off dream or trumped up vision.

I thrive on impacting people in a positive way. I suppose that is how you would describe my calling. And I am living it every day already.

At GraceWorks, I work behind the scenes to make sure all the administrative things that need to be done get done –  making sure that clients’ bills get paid, supplies are ordered, and all those other critical but often overlooked things that make the work we do go smoothly.

With I Run 4, a group in which runners are paired with children and adults who can’t run, and their workouts are dedicated to their buddy, I work to coordinate matches between runners and buddies. How satisfying it is to see these new relationships flourish, and lives changed through the support and encouragement poured out daily.

From my activities at church, my writing, even my relationships with family and friends, I hope to be a positive influence. I am leaning into my calling every day.

What I need watch for is becoming spread too thin. I need to balance my current activities with potential new ones and make sure that I am not taking on too much so that it becomes overwhelming. Like the clutter advice of getting rid of something when you bring something new home, I need to let go of some activity or responsibility before taking on something new. That way I can continue to be effective and not burn out. I can fully focus on the things I need to and not have to rush through.

What a relief to realize that I’ve been looking in the wrong direction. Living out my calling is what I need to be focused on.

What about you? Are you living out your calling?

Finding a balance

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Photo courtesy of James Temby (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of James Temby (Creative Commons)

I have a friend who just got married, one who is working through her Life Plan, and another who just received a devastating health diagnosis. As I experience the ebb and flow of emotions related to each of the events in the lives of my dear friends, I struggle to find a balance in my own life.

How much do you focus on the future and vision and dreams? It’s important to have something to work toward and strive for but you can’t always have your head up in the clouds. Events like a marriage and developing your Life Plan are certainly forward-looking activities, and you get caught up in the excitement of leaning into your future.

On the other hand, a difficult illness can mean you face a limited future, so that brings a different meaning to planning and vision. Suddenly those things you saw far off but still achievable may not be, and you may tend to focus too much on the disease and treatment and not relish the time you do have left.

The idea of living in the present and enjoying the moment is something I’m struggling with quite a bit. Maintaining the balance of the everyday – walking a tightrope of work and worries and yet finding a way to also live in the moment is an elusive goal. I find myself mindlessly moving from task to task many days, checking things off the list and moving toward the next thing. At the end of the day, I often can’t tell you what I even did, and when I think back to find a “happy” – I can’t always. That’s not a good situation. No one knows how long they have left, and how sad to have been so busy on the grind that you miss the joys of life.

It’s tough when you have day-to-day drudgery, you know the things like the routines at work, paying the bills, chores and obligations. It’s often hard to find pleasure in those things, and yet life can’t always be a vacation. How do you keep from feeling overwhelmed? How do you find bright spots?

I am seeking ways to continue to get the things done that have to, and yet find some pleasure or joy in the act. Maybe it’s taking a moment to connect with someone new at work, or even to stop and hug an old friend and reconnect. Maybe it’s noticing the sunrise, or taking a break to phone a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while just to say hi. Or just spending some time reading for pleasure.

Being intentional is the only way I know to find that balance between the worries and the wonderful.

How do you walk that tightrope of grind and happy?

Staying positive in the face of negatives

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Photo courtesy of net_efekt (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of net_efekt (Creative Commons)

You hold your breath as you open the email – you can almost feel the negative vibes radiating from it, fearing bad news. Or worse, you face another day worried about someone, anticipating an encouraging report, and all you are met with is silence. You have a mountain of work with deadlines that you need to get through but interruptions keep you from making progress.

It’s so easy to focus on the bad things, on the past, on the not-what-you-wanted results. It takes more effort to let that roll of you and stay facing forward, looking toward better things.

But rehashing and dwelling on the negative really only makes it worse. It seems that whatever you focus on, breeds more of it, so when you are looking for the bad, then you tend to get more and more of it.

For me, Tuesdays are notorious for being my “toughest” day of the week. Somehow it’s the day that things go wrong, weird situations and questions crop up, people seem to need more assistance – it is just the most trying day of the week. But in all honesty, I do it to myself. I get up thinking, “oh no, it’s Tuesday,” and as things happen, my comment is always, “well, it is Tuesday after all.”

So in essence, I’m dooming myself to a bad day by anticipating that things will go downhill.

What if I get up next Tuesday and say – “this will be great day!” I bet if I approach Tuesday as possibly the best day of the week, things will go better. Looking for the good, positive things will make more of them show up.

Try it. I bet it works. I’ll report back on how my Tuesday went with my new attitude.

Glad it is not last week.

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textI caught myself texting that to someone on Friday, and realized that that’s probably not a good thing to be thinking.

A week ago Friday, I had a half marathon race the next morning, severe weather predicted for early in the week, work changes to deal with, other challenges to face in different areas of my life, and an exhausting treadmill of worries and uncertainties.

Last week was a rough week, needless to say, following on the heels of several rough weeks. My life has been in turmoil lately. No other way to describe it.

So how to make it better?

Well, on the way home Friday I stopped for sushi and treated myself to some roses as a happy. A weekend to myself, filled with writing, sitting on the porch and also getting some things done around the apartment helped to recharge my batteries. A long run on my own, at my pace, without 30,000 other runners did wonders!

The key though, is looking forward, and not dwelling on the past. I know you can learn from your mistakes, but last week, it was not so much about mistakes, as about challenges. And the remedy is to find a solution, move ahead, and get on with the next thing.

I realized after my race, that I am a runner, not a racer, so I will likely focus more on my individual running and not worry so much about races.

I spent some time working on a priorities list for my work, and need to focus more on that so that it is less stressful. Knowing my entire scope of projects and accountabilities will make it easier to adjust on the fly when new things pop up.

Yes, some changes at church will impact my responsibilities there, but I need to pray and consider the possibilities before acting on that – so it has been added to my list of things to review.

A dear friend is very very sick, and I am worried. But there is currently nothing I can do about it, so I need to pray and lift him up to God and not fear the possible outcomes, since that is not productive. It only adds to my stress.

Take care of myself. Yes, this one is important. I have not been sleeping well, my workouts have been sporadic because of other commitments, and eating right has been a challenge. Part of the weekend was getting rest, exercise and nutrition in order to fuel this next week.

Sometimes when things get so out of control and feel like they are just snowballing downhill, it’s key to slow the downward progress in order to get back on track. No, all the things that are wrong will not magically correct themselves, but at least now I’m in a better frame of mind to think through the best solutions and make them realities.

What can you do to improve your situation?

Pausing to remember why

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Photo courtesy of Mike Rastiello (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Mike Rastiello (Creative Commons)

I bet you are a lot like me these days – rushing along with your duties, tasks, responsibilities, family, your life. There’s so much to do, and not nearly enough time to do it. You often think you should cut back, but it’s so hard to say no, and besides, who else would do it? You feel pulled in so many directions, but they are all important, so when asked to do yet another thing, you answer with a resounding yes.

Or maybe you say yes – but this is the last time. But you know deep down it won’t be the last time.

Do you know why you are doing these things? Do you ever take a step back and examine whether your why has gotten lost in all your doing?

Are you so overwhelmed and consumed with busyness, that you have gotten away from the enjoyment and value of the activities to begin with?

I get totally caught up in this trap, and have to consciously take time to step back periodically to examine my motives. It’s not as if I say yes to things that don’t mean something to me. Each of the activities is very important, but the meaning gets diluted when there is too much. Too many meetings, too many tasks, too many communications – before long, the reason why is obscured, and it becomes just something else to do. And then the dread starts, and before you know it, you are doing it for the wrong reasons, and not accomplishing your goals.

It’s important to pause. Stop the doing. Take a look at all the things you are committed to, and see what is really the most important. Then maybe shave back activities in one area, so that you can really focus and make the area that is most important – well, important again.

Remember why you are doing these things and make sure you still agree they are the things to do. I bet it will make a difference in your attitude and your motivation.

It’s not about me

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2014 medalI ran a half marathon Saturday. I don’t say that to brag, because it really had nothing to do with me. I ran 13.1 miles on a hot, hilly course for a little boy named Bennett who is my daily inspiration and motivation but who I have never met in person. He is the reason I finished, and he will be receiving my medal this week.

You see, for over a year, I have been part of a group called I Run 4 (click for more information) which pairs runners with children and adults with special needs and disabilities. We currently have nearly 5,400 matches, and almost 18,000 members in the closed Facebook group. I have the privilege of coordinating those matches, and get to hear awesome stories of lives changed because of them.

In fact, our founder and executive director Tim Boyle and VP Amy Courts took part in a Make A Wish event over the weekend in which the child’s wish was to meet her runner – how amazing is that? Instead of a trip to DisneyWorld, she wanted to meet the person who dedicates miles to her.

I get teary just thinking about what it will be like when I meet Bennett and his family someday. We have become family through our daily communications of miles run, updates and progress – in fact he calls me his “running mom” and my mom is his “running grandma.”  He has Down syndrome, so I hear about his struggles as well as his successes and agonize over or celebrate each one.

Knowing that I run in his honor gets me out there when it’s cold, or rainy, or I just don’t feel like running. I think about and pray for him while I run. Quite honestly, there were a few points in the race the other day that I wanted to just quit, but I thought about why I was doing it and it kept me going.  My first thought when I crossed the finish line was “that was for you, Bennett!”

It amazes me what a difference it makes when you are doing something for someone else – how incredible it is when it’s not about you anymore, but in honor of them. What a huge responsibility that is to stay focused, but it can make the pain, tiredness and negative things melt away.

Another bright spot in the race was the chance to meet two other people from I Run 4, and see face to face people who have experienced the same thing I have by running for someone else and being inspired by them. I tell you, it really is life changing. One of the girls recognized my name and thanked me for giving her a great buddy. Pretty cool.

Today I am still nursing a pretty sore body, I will be back out there tomorrow logging more miles. Because it’s not about me – I Run 4 Bennett!

The importance of not yet

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Photo courtesy of Bart (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bart (Creative Commons)

It was a challenger of a week, worthy of a high ranking on the list of most trying weeks. A perfect storm of heavier than normal workload, medication that made me jittery and unable to sleep, the threat of really severe weather two days, discovery that my dearest friend has a life-threatening illness, and the list just continued.

My brain was foggy, my body was exhausted, and all anyone kept telling me was to get some rest, which seemed impossible.

But as with other trying weeks, I did live through it, and without being committed or having a breakdown. And I was pleased to discover a few tricks that worked even within the craziness, so I’m eager to put them to better use to hopefully thwart future repetitions of such experiences.

One of the most important elements that saved me that week was having a semi-organized task list that could bring me back to the key things I needed to get done each day. No matter how many interruptions I had, or additional responsibilities added, or foggy-headed misdirections, I had something to come back to that reminded me of the things I needed to accomplish – or that could be let go.

I think the letting go was maybe the key element in maintaining my sanity – taking the initiative to say “not yet.” Yes, I had started the week with a set plan for accomplishing certain things. Yes, in a perfect world, I could have easily met my expectations. But with new, urgent duties and tasks added, and the additional challenges thrown my way, there simply weren’t enough hours in the day – or focus in my brain – to get it all done.

By having that list, and the ability to review my full scope of responsibility and purposefully put aside and reschedule some things, I was able to accomplish the things that I needed to without losing touch with the other things. They are still on the radar, and will be taken care of, just in a different time frame.

What could you gain by saying “not yet”?

Moments of wonderful

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sunriseI get mired in the everyday muck of worries, chores and have to’s. What about you?

I forget to look up and pay attention to the often wonderful things happening around me, because I am too busy checking things off my task list and quickly moving on to the next thing.

What am I missing?

Instead of seeing how much I can check off, I need to be noticing and cherishing the special moments that are happening every day all around me.

Yesterday when I was running, I glanced up to see the sky a fiery red – the sky was a pale pink, then in a moment it was brilliance. Not long after, the sky was gray and dull, as if it had been that way all along. Only I knew its secret.

A few days before I had looked over across the street just in time to see a deer – still and quiet near the trees. She just watched me and when I glanced back she was gone – it felt almost as if I had imagined her there.

If I can notice these moments when I am running, why does that ability not spill over into the rest of my day? What opportunities to connect more deeply with my world and my friends am I overlooking because I’m too busy to pick up the phone or send a quick email – or start a conversation? Am I so preoccupied with what else I have to do that I miss the chance to make memories?

Not long ago, I ventured into a new bookstore and was looking around at the books. A few people passed me but I was only minimally aware because I was focused on the books. Later, one of the sales people asked if I needed help. I just said I was exploring, and that it was nice to be in a bookstore after my years at Borders. She got a funny look on her face and asked if I had worked with Andy. She took me up to the front where he was standing and turns out we had worked together and we had a delightful conversation of reminiscing and catching up. Evidently he was one of the people who passed me earlier, but I did not notice – and what a pleasant talk I would have missed if left to my own devices.

I’m not entirely sure how to fix this problem, but I am renewing my resolve to increase my awareness of my world and my moments.

What about you? How can you cherish more of the special moments in your life?

How are you spending your time?

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Photo courtesy of Kevin Yank (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kevin Yank (Creative Commons)

I just spent a huge chunk of a beautiful Saturday afternoon struggling with balancing bank accounts, paying bills, catching up on paperwork and generally working on things are absolutely no fun. Granted I was sitting on the porch enjoying the nice weather, but still, I cannot say that I enjoyed that part of my day. It made me crabby.

Part of the problem is that I knew how unpleasant all that would be, and instead of taking care of it when it first came in, I let it sit in my inbox, increasing the stress level because every time I looked in the inbox, I saw it, and told myself no, not now. But I still felt that little surge of dread, and kind of shivered before I put it back.

A few more things rolled in, a little more time passed and before I knew it – there I was ruining a perfectly good weekend day because deadlines were upon me.

Why do we do these things? And why waste time that should be more valuable, spinning my wheels?

One thing I have become more aware of lately is that not one of us knows how long he/she has left to live, and we need to be using the time we do have more wisely.  I am more acutely aware of how I am using my time and energy, and looking to find ways to streamline those tedious but necessary tasks (like paying bills). I want to find ways to spend more of my time doing things I consider valuable and with the people I treasure, instead of wasting time away.

One key change I am making is to take care of things right away. No more dropping it in the inbox to let it languish away for days (or weeks), setting off its negative energy each time I happen to glance at it. I plan to sit down the night bills come (or at least within a couple of days) and pay them and get them filed.

And those nebulous pieces of mail that you look at and think maybe they might be interesting, but it’s too much trouble to make a decision right now? No more. Keep it and deal with it or toss it. No more letting things simmer unless it is worthy of consideration.

And those people and phone calls that sap my energy? You know the ones – they are the energy vampires, and leave you feeling worn out and grumpy. I am learning ways to limit the impact, and politely, but firmly end the conversation before the damage can be done. “Oh, I am so sorry but I’m headed out the door.” “It has been lovely talking to you but I really have so much to do, I need to get busy.”

So this weekend, I enjoyed having already taken care of the critical things, and I sat with my feet up reading. How about you?

How can we improve?

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Photo courtesy of Timothy Barnes (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Timothy Barnes (Creative Commons)

The day started off normal enough. Workout at the gym, getting ready, breakfast.

As I arrived at work, I felt a sense of nervousness, knowing that much of the team was on vacation, and most of the questions and issues would fall to me in areas I was not used to covering. Like the store. And they did.

Someone needed to leave early. A special pickup needed to be arranged. This client had an unusual situation. The person closing the registers didn’t know all the steps.

It came fast and furious, one thing after another. Big things and little things. One thing fixed and another thing came up.

The team was incredibly flexible, and everyone stepped up to support each other.

One thing continued to float to the top of mind – lack of training can be crippling. The team did not have enough training, plain and simple. Not everyone had the training they needed to be able to step in at any position, and there weren’t enough people trained on the registers, the key position, to cover in a pinch.

Training documents need to be developed so that even if someone isn’t 100% sure of a process, there is something for them to refer to that can walk them through.

Then more people need to be cross-trained on the key elements of each of the jobs. Everyone should be trained on the registers so even if someone just needs a break, there can be coverage without having to move then entire staff around. Backups need to be trained for each position. There should never be only one person who knows how to do a job.

Sometimes it takes going through a crazy situation to realize the steps that can simplify the job next time. And many times it takes someone who isn’t used to doing it to key in on the elements that would be helpful – when you are too deep in a situation you may not realize what some of those things would be. When you are already familiar with the situation, like how to run the register, you may not realize how helpful a cheat sheet could be to newbies.

I was filling in and not used to the process, so it was more evident to me where some of the issues were, including the need for instructions and cheat sheets. And as a team, we successfully got through the week, it was just more dramatic than it needed to be.

It is critical to have all the tools and training in place when the waters are calm, so that when the ship is tossed on the waves, panic does not set in. Now that the full team is back on deck, we’ll start addressing some of the issues to make the next storm easier to manage.

What training do you need to put in place to make your team stronger?

Getting through transition

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Photo courtesy of Merecedes Nelson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Merecedes Nelson (Creative Commons)

Change is inevitable. It is often slow, unpleasant, and challenging, But it can also be welcome, quick and exciting.

And what I find is that how I approach it means all the difference in my own mental capacity to embrace it and that in turn leads to how I present it in a positive light to others.

We are in a period of transition at my work, with many job responsibilities changing, staff moving into different offices, and adjustments to schedules that are impacting just about everyone in the office. Understandably, there is a lot of groaning about why things have to always change, etc. but what I notice most is that when we emphasize that we are moving toward a better situation, and focus on the improvements in environment and spread of duties, people are more accepting.

I’ve overheard some conversations between individuals who only emphasize the negative aspects of the changes – hard to get used to, always different, something new to learn, struggling to accept the new ways – even as they admit that the old ways were difficult. It’s just something new to have to learn and they can’t get past that.

When I’ve explained to these folks how and why the changes will make things better – and life easier – they suddenly realize that maybe it’s not so bad after all, especially when they realize the impact down the road.

For instance, as a nonprofit, we operate a thrift store that brings in funds that are then used to help people in need in our community. Many of the donated items sit on the shelves for months (or sometimes even years) without being purchased, because there is a continual flow of new products. We are going to start dating the items, so that at a certain point we can pull those items that have been on the shelf for a certain amount of time and offer them at sale prices in order to make room for more of the newer (well, newly donated) items.

There was some grumbling about why we had to do that, and how much trouble that would be to put a sticker on everything, etc. etc. But when we looked at the flip side – that it would end up bringing more money to the ministry by not only moving more things out the door, but making room to display the more desirable, freshly donated items so that they too sell (and possibly at higher prices), everyone realized the value in the process of changing.

No one likes change just for the sake of change, but if we can see the advantages, it certainly makes it easier to accept. And if you are communicating changes to your team, pay attention to how you are framing that explanation – are you explaining the benefits? Your assurances of the positive aspects of the changes could make all the difference in how your team accepts those changes and moves ahead with them.

How can you better communicate about changes your team needs to embrace?

Do you have time to communicate?

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Photo courtesy of Cindee Snider Re (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Cindee Snider Re (Creative Commons)

The more important question might be, “what if you don’t take time to communicate?”

Communication does take time. A lot of time. But the problems created by not communicating clearly can take even more time to correct.

We’re going through a lot of transition where I work, and I’m relearning first-hand about communicating clearly. We have struggled with communication in the past, so it’s especially important to correct that issue now in order to move forward positively. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, it’s important to make sure the pieces fit together well, and that can only happen through good communication.

When going through change, it’s easy for people to feel out of the loop and uninvested in the situation. By being sure to let people know what the changes are and why they are being made, they feel more a part of the team. If they understand the reasoning behind the changes, and how the leaders expect the changes to improve the organization, it’s easier for them to get on board too.

Another piece of the puzzle is making sure people understand the expectations, both in their own jobs, and what others are expected to do. For instance, throughout this transition, my job has changed and I’ve taken on some different responsibilities. I’m making sure to let the rest of the team know what things I’m responsible for, such as ordering supplies or serving as the point of contact for maintenance, so if someone needs something, they know who to contact. Saves a lot of delays if they know to contact me right away when they need something.

But sharing this information takes a lot of my time, and it has to be very intentional. That means extra meetings, so you can let the group know about policy and procedure adjustments. It may mean tracking people down during the day to share key facts, like where particular supplies have been relocated or reorganized.

One of the bonuses of the increased focus on communication has been a resurgence in sharing throughout the team. It’s not just coming from me, but others are starting to share not just back to me, but with each other. There is better teamwork, and more smiles. People don’t feel so left out and isolated. And we’re finding better solutions for our challenges by working together more – brainstorming places to store things or how to improve some of our processes.

The puzzle is starting to look more complete. The more we communicate, the more pieces come together.

How can you improve your team with better communication?

What do you say?

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Photo courtesy of Alen Peric (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Alen Peric (Creative Commons)

Any words sound so hollow.

A dear friend received a terrible diagnosis, and I don’t even know where to begin to find the words.

I’m sorry. I will pray. Maybe something can be done. None of those are comforting.

There are questions, certainly, and discussions of treatment options and all sorts of mundane conversations. There are matter-of-fact statements that sound like they are being read from the pamphlet.

But what really needs to be said?

I am struggling with how to even pray for my friend. Peace and comfort certainly, but my heart is breaking for what he must be going through, and the turmoil in his mind. The uncertainty and dread – and fear. The questions of whether to focus on the life still left or preparing for death. Not to mention my own heartbreak and ache of seeing a friend suffering. And knowing there is nothing I can do to stop that pain.

The words just won’t form. Shriveled up before even forming into complete thoughts. Wisps of hope or longing. Or pain.

You are important to me. You make a difference. I am here for you.

Maybe the silence is important. Just being there to listen. Quietly sharing the pain. Being present but not glossing over the reality.

This will be a journey.

Don’t rush it

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Photo courtesy of Greg Gladman (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Greg Gladman (Creative Commons)

I am impatient. I am all about getting things done and checking them off the list.

I get frustrated when a task takes too long, and will look for shortcuts and ways to streamline.

When we talk, I want you to cut to the chase, and I’ll lose focus if you tell a long winding story.

But there are some things that should not be rushed. Many times, a process takes time because strength is being developed.

In an exercise routine, it is important to move the muscles slowly and deliberately. Lift weights too fast, and you can suffer a strain or end up using the wrong muscle. By slowing it down and focusing on proper form, you can strengthen that muscle over time.

Learning a new skill takes time as well. When I was in college, I took guitar lessons. But I was never very good because I did not like to practice. My teacher was an accomplished classical guitarist, and he would play pieces beautifully, with skillful fingers and just the right sound from the strings. My playing was clumsy and awkward, with sour notes all over the place. He kept reminding me that I needed to practice every day. Not only would the daily repetition train my fingers to move in the right ways, but it would build up callouses I needed to be able to hold the chords without pain. I just wanted to be able to play like he did and got frustrated that I couldn’t. I ended up giving it up.

Probably one of the most important things to spend time developing is a new discipline – in my case mindfulness. Because I am so scattered and impatient, mindfulness is truly a challenge for me, but one worth learning.

For me, mindfulness means seeking ways to slow down and savor things; taking the time to create a daily writing focus; spending time practicing yoga. I am learning to focus on my breathing when I run, so that my mind lets go. I should not be processing my day in my head rather than enjoying the beautiful sunrise or the scenery I am running past.

I’m often less than successful at mindfulness, but my goal is to keep practicing. Instead of telling myself I’m not good at this and giving up, I just keep working at it. Each attempt brings some satisfaction, even if it’s not completely fruitful.

What I find is that when I am successful, the rest of my day is more pleasant and productive. That is a reward right there and worth continued practice. Slow it down. Let it go. Stick with it.

What discipline do you struggle to master?

Lost in the moment

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Photo courtesy of Lucas Sherwood (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Lucas Sherwood (Creative Commons)

I got up to get more coffee, and happened to glance at the clock. Nearly 7:00 am. What?

I noticed then that it was light outside. I realized I needed to hustle to get ready for an appointment. And I was in heaven.

I had just lost about 2 hours being completely absorbed in my writing and oblivious to time or anything around me.

I had gotten up early so it was still dark and quiet, and the words just started to flow. What a joy and privilege to be so “in my zone” that I didn’t even notice that it was getting light. Usually I am hyper-vigilent about the time, my schedule, and my lengthy list of things still to do. No matter what I’m doing, my brain is firing off all the other things that are waiting, whether or not they need to be done that minute. Actually, most often they do not need to be done that minute but there my mind is, reminding me constantly.

And honestly, it’s that list of things to do that’s in my head that keeps me from finding my zone very often.

But I’m taking steps to correct that.

As a follower of David Allen and his Getting Things Done methodology, I sporadically do a brain dump, and try to maintain good lists. But more often than not, I do that once, keep it up a day or two and then I’m back to old habits of just trying to remember what I need to get done. And that is just not effective.

Lately, I’ve been trying out a new app on both my computer and phone with better success. It’s called Trello, and it lets me add things to my lists in categories and on the fly – which makes me more likely to use it. That means once I add something, I am more likely to go back to it later to be reminded of what I need to do.

Other things apps that I’ve tried, including plain paper and pen, frustrate me because it takes too long to get to the app, or I don’t have paper in front of me, or if I do, then I stash it somewhere and forget about it, and then I’m back to trying to remember what it was I needed to do.

At any rate, I’ve been getting better about getting things out of my head, and it frees up so much space for other things!

At work, I’m finding myself able to focus better on each project to make better progress. When I’m running, I can practice mindfulness and let go of all the annoying “noise” in my head and just enjoy the run. Having a conversation with someone means I can concentrate on the conversation, and not all the other things I need to be doing.

And I can get lost for two hours in my writing.

How do you keep your head clear so you can be “in the moment”?

Free and easy

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Photo courtesy of Brent Moore (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Brent Moore (Creative Commons)

It was the first email I opened – the one with the subject line of “Free and easy resources for…” – and I realized once again that little in life is really free and easy even though we keep hoping that it is.

This email was just one more example of how some things may seem free and easy but usually they are worth what you pay! It’s scary how drawn we are to it though, and how we continue to hope that we can get things without having to pay much, in currency, time, effort or emotional investment.

We look for the pill that can help us lose weight, the best sale price, and the easiest route to success.

But the people who go on that crash diet are the ones who gain the weight (and usually more) back quickly. Those who learn how to eat healthy, balance meals and snacks, and work hard at maintaining a regular exercise schedule are the ones who keep the weight off and feel better. Getting up to run or head to the gym every day, even when it’s dark and cold, and making the choice to forego that donut at the office or drink water instead of a soft drink may feel like it is costing a lot at the time, but it pays off in the end.

Best sale price often means poorest quality, so it makes sense to spend time checking out all the options and making an informed decision so that you get your money’s worth. I’m sure you’ve made the mistake of getting the cheapest price, and then had to replace the item too soon and spend even more.

To be truly successful in work, you must be hungry to read, network and study to improve yourself and your performance. You don’t get the job and then coast. Your mind becomes stale and lazy if you aren’t working to stretch it, and your performance will usually reflect that laziness.

Your relationships probably take the most work of all – and are often the first place we slack off. We must be intentional about the time we spend with spouse, children or friends, and make sure we are not taking them for granted. Settling into routines can be dangerous, because you start drifting apart and losing touch. How many times have you seen couples split up because they did not take an active interest in each other and work hard to stay connected? And on the flip side, aren’t the happiest families those in which there is an effort to eat meals together or to consciously spend quality time together?

It takes hard work to be happy and successful, but the payoff is huge.

In which areas of your life should you stop taking the free and easy route?

I’d like a second opinion

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Photo courtesy of Massey (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Massey (Creative Commons)

I have a friend who is having some health issues, and his specialist has ordered a battery of rather complicated tests, even while he admits that he thinks the problem is elsewhere.

My friend is seeking a second opinion so that he can get a clearer picture of what his options are before undergoing these potentially unnecessary tests that will likely just confirm that his symptoms are related to a different diagnosis.

It is critical to have a clear picture of the problem so you can calmly and logically consider all your options for treatment, and that means looking at the condition from different perspectives and directions.

This same process should be used in business as well, but too often, we go barreling down a path without stopping for a second opinion. Assumptions can be dangerous, and if we think we know why sales are down without looking at the entire situation, we may craft a solution that just makes the problem worse. Reorganizing your staff’s duties without thoroughly considering all the implications can just create additional issues of confusion and oversight.

In a cost-cutting effort at one company I worked for, a rash decision was made to cut out a level of supervisory positions without considering the strengths and skills needed for the newly created positions. The consideration across the board was an arbitrary rating system based on most recent performance appraisal rather than suitability for the new position. As jobs were dissolved and people reassigned many were set up for failure. Had the decision-makers sought another opinion about the situation, those types of oversights might have been avoided and the move could have been a more positive one for the company.

Spend more time analyzing the situation before acting, so that you can make an informed decision that will address all the issues at hand. Be sure to:

  • Pull together a team of people, including some who work behind the scenes, who are familiar with the nuts and bolts of the business to help you brainstorm.
  • Take the time to review the circumstances, and look at all the options, even the ones that might seem illogical at first.
  • Understand how any changes will affect your processes and framework so you don’t create another set of problems.

Once you have considered all of your options, you will be able to make an informed decision that will improve the situation and get the business, or your health, back on track.

What situations are you currently facing in which you should seek a second opinion?

How do you embrace change?

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Photo courtesy of Amir Nasr (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Amir Nasr (Creative Commons)

Changes can be subtle, like the hints of spring that have already started appearing, birds singing more, shoots of green starting to pop out of the ground, temperatures warming ever so slightly each day.

Change can also be the “pull the rug out from under you” kind of situation, where your whole world turns upside down in a moment. Like a butterfly must feel as he emerges from his cocoon.

Most people, myself included, have a lot of trouble with the second kind of change, but I have discovered something about myself lately that is helping me handle it a little better.

I have realized that I need to do three things:

  • Wait.
  • Consider.
  • React.

When I let my emotions rule right away, I tend to be negative and upset. I think things like “why is this happening to me?” and “everything will be all messed up now.”

I am learning to take a deep breath and stop. And be quiet at first.

When I refrain from reacting (or overreacting) initially, and contemplate the change and how it will really affect me, I tend to realize that there are good things possible, even if they take some work to uncover.

Besides, change is going to happen whether we like it or not, and there is no use wasting energy being unhappy and upset all the time. We just may need a little time to figure out how to embrace that change and turn it to a positive.

We have had some reorganizations at work which have directly affected my job description, and while I had a very negative feeling about it at first, I’ve realized after some time that the changes make sense, and make my job better.

I’m having to remind myself of the mantra, “change is good, change is good.”

How have you reacted too quickly to changes when you should have waited and embraced them?

Learning to enjoy practice

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Photo courtesy of Imran Arshad (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Imran Arshad (Creative Commons)

I do not like to practice. I enjoy the feeling of mastering a skill or action, and dislike the process of fumbling with it awkwardly. From playing the guitar to understanding a new computer program, I chafe at the process of learning and want to jump right to achievement.

But life is necessarily full of practice, isn’t it?

During Lent, I am practicing mindfulness. At first, I didn’t recognize the significance of the phrasing “practicing mindfulness.” But as I revisit this every day, I am understanding that some things will always be a practice and not something you master.

But the value is in that daily practice. It’s being willing to keep at it every day, and know that some days will go well, and some days will be impossible. But it’s the effort that moves me forward.

For me, mindfulness is especially difficult because even if I manage to find quiet outside, it’s never quiet inside my mind. There seems to be constant noise in there – things I need to do, things I’ve done, random ideas, rehashed conversations – I feel like the Grinch as he describes the “noise noise noise noise” down in Whoville on Christmas morning!

That is part of the reason I found the idea of practicing mindfulness so compelling. The idea that maybe I could quiet all that noise, even for a little while, and stop some of the chatter in order to gain better focus is fascinating. To be able to move through life with more calmness is an exciting prospect.

So I’ve been practicing when I run. Sitting still for any length of time for me is near impossible, and I knew I’d be fighting an uphill battle to spend even 10 minutes that way. Instead, I’m practicing mindfulness by focusing on my breathing as I run, visualizing the random thoughts and noise kind of falling away from me as I move forward like dirt washing down the drain. I just continually come back to the breath.

The challenge is in recognizing that even a small amount of time in my “zone” is valuable. There is no way I can be mindful throughout an entire run, and it’s dangerous to start feeling like a failure when I can’t do that. At some point in the run, the noise just returns no matter how hard I visualize and how much I tell myself breathe, breathe.

But I have been practicing every day. And I am learning to celebrate even a short time spent in that space.

The most exhilarating part is that I now look forward to the practice. Who ever thought I would say those words? I anticipate the practice of mindfulness and enjoy that process every day when I head out for my run. It’s not something I have to remember to do anymore, but it’s becoming a part of my day.

How might you practice mindfulness each day?

Squirrel!

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Photo courtesy of Ed McDonald (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Ed McDonald (Creative Commons)

Ever have those days when you are so scatter brained, you wonder if you can even make it through the day in one piece? Every little distraction pulls you from what you were doing, and before long, you have a trail of unfinished tasks. Ugh.

For me, I find it most often happens after a restless night or a stressful day (or week). I feel like my poor brain is just mush and can’t even hold a thought for 2 seconds. There’s not enough coffee in the world to make this better!

I haven’t found a quick fix for this distraction either. One important thing is to lower my expectations for myself for the day – or at least the morning – because otherwise I will end up sinking into a spiral of negativity that makes the situation worse.

Choosing some straightforward things to focus on seems to help too. Starting with a simple task, with a clear result, without a lot of need for decision-making, can help get me back on track. If I’m able, exercise like yoga or running is a good start too, because the physical activity and the deep breathing help clear the cobwebs and scatter the fuzziness in my brain.

Certainly no complicated tasks or projects should be first on the list, as this will just lead to even more confusion.

Another way to combat the squirrel syndrome is to make a list – just write all the things that are coming to mind and get them off my mind as David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, suggests. Just let it flow until you can’t think of anything else, and then later you can go back and process it all. You might find a few simple tasks in the list that can be handled and marked off.That always brings some relief.

Buried in your list, you will likely find the culprit of the squirrel syndrome. You will probably find the one task or project that is most disturbing, most overwhelming, most frightening – and that may be causing all your trouble. Once you can break that down into your first action step and either do it or get it on your calendar, your brain can let go and get back to normal.

How do you combat the distraction of squirrel syndrome?

Are you a brush off?

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Photo courtesy of Geoff Ward (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Geoff Ward (Creative Commons)

“Sorry, I don’t know.” “That’s not my job.” “I don’t know anything about that.”

It’s easy to get the runaround. People are busy and they don’t want to be bothered. No one is communicating, so only a few people know the details and they aren’t available – and they didn’t leave word. People seem eager to just brush off a question and make no effort to help find an answer.

But what a surprise it would be if you said, “I’m sorry I don’t know anything about that, but let’s see if we can figure something out.”

In a world where many seem too quick to place blame, shift responsibility and let someone else take care of it, people seem to appreciate when you take the extra effort to find a solution.

When I go into a store, I will walk out empty handed if I ask a question, and get shifted off to this person or that person and told over and over, “I don’t know.” I will be a loyal customer of that salesperson who admits they don’t know but searches out the right person to get my answer.

Ever call a customer service line and sit on hold forever only to be told that the person you are finally talking to has no idea about what you need? Yeah, me too. That situation is enough to make me change service providers. But when I call and get someone who says, let’s find the right answer for you – and they stay on the line until my problem is solved, then they just gained a loyal customer who will share with others how great the service is.

Even in the office it only takes a little effort to keep people from being frustrated. Whether it’s changing the toner in the copier or getting an answer to where a phone call should be directed, all it takes is a few minutes of digging, and a willingness to be accountable to the person struggling to find the solution. Then once you find the answer, find a way to post or communicate that so if it happens again, there’s no question.

Next time you feel tempted to tell someone, “sorry I don’t know,” add on those few little words that might make all the difference in that person’s day – “but let’s see if we can figure it out.”

What rubs off?

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Photo courtesy of Bart (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bart (Creative Commons)

There’s a man (let’s call him Joe) who volunteers every week at the nonprofit where I work. Joe is one of the most cheerful people I have ever met. He always comes in with a smile and happy greetings, makes a point to speak to everyone in the office, and genuinely asks how they are doing. Even when he lost his wife last year, he was very matter of fact and positive in his faith. He has admitted to struggling with his grief at times, but through even the darkest days, he maintains a encouraging outlook that is infectious.

His positive attitude rubs off and you can’t help but smiling when he is there and even after he leaves the room. You just feel a little glow being around him.

There’s another volunteer (we’ll call her Suzie) who can be upbeat on occasion, but more often than not complains and whines about how hot or cold she is, how much work she has, how unfair it all is, that everything is going wrong, and generally how unhappy she is. She’s not interested in solutions, because even if you make a suggestion on how to fix something, she quickly explains how that won’t work and she is just destined to be burdened with problems.

Suzie sighs quite a bit.

And I find myself sighing when she is around.

I feel myself sink into crankiness each week when she gets wound up, even if things are going perfectly well for me. Her negative attitude can darken a sunny day in a heartbeat.

I am continually amazed how susceptible I am to the moods of others, and how hard I have to work some weeks to counteract the negativity and crabbiness of Suzie. It is a major effort to fend off the bad mood. On the other side, I feel happiness wash over me when Joe walks away, and often find myself commenting, “what a nice man he is.”

So I wonder which of these people I am to others? And which would you consider yourself?

The appreciation habit

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Photo courtesy of ma.co. (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of ma.co. (Creative Commons)

I bet when you were growing up, your mom made you write thank you notes to your aunt or grandparents after Christmas and birthday gifts. “Thank you for the great ____. I really like it…”

I used to feel like it was just something else to check off my list after the holidays, especially as I got a little older. Put away decorations. Check. Write thank you notes. Check.

The same after any big gift-giving occasion – the obligatory thank you notes.

But a couple of years ago, I read about “Thank You Thursday” and the “Thank you Revolution” from Matt McWilliams (read more here). I was intrigued with the idea of writing a hand written thank you note to someone “just because.” Not for any particular reason, not as a result of receiving something on my end. Just out of the blue to let them know I appreciate the things that they are doing.

Talk about transformations! Silly me thought maybe the only impact would be on the people on the receiving end of the notes. But I was impacted as well!

I started noticing the things people did more often, and realized just how much they impacted me. I started thinking all week about who might be the recipient of my hand written notes on Thursday. I was more generous and tuned in to people.

It got to be a habit to write at least a couple of thank you notes each Thursday, and I continued that for several months. But I quit being focused on the action, and then things got busy, and before I knew it, weeks had passed without a single thank you note or even thought of appreciation for the things people around me were doing. The longer I went without writing a note, the less important it seemed, and the less impact I remembered it having.

Just recently, the subject came up in conversation, and I shared with a friend how influential those thank you notes had been. And I realized that Thank You Thursday was a habit I needed to reinstate. I had not erased my Thank You Thursday reminder on my calendar – so every Thursday, my phone chimed to remind me – and every Thursday I just disregarded the chime.

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg shares about what he calls “The Habit Loop.” In essence, there is a cue, a routine, and a reward that makes up each habit. So for me the last few months, the cue was the chime on my phone, the routine was to ignore it, and the reward was one less thing I had to do on Thursday.

But this past week, I paid attention. I stopped and wrote a quick note to a co-worker, just sharing my appreciation of her hard work and noticeably positive attitude.

By changing one piece of that loop, I achieved amazing results. The cue was the same – my phone chimed “Thank You Thursday.” But this time, I changed the routine. I stopped right then and dashed off a quick note. I didn’t even deliver it right away, but I had it written and the envelope sitting on my desk. Then later when I uncovered it, I stopped by her desk to drop it off.

It felt good to have stepped outside myself to do something for someone else, and to have made her stop, smile, and feel good knowing her efforts had been noticed. She emailed me later to share how it made her feel better, and validated that her hard work was paying off. But honestly, it felt good for me to do something totally for someone else without any expectation of reciprocation. The reward was that good feeling.

Thank You Thursday will most definitely be part of my weeks going forward – and maybe even expand to other days of the week. It will take focus to ensure I change that routine part of the habit loop, and not ignore the chime. But after a few weeks, I suspect it will be something I don’t have to think about anymore, and the appreciation will spill over to other days and areas of my life.

What habit loops should you reconsider, and what rewards could you achieve?

Relapsing into old habits

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Photo courtesy of Chris Martino (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Chris Martino (Creative Commons)

I started a new habit at the first of the year. I took part in a challenge in which my goal was to write at least 300 words a day, and I made sure that every morning, part of my routine was to spend time quietly writing and achieving that goal.

I confess that I did not write “post-able” copy every day – some days were spent journaling. But I stuck with the habit of sitting down to write for at least 15-20 minutes no matter what. I built up enough blogs to schedule two weeks out – so when I did write, the pressure was off because I could choose when to post and was not writing and posting the same day.

I continued the practice into February, but then something started to happen. There were a few days when I hit snooze too many times, turned on the news, or found some other obligation that seemed more important. In doing so, I neglected my writing. In looking back at my writing file, there are a number of dates missing. It became almost hit and miss. The number of scheduled posts dwindled.

I found myself stressing more about the fact that when I first got up, I didn’t have a compelling topic to write about, and made excuses to myself about why I wouldn’t spend that time writing and would do something else until I had an idea. Of course, once I got distracted there was no idea. And I didn’t feel as good about myself as I did when I was consistently writing.

I relapsed into old habits. I lost my willpower.

In his book, “The Power of Habit,” author Charles Duhigg says, “This is how willpower becomes a habit: by choosing a certain behavior ahead of time, and then following that routine when an inflection point arrives.”

I realized what I did in January was get up, do my devotions, and then open my file to start writing. That was my inflection point, and became my habit. I didn’t turn on the tv, I didn’t check email. I got down to the business of writing first.

Then in February, there were some bad weather days and other reasons that I chose to check the news or open my email after I finished my devotions. Then one thing led to another and even if I did open that file to write, it was with the distractions and noise of other activities.

The inflection point of finishing my devotions was the point at which I had the choice to stick with my writing habit or not.

And that’s where I failed.

Duhigg also states that “willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs.”

With renewed resolve, I’m going to strengthen my willpower muscle. Starting now, I will get back to opening that writing file at the inflection point and spending at least a small amount of focused, quiet writing time each morning before letting in those other diversions.

I am also examining other areas of my life to see where I need better habits, whether that means adding or subtracting a practice. There are likely other inflection points which can be triggers to better habits at work, in my exercise program, and at home.

Where do you need to flex your willpower muscle?

Treasuring the silence

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Photo courtesy of sgrace (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of sgrace (Creative Commons)

I don’t know about you, but it is rare when I have complete silence. It seems like there is always noise – inside and outside my head.The tv blaring, music playing, people talking, traffic roaring, dogs barking – it seems to always be noisy.

Inside my head there’s noise too – things to do, problems to solve, random ideas for writing, rehashing yesterday’s or last week’s conversations.

It’s hard to think logically and meaningfully when there are so many distractions. When the noise goes on for too long, I start making snap decisions just to have one less thing to deal with, I get cranky and irritable because of the incessant noise, and I don’t always treat people as kindly as I should because even if they weren’t the cause of the noise, they might be the one more thing that sends me over the edge.

It all needs to stop. Quiet everyone!

Recently, I have experienced several periods of silence. They weren’t really planned, but I just started working without turning anything on, and I realized how quiet the apartment was.

Oh, this is nice.

For the first time in a long time, I was able to get some solid writing done, made some realistic and logical plans, and felt at peace.

Again as I was running, I achieved a state of quiet – “moving meditation” is how my friend Kim described it recently, and I realized that was almost what it was. There was a stretch on my run where there was no traffic, and my mind calmed from its frantic pace and I felt peace.

Now that I’ve experienced this silence, I intend to seek opportunities to find it again. I am an early riser, but I often turn on the tv news or start checking email. What if instead of starting the day with the noise, I treasure that silence for a bit.

Before all the commotion of the world around me sets in, I will cushion myself to write, plan and dream. How much more could I accomplish each day if it were to start with clear-headed planning that only the silence allows?

What dreams might you discover without the influence of other “noise”?

Slipping past Fear

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Photo courtesy of Rebecca (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Rebecca (Creative Commons)

Often we think in bold terms of conquering fear, changing directions and reaching toward our goals because big moves are required. We imagine we are leaping over the fence. That image can stop us from even attempting our goals.

But there are times when you can just quietly sneak past the fear and the hesitation, and still get to your goal. That takes determination but it is more like slipping through the loose plank of the fence.

And for some, it is the best way to reach your goals.

As an example, I do my long runs early on Saturday mornings, but recently I got up feeling not so great. To top it off, it was snowing most of the morning. I’m not a wimp about running in cold temperatures, but I do get concerned when it might be icy out there. So I waited because the weather was supposed to improve later in the day.

Late in the morning the snow stopped, and the sidewalks seemed to be drying up. I had just about convinced myself to wait on the run, but then thought I’d at least go do a short run. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish a long run and didn’t know what would happen.

I headed out, and felt awful the first mile or so. Legs felt heavy, breathing was ragged, head totally stuffed up – I seriously considered turning back. But something pushed me to go a little further. At each milestone, I took stock of how I felt (knowing I still had at least that far to get back home), and with each mile, I felt a little stronger. I ended up finishing my 10 miles with a good time.

I would have never finished if I had set out to run 10 miles because mentally it was too overwhelming. Easing into it made it seem less intimidating, and the goal more reachable. By first telling myself I would do 3 miles – but then stretching it to 5 and then 8 – it took away the pressure.

I need to do that with other goals. Instead of looking at the end goal, break it up into smaller goals to be met along the way. Before I know it, I will have reached the ultimate objective and gotten past the fear.

That huge sales goal can be terrifying, but if you break it into the dollars per week, or the number of sales per day, then it is totally doable. Before you know it, you have reached that final goal.

Writing a book is daunting. But when you think in terms of chapters, or a reasonable number of words per day, it’s not so bad, right?

Think of the goals that intimidate you. Now plan how you can ease toward them until you have slipped past the fear, hesitation and whatever else is holding you back from success.

Practicing mindfulness

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Photo courtesy of Peter Voerman (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Peter Voerman (Creative Commons)

For someone like me – who is always moving, always planning, thinking and doing, who doesn’t “rest” well – the idea of meditation is terrifying. The perception that I have to sit still and “not think” is a daunting proposal.

But that perception is not accurate. And practicing mindfulness is a little bit different than meditation.

Don’t get me wrong – I do not have this figured out at all – I am in the beginning stages. A friend told me about a website called mindful.org (thank you Leanne), that has all sorts of videos, articles and other resources about mindfulness. I decided that for Lent I will ADD the practice of mindfulness and hope I can continue it long after Easter.

What I hope to gain from this practice is learning to be more present – to live more in the moment. Moment is one of my three focus words for the year (read more here) and one that I struggle with a great deal. My expectation is that by practicing more mindfulness, I will be able to calm the anxiety that stems from always being in work mode, and to explore ways to not only enjoy my activities more but to enrich myself and those around me by making better decisions and having more focus.

I practiced being mindful during my long run this weekend with rather pleasing results. I concentrated on my breath, and tried to not so much push the negative thoughts out, but mostly just let them fall away. By continually coming back to the breath, I was able to stay relatively clear minded, and then let in things like the birds singing, the feel of the sun warming my body, the sights of the homes and yards I was passing. I even noticed some daffodils blooming – something I likely would have missed normally.

Instead of hashing over old conversations, events or situations, my mind was at peace. I had hoped for some brilliant insight or writing ideas, which didn’t come, but the cessation of the chatter was a real treat. And that feeling continued through much of the afternoon. I found myself able to stay on task and not be so distracted.

Practicing mindfulness while moving seemed a good way for me to start. As I become more comfortable with the process, then being still will not seem so unnerving. Next step – more mindful yoga.

How have you practiced mindfulness?

Sell the silver lining

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Photo courtesy of James (Jim) Baker (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of James (Jim) Baker (Creative Commons)

As the local weatherman recently told us about some awful stormy weather headed our way, he commented that he liked to “sell the silver lining” by then sharing that things would be warmer and nicer later in the week.

I started to wonder, how often do I miss the chance to “sell the silver lining”?

When things start to seem overwhelming, whether it’s with work, health, family, or just the sheer amount of “stuff” to do and think about, do I get caught up in the negativity of it and forget that there always is a silver lining?

As an example, part of my job is managing the client and donor databases at a nonprofit that helps people in need. So when I am busy entering client data, that means that a lot of people are getting the help they need with food, rent or utilities, and when I’m overwhelmed entering donor information, that means that a lot of people were generous enough to give to help others. The workload doesn’t seem so bad when I look at it that way.

Instead of falling into a negative sink hole next time you are faced with overwhelming difficulty, try to turn it around and find that one positive aspect or the reward at the end of the trial.

It may feel like everything is crashing in around us, but I bet if we take a deep breath and step back, we will realize that somehow we are being made stronger, more appreciative of the reward when it comes, and better able to handle the next problem when it comes along.

Because it’s inevitable that there will be more challenges and more silver linings.

What silver lining can you look forward in the difficulties you are experiencing?

Knock it off!

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Photo courtesy of Joanne Morton (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Joanne Morton (Creative Commons)

You heard me. Stop that negative self-talk. That is not productive. And it is just fear talking.

I know it’s tough – I catch myself doing it all the time. Something happens that was not what I expected, and I think, “that figures.” Or I hear of someone doing something spectacular, and my first thought is, “I could never do that.”

The truth is, you might not be able to exactly that thing that they did, but you can do spectacular things, as long as you don’t let your fears and insecurities convince you otherwise.

Lately, I have been doing battle with my own fears – and I am determined to be victorious over them. Actually, what I am struggling with is to define my dream and fear is trying to stop me.

I know people who have these huge, passionate, breathtaking visions of where they want to be in 5 or 10 years, and are working hard to get there.

I have short term goals, and ongoing ideas for impacting people through my writing and my work with nonprofits, but I have no idea what I want to be “when I grow up” or where I see myself in 5 or 10 years. I am currently in my third career, and I seem to just stumble on new activities that excite me and use my talents to make a small difference.

But that’s not where I want to be, making a small difference. I want to look up and out and see a bold dream of making a huge difference.

I suspect that my fears aren’t letting me define my dream. Any time I start thinking about what might be, that little voice starts saying things like, “who are you to think that big?” or “what makes you think that you can do that?”.

And so I let fear stop me.

I will likely never write a book that changes the way people think of themselves, or start an organization that influences hundreds or thousands of people.

I will dare to dream big though, and will tell that voice of fear to just “knock it off.” I WILL make a difference. I WILL impact people. I WILL dream awesome dreams, and start to make them happen.

How will you stifle that voice of fear and dream your big dreams?

Back to the grind

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Photo courtesy of Jayne Booton (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jayne Booton (Creative Commons)

After what seemed like a too short weekend, my first thought this morning was “back to the grind” of work, routine, responsibilities, and obligations. Not that the weekend was all fun and games – there were plenty of things that were “work,” just on a personal level. There was some downtime, yes, but a good bit of the time was spent taking care of obligations.

So why do we consider the work week “the grind”?  In reality, shouldn’t we love what we do so much that it’s a pleasure to do it? Why does it seem like a downer to have to “go to work?” And if it is, should we find different “work”?

I know people who have their dream job – it’s exactly what they want to do, time melts away when they are doing it, and they feel fulfilled and happy knowing they are doing what they were meant to do.

Not everyone can claim their dream job. But can we somehow change how we view our current job to be more like our dream job? Or at least less like a drag?

What if instead of getting up on Monday and thinking, “ugh, time to go back to work,” we turned that around? What if we said, “great, I GET to go back to work!”?

Just by changing how we think about it, we can start adjusting our attitude. Think about the different things you do during the day and try to approach them from the positive side.

For me, a large part of my job is entering the client files in the database. On a busy day, it can feel like an endless pile of work to be entered, but if I approach it as each of those people was touched and helped, then it seems more worthwhile. Instead of dreading the huge pile, I should be happy it’s a huge pile and the numbers of those helped so large. Same with entering donations – when it feels like the list just goes on forever, I need to consider that each of those people felt moved to give to help all those clients.

See what I mean? It makes what I’m doing is more impactful when I think of things differently. Suddenly, my work has real meaning. Each of those entries is an opportunity to impact and possibly change a life by the assistance we are able to provide.

As you head to work today, how can you view your job in a more positive way? How will that affect your attitude at the end of the day?

What do you put up with?

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Photo courtesy of Becca Nelson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Becca Nelson (Creative Commons)

I don’t know about you, but I have noticed lately that there are some things in my life that annoy me and are not right, and yet I put up with them.

There are varying levels of “not right” too – from something simple like the little pile of magazines on my desk that I tell myself I need to either go through or move – to major issues that I need to address but just can’t bring myself to do anything about.

It might be that it will involve a difficult conversation that I’m not sure how to start, or a major shift in my thinking that is just too uncomfortable to face. And so I let it go on, irritating me and grating on my nerves every time I face it. Why do I put up with it?

I bet you have situations like that too, and wonder the same thing. Left alone, the problem will just continue to fester and bother you, yet what has to happen to make you do something about it?

For me, it takes deciding to be brave.

Bravery? For something silly like a pile of magazines that is annoying you?

In my mind, whether it’s a simple mess or a change of jobs, bravery is what it takes to move out of the status quo and make a change.

Let’s face it, not many people LIKE change, simply because it takes more energy, more thought, and more bravery. When things go along like they always have, you don’t have to think about it much. You know the routine, you play the game, you are on autopilot.

But consider this – every time you have to deal with whatever it is you are putting up with, you are expending energy. Negative energy. You are berating yourself for being a slob or fat or lazy, even if you don’t realize it. Next time you encounter that situation, freeze the frame. What are your thoughts and actions? I bet it involves words like should, ought to, someday.

Now just imagine that situation as you would like it to be. What positive feelings are you having, and what affirmative words come to mind? Better, right?

So now what? Just put on a little bravery.

Think about what actions are necessary to make that situation right. I’m not saying to go out and change it right now, but figure out what the next step is in moving toward “right.” Start mapping out a plan and maybe even a timeline. That’s all – just create an outline of a plan. That’s enough bravery for now.

That wasn’t so overwhelming, was it? Now you can start filling in the gaps, and moving toward making that change a reality. But keep that positive image of “right” in your mind as a target. You will get more and more unhappy with “wrong” and feel more compelled to move toward “right.”

Bravery will become easier.

Because after all, most things that are bothering you are not as simple as one step. Even dealing with that pile of magazines (unless you just toss the whole  pile in the trash) involves putting them in some kind of order, finding another place to put them, and so on. Just like having that difficult conversation involves planning when and where you will talk, how you will start, what points you want to make and what responses and reactions you anticipate. If it was as simple as one step, you would have dealt with it already.

So what are you putting up with and how can you be brave and start changing it?

Balance doesn’t mean the same every day

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Photo courtesy of Renee May (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Renee May (Creative Commons)

When you imagine your life as being balanced, what images come to mind?

The first thing I think of is routine and similarity. I am a creature of habit, so my go-to perfect image is sameness. But sameness can lead being in ruts, and that really leads to imbalance, doesn’t it?

For instance, when I run, I tend to run the same route, the same distance, mostly the same speed each day. I feel satisfied when I have finished and I don’t have to think too hard about what I need to do. It’s easy to do the same run every day.

But honestly, I’m doing my body a disservice by not changing things up – working on speed one day, or strength and weight training another day and maybe a different cardio workout besides running. I should know by how sore I get when I am forced by weather or circumstances to do a different workout! And I vow then that I will do that regularly, but then I slip back into my routine of sameness.

In marathon training, the workouts are mapped out so that every day is not the same workout, but you know which days are running days, weight training days, cross training, etc. So for instance, I always knew that Wednesdays were weight days and Fridays were rest days. There was comfort in that routine, yet still the opportunity to grow stronger and healthier.

Why don’t I approach other things in my life the same way?

BALANCE is one of my three focus words this year (read more here) and I think it chose me for a reason. But what I am discovering is that the word seems to be playing itself out differently than I anticipated.

I realized that I have found myself increasingly frustrated lately because I’ve been trying to force my life into a same-thing-every-day routine. I need to think in terms of a “training schedule” instead.

Instead of trying to accomplish the same things each day, and then not feeling like I can squeeze in another thing, I need to learn to work within the ebb and flow of the week.

Let me give you an example. I work for a nonprofit that provides help for families in need in our community. My responsibilities include managing the database for the clients and the help they receive as well as handling the database of our donors and volunteers. On top of that, I also have a number of other administrative duties.

What I find is that during busy times, staying on top of the client database seems to take most of my time, making it challenging to also balance my other responsibilities. But what if I structure my week differently? What if one day or part of a day was specifically planned for the donor database and another for ordering supplies or other administration? My energy and focus would be fresh, I could stay on top of those things and still have time for the client entries later. None of this will ever be “caught up,” so it really is an exercise in managing. I need to manage myself differently.

Same with things in my personal life. I always say I need to connect more with friends or read more, yet I never get around to it. I need to set aside a particular day or time to focus on those activities. I’ll never be balanced otherwise.

If I’m not intentional in making time for these activities, they won’t just happen. Because it’s way too easy to just do the same run every day.

How do you need to schedule your life differently for more balance?

Can you let go?

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Photo courtesy of Alex&Luiba (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Alex&Luiba (Creative Commons)

Sixty-five degrees and sunny in February. Sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Especially after the winter we have had. But that’s what happened on Saturday, and boy was I ready to soak up that warmth and sunshine.

Thankfully, it happened on a Saturday, so I wasn’t stuck inside at work, and surprisingly, I did not have a single commitment that day that tied me to the clock. Rare, I know.

So I took advantage. I had a nice run without having to bundle up, and I spent a long time during the afternoon sitting on my porch in the sunshine reading. Yes, just reading a spy novel.

But you know why I was able to do that and not feel guilty or like I was shirking duties? Because I’ve been better about making sure my obligations and “stuff to do” was written down, rather than just letting it hang out in my head. I had a plan for what I needed to get done over the weekend, and knew that I could finish what I had to on Sunday.

And that allowed me to live in the MOMENT, which is one of my three focus words for the year (read about that here).

It probably sounds counter-intuitive that I had to plan to be in the moment. Let me explain.

David Allen, productivity guru and author of Getting Things Done (GTD), talks about a state he calls “mind like water” which is achievable if you have gotten everything out of your head and down into logical lists and next action steps. He tells us that your head is an awful place to store things, and will tend to remind you of things you need to do at the wrong time or when you can’t take care of it.

By getting all the things that have your attention out of your head, then you can focus on what you need to at the appropriate time. I have been very guilty lately of not keeping good lists, and having ideas, obligations, and reminders firing off in my mind at totally inappropriate times – like in the middle of a project or other tasks, or when I’m trying to go to sleep. And when I do try to take some time to relax, I can’t fully relax because there’s that annoying idea niggling in the back of my head that there is something else I need to be doing.

So yesterday morning, I spent some time just doing a brain dump – I wrote down everything I’ve had on my mind, from pay bills, create an agenda for a meeting this week and schedule rent – to iron, catch up on email and research wicker porch furniture. All of it.

Once I could see it all, I felt much less overwhelmed. I guess in my head the tasks and obligations were swirling and repeating so they seemed so much worse and due all at once! Seeing it down on paper, I realized that not all of it was due right away, and I could prioritize and make a plan.

And that plan involved getting some things done that morning, leaving the afternoon free, and getting more done on Sunday, when the weather was not forecast to be quite as warm or sunny.

So I could sit on the porch in the sun and read without worrying about what I was not doing or that I was forgetting something. I was truly in the moment, and it felt great.

What do you need to plan so you can live in the moment?

Are you ready to improve?

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I don’t know about you but I hate being stagnant. When I see an area of my life that is weak and could be made stronger, I will seek out ways to get better.

When I first started blogging, I didn’t know much about it. I wrote infrequently, struggled for ideas, and lacked confidence. In fact, I hardly told anyone I had a blog!

But then I found out about Chris Brogan’s online course called Blogging: The Master Class, and decided to give it a try. WOW! What a difference! Just click here (affiliate link) for more information and to sign up (use the  promotion code OUTCOME to receive 50% off).

During the 12-week course, I learned how to find my writing voice, capture ideas, discover topics, write with confidence, and practice the discipline needed to make a commitment to writing.  Through weekly email assignments, interactions with others in the class through a closed online community, and feedback from Chris Brogan and alumni of the class, you will gain insight into crafting your dream blog.

Just click here (affiliate link) or on the banner at the top of this post for more information and to sign up (use the  promotion code OUTCOME to receive 50% off).

Why wait to improve yourself?

Celebrating the small victories

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Photo courtesy of Sander Spolspoel (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sander Spolspoel (Creative Commons)

It is easy to get so bogged down in all there is to do that we fail to see that we’re making progress. Like running a long race, if you are only concerned with the finish line, it may seem unattainable. But when you celebrate the short-term triumphs, it can shift your focus and help you finish strong.

For instance, when running a half marathon, if you only think about the 13.1 mile finish line, it’s easy to feel like there’s no way you can make it to the end.  But when you shift and concentrate on making it to the first 5K (3.1 miles), then at the next 5K (6.2 miles) you are almost halfway through. Cheer when you hit one more 5K (9.3 miles) and it’s just a few more miles till you finish. Success!

What if you approached projects at work or home that way? Launching that new product line or remodeling your kitchen may seem like unattainable goals but when you set milestones along the way and celebrate finishing those, then the energy boost can help push you toward that goal quickly. All of a sudden it’s just a few more steps to be done!

The most effective way to set milestones is to look at your project realistically, knowing that there will always be issues and problems that will slow the process down. What I like to do is decide when each step could be completed in a perfect world, and then add a buffer of time. In some cases, you may need to back the process up from the ideal finish date.

Once you have decided on these smaller goals, then start working toward the first one without putting extra pressure on yourself about all the other things still to be done. Just focus on the first milestone. When you achieve that, do a little happy dance, throw some confetti, and turn your focus to the next milestone. See how much better that is?

It is helpful after each milestone to look out over the entire plan, make any necessary adjustments, and the draw your focus back to that next goal. In other words, take a look at the forest, but then refocus on that one tree. Before you know it, you’ll be doing another happy dance and getting closer to your final goal.

What milestones and small victories can you celebrate on your way to your big goal?

Start improving your relationships

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Photo courtesy of Jennifer Brandel

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Brandel

I walked into the bank the other day to deposit a check, and was greeted by the teller with great warmth and asked how things were going. My first thought was that she must greet everyone that way, probably as a requirement of her job, but then she spoke to me by name and asked how work was going. She remembered me, and that was a pleasant experience.

The amazing thing is that I don’t go in the bank all the often, maybe every couple of weeks to deposit a check. I do most of my banking online, and I don’t have a lot of complicated transactions or big banking demands. So there’s really no reason for me to stand out in this woman’s mind, which is why it was so surprising that she had taken the time to start building a relationship with me.

And you’d better believe I will continue using that bank and going to that particular branch, and I will certainly recommend it to others.

It got me to thinking about how important relationships are in business, and how we seem to be getting away from them. With everyone so busy and with internet, email and text transactions becoming so predominant, it’s not surprising. When you can buy tickets online, donate to your favorite charity, shop or look up information at any hour, who needs to speak to a person?

When I started bookselling at Borders years ago, part of what drew me was the culture of building relationships with our customers which led to recommending and handselling titles. I left when the culture changed to quotas and treating customers as numbers or dollar signs.

I work in a nonprofit now, and we are constantly building relationships with donors, volunteers, and supporters. But even there we are moving steadily toward online donation opportunities, email blasts and sign ups for volunteer through the internet. We need to still be mindful of the importance of that one-on-one interaction.

It’s not just in the business world that relationships are important. Engaging people at church is an important part of nurturing their spiritual life and helping them have a richer experience, not just for new members but for everyone. I’ve noticed that I start to feel disconnected when I just come for services, but when I rekindle my friendships even just a little bit, it sparks something in me and I leave with a different feeling of community.

Sure, it’s a lot harder to conscientiously make efforts to connect, but the payoffs are huge. Think along the lines of how loyal customers will purchase more often, trust your recommendations, and tell their friends how great your business is. It’s a win-win-win!

There’s still a place for things like the online sign ups or the email blast for quick information, but it should not replace personal interactions and relationship building in your business plan.

What are some ways you can start building better relationships with your customers or clients?

And she takes the lead against Fear!

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Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Darwin Bell (Creative Commons)

Last week I did 3 things that involved huge confrontations with Fear. For some people, these activities would have been no big deal, but for me, they were terrifying.

And yes, that is Fear sitting on his behind in the dust, and me washing the dirt off my hands at the conclusion of a successful battle.

I felt compelled to face off against my fears because each of these activities involved sharing my passions with others, and since my vision is to impact others, that was a big deal.

You see, I’m a behind the scenes kind of person. I’m happiest making things happen away from the center of attention. Whether that is through my writing or as a result of my work with nonprofits, I thrive on impacting lives but always away from the spotlight.

This week has been different. I was asked to share with a group about three words (read more here), the driving force of my motivation. The best part of this experience was that after I shared how my three words have affected my own life so positively over the last three years, we broke into some quiet time, and then came back together so each person could share the three words they felt might be their driving force. What an incredible thing to hear those words they had chosen and see how excited they were to anticipate the potential changes those words would make in their lives.

I was also given the opportunity to do two different online interviews about one of my passions – I Run 4, which is an organization that pairs runners with children and adults who cannot run (read more here). Thank you Stan Bush for selecting me to be featured at Fifty Two Folks and Les Dossey for interviewing me for WOW’D – what an honor. I will even share those interviews with you here and here.

It was exciting to be able to spread the word about I Run 4. I know my own life has been tremendously changed by running for Bennett, a little boy with Down syndrome who calls me his running mom. I dedicate all my miles to him and post my runs in the closed I Run 4 Facebook group for his parents.

There’s the inspiration and motivation to get out and run, even when it’s cold or I’m not in the mood to run. There are the exciting updates about how well he is doing, and the daily prayers for him and his family. It is an amazing relationship that has changed me and I would never have expected that.

My wish is for others to have that same kind of transformation and impact, and that is why I work so hard as Connection Coordinator for I Run 4 (making the matches for others), and why I agreed to face my fears. In the end, it was worth the stress and trauma because I was able to share with a lot of people the things that drive me every day.

I also realized that the world did not end by putting myself out there. Will I make this a regular thing? Not on your life! But what a great feeling to know that I moved WAY out of my comfort zone for a good cause, and gained some valuable experience and insight into myself along the way.

I think it’s important to face down Fear every once in a while, or else you become stagnant and uninspired.

How will you fight Fear this week?

Catching a glimpse

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Photo courtesy of Tiroko-chan (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Tiroko-chan (Creative Commons)

I was sitting here at my desk early this morning when I noticed a light in the little gap just at the top of the blinds of the window across from my desk. At first I ignored it, thinking it was just a reflection of the lamp. But then I realized I had never seen anything there before and it was an odd spot to be reflecting.

I was compelled to peek out and see what it was. My breath caught as I realized it was the full moon – just so in the sky that it was shining in my window in that tiny gap.

I couldn’t stop looking, amazed at the sight and marveling that I was at the right place at the right time to see that beautiful sight.

A bit later, as I was running, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the huge orange ball as it slipped out of sight below the horizon. Breathtaking. And again, in the exact right spot at the exact right time.

What do I miss because I’m not looking toward the right spot at the right time? How often do I miss opportunities to be amazed, to connect, or to assist because I’m so consumed with something else that I forget to be observant?

One of my three focus words (read more here) this year is MOMENT, just for that reason. My intention is to be more cognizant of what is happening now, and less distracted by “stuff.”

I don’t want to miss the glimpse of the moon that takes my breath away with its beauty.

I want to experience life’s little moments in their fullness rather than breezing by. I want to be attentive and alert, instead of oblivious and preoccupied.

What moments are you missing?

Find your sunny spot

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Photo courtesy of romaryka (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of romaryka (Creative Commons)

I have realized some things about myself this winter. The seemingly unending string of bitter cold, dreary days, the steady stream of winter storms, and the combination of frigid air outside and dry heat inside are taking their toll. I have noticed my mood and motivation are definitely suffering.

I am usually eager to run every morning, and lately, all I want to do is stay curled up under a blanket with another cup of coffee. Even things I normally enjoy have become drudgery. I find myself wishing the time away until the weekend when I can stay inside and hibernate.

What I did notice one day recently was how different I felt when the sun came out. There’s a spot in my apartment where the sun streams in during the afternoon just before it slips below a hill and sets, and I was sitting just so when it came beaming in on my face. Wow. It was like someone had flipped a switch on my mood, and suddenly I felt inspired and happy and hopeful again.

So then I realized I need to find the equivalent of that sunny spot in other situations instead of letting myself get brought down by things. I guess sometimes we do seek out comfort in bad times, maybe even unconsciously. I know there have been a Friday or two after a tough week at work when I’ve stopped and bought myself flowers and the makings of a nice supper to cheer myself up. I’ve been known to call a friend for coffee or lunch when going through a particularly tough time. I bet you have some examples of “seeking your sunny spot” in difficult situations as well.

I guess what this has brought home to me is that I need to be more intentional in seeking the sun. I need to put myself into better situations so that the sun or happiness streams in on me and surround myself with people who reflect positive energy instead of negativity all the time. I need to choose to react differently when faced with challenges.

How do you find your “sunny spot”?

I miss reading.

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Photo courtesy of zebble (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of zebble (Creative Commons)

I really miss reading. I realized that this weekend as I actually sat and read, lost in a story, holding my breath as the characters battled each other in a gunfight, breathing in the scents described, hearing the sounds, in another world.

I remember as a teen my favorite summers involved going to swim practice at dawn, then laying on the floor devouring books until it was time for late afternoon swim practice. Heaven.

The years I spent as a bookseller were full of reading great books that I could share with my favorite guests at the store. And meeting authors of these rich stories and learning how they developed the ideas and what stories were in their heads.

Curling up with a cup of hot tea and a new book is the perfect way to spend a weekend afternoon.

So why have I not been doing that? Why is there a stack of books both physical and virtual on my Kindle that wait patiently to be read and enjoyed?

It’s simple. I’ve allowed other things to crowd out one of my great pleasures. Instead of making reading a priority, I’ve let it take a back seat, something to be done only when other things are complete. But that never seems to happen, does it?

I have good intentions. I’m sure you do too. I get home from a busy day and tell myself to hurry with the things I need to do at night so I can spend some time reading. But then there’s email to respond to, and other work to be done, and a show on tv that is mindless but compelling, and before I know it, the evening has gone, and it’s late. And when I get into bed to read a bit – my eyes get fuzzy and I doze right there with the book open or the Kindle on my pillow.

I love mysteries, but it is sad when it’s February, and I’m still slowly reading the “newest” novel by my favorite author that came out in May! And forget trying to check something out of the library – the last time I did that, I ended up renewing it so many times, I exhausted my available renewals. Oops.

So what is the solution? I need to make reading a priority.

I need to build in time in the morning, or on weekends, or earlier in the evening to read and be able to enjoy reading. It should not be a sleep aid.

How do you find time for reading?

I need to have a word with you, Fear.

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Photo courtesy of Life Life Happy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Life Life Happy (Creative Commons)

I am putting you on notice, Fear. You are going down. You are trying to stop me from doing important things, and I am putting an end to it.

Take that.

I said yes to two opportunities next week that terrify me. I honestly don’t know why I said yes, other than I acted irresponsibly and didn’t think about it very hard.

Both seemed like things I needed to do, and for once, I spoke that little word “yes” before I thought through the ramifications of what I was saying yes to, probably because both situations involve talking about my passions.

Each time after I hung up the phone, the first words out of my mouth were “oh what have I done?”

Fear poured down doubt and uncertainty and outright panic on me so forcefully I could hardly breathe. I had that moment where I had to hold onto something to catch my breath, and somehow push back the terror that enveloped me so that I could focus on the good that I will be doing. I need to concentrate on the message that I’ll be sharing, rather than the extreme discomfort in how I will be sharing it. After all, it isn’t about me anyway, it’s about getting the story across and hoping that someone else is impacted in a positive way through what I am doing.

So am I comfortable now with what I’ll be doing? No way on earth!

Is anxiety simmering already even though it’s several days before I do this? You bet!

Am I going to let it change my mind or stop me? Not in a million years!

Look out fear – I am aiming for you and you are going down!

Are those goals realistic?

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Photo courtesy of cathredfern (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of cathredfern (Creative Commons)

Ok, so I got up thinking I’d edit several things I’ve written recently and get a bunch of blogs posted – quick and easy, right? Wrong. At least I got one thing posted, but it took most of my writing time. Ugh. Have I gotten so bad at estimating my time?

Recently I’ve worked on several large projects that took so much longer than I expected. They tied up days instead of hours, and instead of marking lots of things off my to do list, only a couple of things have been checked off. It gets frustrating thinking I’ll accomplish a lot only to end the day with a few things done.

I guess part of the problem is that I’m not being very realistic about time when setting my goals. With so much on my list, I just want to start checking things off, and it’s just not that simple. But there is a way to get back to a to do list I can love.

I need to take into account the number of interruptions I get as well as the sheer volume of work there is. Instead of setting out to FINISH, I need to allot my time to MAKE PROGRESS. Then I can move several things forward, and get closer to finishing. And when the tasks that are really ongoing, I need to think in terms of getting to a particular point in it, and not necessarily finishing.

I also need to remember that many of these deadlines are self-inflicted. I set myself up for failure when I create unreasonable deadlines that no one else expects anyway. I need to cut myself some slack and set realistic expectations.

How realistic are the goals you are setting for yourself and how could you set better expectations?

A new month for words

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Photo courtesy of Eduardo Jalon (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Eduardo Jalon (Creative Commons)

So here we are at the beginning of a new month. It seems like the last one both dragged on forever and flew by. Christmas and all the hoopla of the New Year seem ages ago, it feels like we’ve struggled with one frigid day after another, with routines disrupted, resolutions forgotten, and more stress and pressure than can possibly be handled.

So maybe it is a good time to stop, reflect and redirect.

One thing that’s important is to reconnect with my three focus words (read more here). In the thick of things, it’s easy for them to fade, and become good intentions neglected. But underneath the overload of work, the worries about weather and the weight of obligations, those words surfaced on occasion.

MOMENT – In spite of a seemingly non-ending stream of work and responsibility, there have been moments treasured. While many days were a blur, there have been sweet times too. A pause for a phone call to reconnect with a dear friend. A couple of sunny, warmer days that meant for a pleasant jog. Savoring a bowl of homemade soup on a cold day.

BALANCE – While work has been the predominant activity, it has not been all work. There have been a few movie nights, some time spent reading, getting a massage, and visiting with family and friends. I am more conscious of gaining balance, so I am more intentional about planning my activities. That is definitely a move in the right direction.

DIRECT – this word has been the most difficult for me so far. Swept along by prior commitments, unexpected workloads and unavoidable deadlines, I have felt “managed” rather than in control of my direction. That needs to change. I need to take control of my calendar – and start by scheduling time for me first, and then working in the other obligations. That will also help with balance.

One huge benefit this month has been my participation in the 30 Days of Hustle with Jon Acuff. In this 30-day challenge, we were to choose a goal and work toward that with the help of daily email assignments. We also gained support from and connected with others in the challenge through a closed Facebook group.

My goal was to write 300 words a day for the 30 days. The idea of carving out that time to write has been a huge benefit, allowing me to get ahead on my blog posts, think through some solutions, and process the craziness that has been going on. While not always post-worthy, the time spent on some days just journaling has been hugely beneficial in grasping what some of the issues are in my  life and in finding some ways to improve.

This one way of directing myself has reaped amazing rewards. As I begin a new month as well as the second round of 30 Days of Hustle, I look forward to even better results. And more opportunities to DIRECT, BALANCE and stay in the MOMENT.

It’s all in your mind

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Photo courtesy of Jay Roeder (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jay Roeder (Creative Commons)

Lately I’ve struggled with motivation – it is cold outside, making it really hard to get inspired to run. I just want to curl up under a blanket with hot tea.

I have several large projects that will involve a great deal of time and focus, and it’s difficult to get started because it just feels so overwhelming and there’s such a time commitment looming.

It’s tax time again, and I always hate going through the steps of pulling the receipts and papers together and answering all the questions in Turbo Tax.

Each of these activities has become so overwhelming in my head that I can barely focus on them anymore. Even when reviewing what I need to do each day, I feel my whole thought process closing down when something so awful comes to mind.

And yet when I get my head out of the way, and bundle up and get out there to run, it’s not as cold as I expected and I feel invigorated and energized afterwards.

If I actually think about the large projects and break them down into smaller, actionable steps, then that becomes manageable. And taxes – no easy way around that, but honestly, if I’d just go ahead and get busy on it, it would be done and I could move on.

It’s all in getting it out of my mind. Somehow, I have to learn to bypass my negative thinking and just do what I need to. I need to quit thinking about it and do it.

How do you get out of your mind and into action?

What’s your one thing?

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Photo courtesy of xxpunkxhatexx

Photo courtesy of xxpunkxhatexx

I know there are a lot of little things we do each morning, get coffee, read the paper, check email or maybe exercise. We all lead busy lives and mornings are hard when you need to start the day, get the kids off to school, dress, eat, and rush out the door.

But when you break it down, what is the one thing that you feel must be part of your morning in order to have a good day? What is that activity that most affects your demeanor and mood, and can be the difference in a good day and a great day?

I have written before that my ideal day starts with three elements. I get up early so I have time for devotions and prayer, writing and running.

I start with devotions and prayer because I’ve learned over the years that it’s too easy to skip it if that is not the first thing I do. Distractions come so quickly – turn on the news, check email, read blogs, start getting ready – and before I know it, I’m headed out the door without my special time with my Lord.

My writing time is critical too. I actually start my day quietly – which is part of why I like early mornings. The silence grounds me, and helps me focus my thinking a little more. It feels like you are the only one awake in the world. Writing is a key way to process my world, so it’s nice to have that quiet to ponder, and plan, and practice directing my thoughts in more productive ways than what I end up doing later in the day when disruptions are in full force.

I am a morning exerciser. I have learned through the years that I do not feel as strong or as happy when I work out late in the day. There are a lot of elements involved, but most critical is the feeling of running alone in the dark when there are few others out and having that additional time to pray, think through the day, ponder problems, and just be at peace. I’ve said my running time is my happy time precisely for that reason. It is an extension of my quiet.

When I do run later in the day, there is more traffic, I face more obstacles, and my energy level is different. It feels more like a draining activity to get through and check off rather than a tranquil time of energy-building.

Honestly though, I take rest days from running and the day goes along fine. And there are days when I need to be somewhere early or I have other pressing matters and writing just doesn’t happen. Not the end of the world.

What I have discovered is essential to every day, and that I will not skip or skimp on is my devotion and prayer time. For me, that time I spend reading scripture, reflecting and praying is the most important time of my entire day. Yes, I still have not so good days, but I have found when I start off with prayer, it is easier to face whatever comes my way more gracefully and reasonably.

Your one thing might be spending extra time with your kids or a quiet cup of coffee with your spouse. Whatever it might be, it is important to identify that thing that grounds you and start building it in to your morning. When your morning starts well, imagine how much better your day will be!

You have a choice

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Photo courtesy of yaili (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of yaili (Creative Commons)

I realized as I was running yesterday, wanting to turn around and go home but knowing I had planned a long run, that I could choose how I faced this run. I could either whine and complain through the whole thing, or I could just get busy and put in my miles. I could choose to be Wimpy Woman or Wonder Woman.

I chose Wonder Woman and finished my 10 miles.

Was it hard? Yes. Was it fun? Not always. But I was glad that I did it, and proud of my effort.

Every day is like that. You and only you get to choose how you will respond to what comes your way.

It’s been tough at work the last couple of weeks because it’s been busy and not everything has gone right. I admit I have sunk into a definite funk several days, and struggled to accomplish what I needed to. Unfortunately, I didn’t choose to be positive, and it affected my mood tremendously.

This week will be different. The work is actually harder, with more to accomplish and tighter deadlines. But I am choosing to have a better attitude, do the best that I can under the circumstances, and roll with the punches. I may not get it all done, but I’m not going to let it get me down.

What about you? How will you choose to approach this week?

How clear are your expectations?

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Photo courtesy of Russell James Smith (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Russell James Smith (Creative Commons)

Whether we consciously set them or not, we have expectations in pretty much anything we set out to do. And whether or not our activities either alone or with others meet those expectations can lead to happiness or frustration.

If I travel downtown during rush hour or before a big event, I expect to run into more traffic. When I don’t or when the wait is less than I thought it would be, what a treat!

One of the keys to a more satisfying life is to be more aware of those expectations and direct them more intentionally.

When I have managed people and done performance reviews, we typically measure their performance using a scale such as “exceeds expectations,” “meets expectations,” “needs improvement,” or “failing miserably” (ok, not really but you know what I mean).

The problems arise when those expectations are not clearly defined so that both parties understand without confusion what is expected. Fuzzy expectations set you up for failure.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say a supervisor expects a team member to perform a particular task on a regular basis. In the supervisor’s mind, “regular” means weekly. But the only instruction given to the team member is that they need to perform this task “regularly.” To the team member, that might mean every couple of weeks or monthly. What do you think will happen at review time? Is it fair to downgrade that team member’s performance because it did not meet the supervisor’s expectations?

Poorly defined expectations can lead to all sorts of conflict and frustration between coworkers, friends, spouses, parents and children. And clear expectations can lead to a more positive experience.

I have even noticed simple things can be better if the expectations are set out right to begin with. Even something like running can be improved with the right expectations in mind. When I know that conditions are not ideal and it is cold or raining or windy, I set out on my run knowing that it will be a challenge. I have a much better run than when I start out thinking it will be easy, and then run into problems.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we are vague on what we expect, or when we have unrealistic expectations. It’s winter, it’s cold, and I will be continually disappointed if I expect to be warm when I run outside.

Are you setting yourself or someone else up for failure by not giving clear expectations?

Take a bite!

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Photo courtesy of Emily Neef (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Emily Neef (Creative Commons)

Think about the projects you have coming up in the next few months – taxes, maybe a home improvement or a volunteer project for church or other organization. Did I make you cringe?

I know what I have found lately as I review what I have on my plate is that these big, sometimes unpleasant projects loom on my horizon, and are so overwhelming that I can’t even begin to think about them. When I see it on my task list or see an email related to it, I shiver and have to change my focus quickly.

You know what? It is never going to go away that way, and will just get larger and uglier the more I look at it.

And if there’s a deadline, the closer it gets to the deadline, the worse it will get, right? Suddenly you can’t even breathe for dreading that project.

I realized that while I have done an excellent job of avoiding those projects during my time off, they are still influencing me by hanging over me and always being in the back of my mind. They aren’t going away, I can’t go around them, I just have to go through them.

So that’s when I decided to try a different tactic. Instead of running the other direction, yesterday I took a deep breath.

I took a bite.

That’s right – I tackled the one project that was most objectionable. I didn’t set out to finish it – it’s the kind of thing that will take days to complete. But I did spend a couple of hours starting it – and what relief I felt.

It felt so good to at least have made a little bit of progress on it and know that if I continue taking little bites of it, then before long, I will be finished and can move on with other activities that are actually fun.

Plus, I rewarded myself. I went into it saying that if I worked 2 hours on this one disagreeable project, then I could spend some time doing something that I wanted to do, like read a novel. That idea of reward spurred me on and the time actually went by fast.

And before I knew it, I was reading that novel.

Avoidance is not a productivity tool

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Photo courtesy of Kelli S (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kelli S (Creative Commons)

One thing I have noticed over the past few weeks, is how much better I can focus when there’s less clutter on my desk as well as in my mind. The craziness of the holiday season took its toll on my state of organization and it made it more difficult to deal with even simple things.

I found myself making list after list as a temporary relief of the overload, and yet I would then push the list aside and go back to the loudest (not necessarily the more urgent) tasks and forget the list. The next day, I’d start a new list – so at the end of the week, I might have the same task on 3 or 4 lists.

Then there’s the inbox – because I had not taken a moment to define what needed to be done on anything, the inbox just kept piling up and when I’d look at an item, it would just be too much to think about and I’d toss it back in the pile. Avoidance makes it worse.

Before long, the stacks of papers, the heaps of scribbled notes, the hundreds of emails made me feel like I was slumped down from the sheer weight of it all on my shoulders. Something had to give.

The first thing I needed to do is to stop.  I realized that I was making everything much worse by continuing to try to dig out, when in fact, I was digging in.

I decided to do two main things: change my habits and use my tools.

My habit had become to look at incoming “stuff” – whether that was an email, mail, task, whatever – think “oh, I can’t think about this right now” and put it aside. That’s fine when you only have a few emails or papers in the inbox, but multiply that by hundreds and it is overwhelming. That also leads to either deleting something important, or missing something that needed to be done.

Hand in hand with that were my tools. I had tools to make things easier – I just wasn’t using them. For instance, I use Nozbe as a task management tool. But I hadn’t added anything to my lists or even opened the app in weeks. I also use Evernote to organize my notes, emails and other information. Again, I had not opened the app in way too long.

The funny thing is that with both programs, I am able to forward an email right to it – and even specify what list or notebook it needs to go to. Right on the spot. Yet I was opening and ignoring all those emails and just perpetuating the problems.

The first thing I did to improve was open Nozbe, and start typing in tasks from the list upon list I had on my desk. Just that simple action relieved a great deal of pressure, partly because I realized how many times some things were written down, and partly because I could see that many of those tasks were not urgent or critical, and yet until I did that, they all seemed equally pressing in my mind. Ahhh, a little relief.

Then I tackled my email. I went through the current inbox, and realized how many of those emails I could just delete – I didn’t need to know about all the sales, promotions and end of year “lists.” I also sent a few emails that were important to Evernote or Nozbe, and printed the few that were just waiting to be printed. Ahhh, a little more relief.

I need to make that my habit when the email originally comes in – instead of opening and ignoring it several times before dealing with it. Why touch it so many times?

Open, deal with it, done.

I need to be honest with myself as to what I will actually read. I get tons of blogs that are all very well written and contain wonderful information. However, I have only a limited time to read said blogs (or listen to podcasts) and instead of putting them all aside to read later – I need to be brutally honest when I open it the first time whether I will read it or not. And in most cases, read it right then or delete it.

New habit. Bam!

And so it went, whittling down the electronic piles, and then tackling the paper piles. Before I knew it, I had an empty email inbox to go along with the empty inbox on my desk. I had organized lists in Nozbe in categories such as Urgent Tasks, Personal Tasks and Work Tasks, so I could review each one within a context of my mental and physical energy levels. And what a great feeling to check something off and see those lists getting smaller!

Most importantly, I had defined the new habits I needed to practice, and already felt the reward of relief due to the new habits. Definitely incentive to keep practicing.

Dirty little secrets

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Photo courtesy of Eugene Meidinger (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Eugene Meidinger (Creative Commons)

We all have little secrets, don’t we? Things we would rather no one else know about and that embarrass us when people find out.

One of mine is that if there’s the electronic equivalent of the “junk drawer” – I have it. I’ve been spending some time getting more organized, and that includes going through emails and programs like Nozbe and Evernote.

What I discovered is that I have really good intentions, but not very good follow through!

You see, I discovered as I went through the backlog of emails, files, etc. etc., that I have several spots to park things to be read or reviewed. That’s terrific. It gets it out of my inbox and puts it in a place where I can review all those things together when I have a moment. I can access it from my laptop, phone or Kindle. Perfect plan, right?

There’s just one problem – out of sight, out of mind. I put things in these special places, but then never go back to read and review them! Oops. It’s like all the little things you stuff in the junk drawer, until you have no idea what is in there and are afraid to even open the drawer!

I had emails from months prior, blogs, and newsletters (with events long past). As I went back through, many were so old they didn’t matter anymore.

I spent time to clear things out, and now I can start fresh. But the key will be to regularly visit those holding places to read the things I thought important enough to park there. And to be more proactive in going there when I have a down moment – like waiting for a meeting or as a break between projects.

How do you keep up on all your electronic reading material without being swallowed up by it?

What are you not doing?

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Photo courtesy of JunkByJo (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of JunkByJo (Creative Commons)

Last week, we had extreme weather with temperatures colder than we’ve had in nearly 20 years, with highs in the single digits and wind chills well below zero. I know that’s not bad for some parts of the country but for Middle Tennessee, that’s pretty cold. School was cancelled, people were warned to stay indoors or spend limited time outdoors, keep faucets dripping to prevent frozen pipes, and take other precautions.

Even though I normally run outside every day, I decided to play it safe and do other forms of exercise. I figured I’d stay in and do some weights and strength training with hand weights, squats, and yoga. I also bundled up once the sun came out and it warmed up a bit and walked a couple of miles. It sure didn’t seem like I was doing very much.

Next day, I got up feeling really sore. As the day went on, the soreness got worse. I found muscles I had forgotten I had!

And it occurred to me that I am seriously neglecting a huge part of my fitness and health by not doing strength training regularly (not to mention the fact that I wouldn’t have hurt so badly!). I need to add strength training and stretching to at least one workout a week to tone and strengthen more than just my legs by running every day.

Since one of my three focus words this year is BALANCE, I started thinking about other things I might be neglecting that are causing my life to be out of balance. What have I let creep in and while the important things seep out?

The first thing that came to mind was leadership learning. For a time, I always had at least one leadership book in some stage of being read, listened to podcasts about leadership, and read and commented on leadership blogs. In taking on some different responsibilities, I have let that aspect of my personal development slide. I have leadership books waiting to be read, so I need to brush the dust off and find some time to read them and learn.

Another important aspect of life besides personal development is relationships with friends and family. I realized that unless I see someone at work or church, I have not kept up with friends as I should. I haven’t been the one to reach out in most cases, but just responded when someone reached out to me. That needs to change as well.

I challenge you to look at your life and determine the things that you are overlooking that are key to your growth and happiness. Think about things that you used to do but haven’t found time for lately, whether that’s creating a budget, reading to your children, or eating dinner as a family.

Intentionally find time to add just one or two of those things you aren’t doing back into your life, and then let me know how your life changes.

What makes you smile?

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rosesI have discovered there are some little things that brighten my life and make me smile.

Things like a small arrangement of flowers ($4 at my local grocery). Having supper on the good china. A cup of hot tea on a cold day. Snuggling with the one you love.

Hardly significant in the big scheme of things, but necessary just the same. They can can make a difficult day a little better. And they are things you can do for yourself, instead of waiting on someone else to do.

There is so much stress and unpleasantness in life, it’s important to do little things that bring happiness.

So what small thing can you do today that will make you smile?

Off the worry list

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Photo courtesy of Backdoor Survival (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Backdoor Survival (Creative Commons)

Ever have those pesky little tasks or projects that are relatively insignificant, but hang over you and can keep you awake at night? Not anything urgent, although honestly, if they stay on the to do list too long, then they might become urgent.

For me, it’s things like updating my password and username list, or a list of which bills get paid when and how – things that I know without having to look at, but if something were to happen to me, how would anyone else know and be able to take care of things?

Or straightening the closet or desk drawer – you know the one that every time you go to you say to yourself, “this is so messy, I really need to clean that out.”

I have been intentional while off work for Christmas break to take care of some of these things, and am amazed at the feeling of relief each check mark brings. I also wonder why on earth it took me so long to do some of these things. Many times, the task takes just minutes – and yet I wasted all that mental energy berating myself for not doing it and thinking about how badly I did not want to do it. Then poof, it’s done. Silly, isn’t it?

With some momentum building, I am making plans to knock even more off that worry list. What a great feeling it will be to start the new year with less baggage, fewer nagging little tasks, and a clean slate to begin dreaming.

What little tasks could you knock off your worry list?

Slow it down

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Photo courtesy of Bob MacCallum (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bob MacCallum (Creative Commons)

That’s the advice that’s being given as far as driving in the extreme cold and icy conditions we’re having this week. No one is saying to stop, or not go at all, but just to slow it down and be careful.

That advice can be applied in other areas as well. As we start a new year with all the activities and obligations we have on our plates, the temptation is to go whirling into it until it gets out of control. That’s when you have a spinout and end up on the side of the road with illness, frustration and emotional meltdowns. I don’t know about you, but already, my head feels like it will explode any minute.

So slow it down and be careful.

First and foremost, learn the word “no”! Practice with me now, “NO.”

Say no to new activities until you have made sure you can incorporate them without overloading yourself. I used to think that I couldn’t say no – that people expected me to do things and would be disappointed when I didn’t. I ended up saying yes to so many things that I wasn’t doing any of them very well, and I started to dread the activities that used to give me such pleasure.

And then someone asked me to do one more thing, and I sucked up my courage and I said no. I explained that I had so much on my plate already that I just couldn’t take on one more thing right now and have any hope of doing it right.

You know what? It was ok. They understood and even told me that they respected my thoughtful no more than they would have a quick yes.

What a freeing experience that was. What we don’t always understand when we just blindly keep saying yes to more and more is that we have only so much energy and attention, and when we spread ourselves so thin, we don’t do any of our activities justice. Then we’re just going through the motions, and not getting anything out of the activity.

We do ourselves a disservice because we are so distracted that we aren’t putting our whole selves into any of the activities, and might even do them so fast just to get done and on to the next thing, that they are done incorrectly. Or dangerously. The last thing you want is burnout.

So play it smart and don’t race into so many new responsibilities. Take it slow. Let’s see those brake lights.

Back to the real world

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Photo courtesy of Penny Dugmore (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Penny Dugmore (Creative Commons)

It’s always hard when the holidays are over, the decorations have come down, the sales have been shopped, and the vacation time dwindles down. Instead of leisurely days spent sleeping in and doing what you want to when you want to, it’s back to a tight schedule, with little room for flexibility between the demands of work, school and other commitments.

It’s back to the feeling of being overwhelmed, overworked, and over-committed. How does that happen?

One valuable lesson I’ve learned over this break, is how important it is to set boundaries, so that no one part of your life takes over. For me, that’s the work part of life. If I am not careful, it can spill over the edges of my schedule until it is pretty much all I’m doing – and that leads to a very unbalanced life.

For instance, my mornings used to consist of getting up early for devotions and prayer, writing, running, and then work. But over the last few months, that time carved out for writing lessened (and some days disappeared), and work took its place. Instead of setting a more reasonable end time to allow for adequate rest, I have found myself staying up later and later trying to get to a little more done.

Now that I’m aware of these issues, I’m taking steps to prevent them from happening – at least as often as possible. I am going to viciously protect that writing time in the morning, and have set a goal of at least 300 words a day. It feels good to be back to writing every day – even if sometimes that’s just journaling and not words worth publishing.

Using a timer when I’m working can help keep me attentive to the project at hand, so that I don’t get distracted and off track. That way I can stay focused, get done, and move on.

Doing regular reviews of the entire scope of what I need to do helps too, as a reminder that the one project is not really the only project – but one of many. Instead of trying to finish one to the exclusion of others, I can move several along and make progress on different fronts.

Planning is key. Spending a few minutes at the end of the day to plot which projects and commitments are coming up the next day can help eliminate that unpreparedness that wastes time. Don’t you hate it when you are ready to work on something but don’t have all the papers you need? Or you get out doing errands, and realize you don’t have your list or that receipt for the item you need to return?  What a wasted effort.

Distractions need to be limited. As I’m writing this, my phone chimed about some online offers at a particular store – and I stopped to see what they were – in spite of the fact that I don’t need anything from that store, and I really need to be writing. Ugh. Once again, I have to remind myself to turn off email, turn off at least the sound on the phone, and reduce as many interferences as possible.

By being intentional about setting boundaries and schedules, then I can make the time to do things for me – like read, or meet someone for lunch, or watch a movie. And those things need to be part of the schedule instead of just vague ideas of an activity I’ll do once I finish this other thing. Because you know what will happen – I’ll finish the other thing too late to start a movie, or get sidetracked onto something else and never make the plans to meet my friend for lunch.

How will you start this year differently to make sure you have time for all you want to do?

Multi-tasking into distraction

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Photo courtesy of Brandy - dieselbug2007 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Brandy – dieselbug2007 (Creative Commons)

It is so easy to lose track and become caught up in distractions. Just this morning, I had the local news on the tv, checking on the possible bad weather headed our way, going through email (where do they all come from?), fingering the stacks of papers on my desk that I didn’t finish processing yesterday, and hearing texts chiming in. In the midst of all that noise, I forgot what I even sat down at my desk to do.

So I turned it all off.

Turned off the tv, moved the papers aside to be gone through later, and turned off the email and the phone.

Ahhh. Silence. Well, not quite silence. Now I can hear the rain on the roof.

And now I can focus on writing, which is what I had planned to do originally, before all the noise.

One of my challenges is learning to do one thing at a time. I am the queen of multi-tasking, and all that means is that I dabble in all sorts of things but don’t do any of them well. Multi-tasking leads to mistakes, misunderstandings and missed opportunities.

As I begin a new year, I am learning to navigate my three words (read more here), one of which is MOMENT. As you can guess, being focused on the moment means eliminating those other distractions, and not trying to do more than one thing at a time. It means being more organized so that I carve out time to do the other things that need doing – like checking email or processing those papers – but not when I need to be writing. Or having a conversation. Or working on a project.

It also means setting some limits or I will end up checking email for hours. Open this one, which leads to this website, which leads to a blog – have you done that? Before you know it, you can lose an entire afternoon that way.

For me, it is going to mean using my calendar more deliberately so that I set some boundaries and make sure I get to do all the things I want and need to do. There are all sorts of tools that can help me, including apps for my phone, timers, etc. I will be experimenting to see what works best so that my work will not expand to fill the time, but that I am DIRECTING (another of my three words) my activities and ensuring the right things are getting done.

What are some ways you can eliminate distractions and become more focused?

My Three Words for 2014

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3 words 2014As we turn the page on a new year, we are poised to take leaps ahead in our dreams and plans, or stagnate in the negativity and unhappiness we have built around us. I find that the best way to climb out of the vat of discontent is to disregard the practice of making resolutions, and instead, focus on three words for the year.

I learned this from Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author, publisher of Owner magazine and CEO of Human Business Works, who has promoted choosing three focus words since 2006 (read more here). I thought it was an interesting idea but didn’t try it until 2012. Boy was I sorry I waited that long!

I can only say that 2012 and 2013 have been the most satisfying, productive, developmentally explosive years ever for me. By focusing all my decisions and actions through my three words, I connected more in just a few months than imaginable (CONNECT was one of my 2012 words), and built lasting friendships and business networks.

In 2013, I have enriched my life by considering it a JOURNEY, and enjoying the trip itself, not just the destination (read more here).

So once again, drum roll please as I unveil my three words for 2014.

MOMENT – I will live in the moment this year, aware of what is happening now instead of always looking toward what is next. I catch myself halfway listening to a conversation because I’m planning what else I have to do, or missing things entirely because I’m busy pondering or multi-tasking.

No more. I want to relish what is happening at this very time. It is important to be alert and pay attention to the people, sights, scents, sounds and activities right now and not wonder later what I missed.

Even if I am less than comfortable, it’s important to pay attention. Take the good with the bad, the hot with the cold, the sadness with the joy. The contrasts are what make life richer, and the lows make us appreciate the highs even more.

BALANCE – I have workaholic tendencies and my life is very lopsided. There, I have said it. I have trouble taking time for myself, resting, and paying attention to all the areas of my life that I should. Finding a way to balance these things is going to be a key focus this year, making sure that I set boundaries for work, limits for exercise, and remember to take time off for me.

Changing my mindset is going to be a critical part of finding balance – allowing myself to take time away from responsibilities, planning time to read or watch a movie, making efforts to meet friends and family for activities. I also need to make sure I thoroughly study any new offers of activities or responsibilities to ensure I’m not overextending myself. I find it hard to say no, but I need to learn the word in the proper situations.

DIRECTI am the director of my life. What an impactful statement. No longer will I be dragged along paths not to my liking, or made to feel like I have no control over a situation. By hustling and making strong decisions, I will create my own future and move toward my dreams. It’s not ok to settle for less than what makes me happy, so I will ensure that I set goals and move toward them. As with Balance, the word no will be important in making sure I can say yes to the right things. It’s not healthy to be so overwhelmed by the wrong activities that you have no energy left for the things you really want to do.

I am enthusiastic about 2014 because I can just feel it will be a year of great things, new people and exciting opportunities. My three words will be the key ingredients in my success.

What three words would change your life?

What’s in a word?

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3 words 2013

So what’s the big deal about a word? Or two or three?

If it were just any word, I’d agree that it’s not a big deal. But in the case of My Three Words – I have to say it’s a bigger deal than can be imagined.

You see, My Three Words have come to shape my life, my goals, and my attitudes. They become the channel through which I make decisions, and look at the world – my world.

You see, instead of making up lame resolutions that will be broken or forgotten within a couple of weeks, I choose Three Words which shape my world for the next 12 months. I got this idea from Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author and owner of Human Business Works, who has encouraged choosing three words for years (read about his words here).

If I’m being honest, the words choose me. I start thinking about them in about October or November, and by the end of the year, 3 have floated to the top as potentially impactful. Of those, usually one makes itself most prominent throughout the year.

For 2013, my words have been JOURNEY, APPRECIATE, DELIGHT (read more here)

JOURNEY has most definitely been the word that flowed in and out of all of my decisions, my actions and my viewpoints. I have experienced incredible things this year, primarily because I opened myself to the process of living, rather than just being focused on the end goal. I have learned to enjoy the trip, with its highs and lows, and felt richer emotionally because of it.

Yes, it has meant more tears than ever before, but it has also meant more happiness – and more joy in little things. I am more aware of the little details along the way – taking in the scenery. It feels like instead of racing along on the interstate, I’ve chosen to take the back roads and see all the points of interest along the way.

For instance, I am a runner, and have run daily for several years.  This year, I joined a program called I Run 4 (read more here), in which I now run in honor of Bennett, a little boy with Down Syndrome who calls me his “running mom.” Now, instead of just getting through each run, I look forward to them because it’s not about me anymore. I am more aware of my surroundings, I see more things – wildlife like deer, bunnies, even bobcats, or the moon, or a gorgeous sunrise. I used to be head down just getting through the run and on to the next thing, but now it’s the highlight of my day, and a chance to pray, think and dream.

Whether it has been mourning the loss of a friend to cancer, daring to dream about a different future, or relishing deeper friendships, viewing life through the lens of my three words has made me slow down and consider. And feel. And live.

APPRECIATE and DELIGHT kind of go hand in hand with JOURNEY. I find I am more intentional in thanking people around me, even just for little things. And because I’m taking in more, I find delight in little things – even just a phone call or email from a friend.

The exciting thing about My Three Words, is that I don’t just forget the ones from years past, but incorporate three new ones with their new direction. I will continue to be influenced by past words, but they will just fade a bit to let the new ones take center stage.

I will reveal My Three Words for 2014 on Wednesday morning. What are your three words?

Nostalgia and new traditions

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Photo courtesy of Sandor Weisz (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sandor Weisz (Creative Commons)

When I was growing up, Christmas was very traditional and comforting in the sameness of what we did each year. I remember playing a new game as a family on Christmas Eve, the candlelight service at church followed by spinach crepes for supper. Then on Christmas morning, the excitement sizzling in the air as Daddy snuck in to turn on the lights of the tree, and then the presents, and homemade orange rolls for breakfast. Grandparents and aunts and uncles came over for a big lunch, and the day was relaxed and happy.

As I got older, things changed a little. The games became jigsaw puzzles, and when I moved away, it was coming home to the lighted tree instead of waking up to it. Family became smaller, but still the traditions.

When Daddy passed away, Christmas became more emotional – there was a lot of remembering and trying new things that brought back fewer memories. Mama struggled most years to get through Christmas so life could get back to normal.

But this year has been different. For the first time in a long time, Christmas was really happy – for her and for me.  We live in the same city now, so instead of a long trip home, it was just a jaunt across town with no traffic.

And we combined the old and the new. The meal was the same, but we don’t exchange gifts anymore (except a little “happy”) or have a tree. Then for the first time in too many years to remember – we worked a jigsaw puzzle Christmas afternoon. There was fussing that pieces got lost in the move because it was so difficult – but it was a great way to remember and visit and start something new.

And the best news of all is that both of us have kept the decorations up a while longer because this year, they make us happy.

The wonder of Christmas

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Photo courtesy of robryan65 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of robryan65 (Creative Commons)

Do you ever wish you could see Christmas through a child’s eyes again? The sense of wonder, of anticipation, of pure joy?

I think it’s easy to get caught up in the stress, materialism and worry of the holidays and lose track of what really matters. I have a friend who grits his teeth through the shopping, sloppy family get-togethers and loneliness. Instead of enjoying the season, he just hopes for it to go by quickly and for January to begin.

I wish for better things for my friend. And for all of us.

I want to have that wide-eyed wonder about Christmas like a child. Instead of dread, I want to be filled with happiness. This year, I want to delight in the music, the lights, the expectation. Instead of stressing over whether I’ve purchased the perfect gifts, I want to enjoy the company of friends and family.

And I want to peek at the hope that the Christ child brings. I want to remember what – and who – we are celebrating.

My wish is that you will be filled with hope and peace this Christmas as well.

Merry Christmas.

One of “those” days

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Photo courtesy of Joits (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Joits (Creative Commons)

I got up this morning to hot water, not the coffee I thought I had prepared the night before to be brewed and ready. Evidently, I was so distracted by all the things on my mind that I put the water in the brewer but forgot that little step of the coffee too.

It’s never a good sign when the day starts like that, is it?

When even the simple, routine things become challenges, it’s time to step back and take a deep breath.  As hard as it may seem in the midst of the chaos, it’s important to collect yourself or things will just continue to spiral out of control.

I work at a nonprofit, and our busiest time of the entire year is the month of December, especially the last week or two of the year, just before we have a much needed break from Christmas Eve until just after New Year’s.

My job is impacted by both the increase in client needs, as well as the end of year donation rush. It is easy to become completely overwhelmed and overloaded, as if my fingers can’t move fast enough across the computer keyboard. Couple that with the whole pressure of getting ready for Christmas, and I tend to become short with people, frustrated, and forgetful. And inefficient.

It is important to remember several things in order to combat the potential meltdown and stop having “those” days:

  • You can’t do it all – while it’s great to think that you are Superman or Wonder Woman, you aren’t. Admit that it’s impossible and impractical to get everything done and be realistic about what you can reasonably accomplish.
  • Set limits – you could get up super early and work late into the night and probably still not finish everything, and the only thing you’ve done is wear yourself out. Focus and work hard but set yourself time limits for the beginning and end of your day. You will be much more effective.
  • Take care of yourself – don’t let your work be the entire focus of your life to the exclusion of your health and family. Take time to eat properly, exercise and spend some time with your family.

How close are you to a “busyness meltdown?” How can you take a step back and redirect one of “those” days?

Getting through it

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Photo courtesy of orangejon (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of orangejon (Creative Commons)

It’s just over a week until Christmas, and I don’t know about you, but I’m almost at that point where I just want it to be over and get back to normal.

The decorations are becoming clutter, the commercials to buy this and that are dizzyingly nonstop, the frantic pace of shopping, wrapping and attending is exhausting, and it’s easy to lose sight of what we are celebrating in the first place.

I have a friend who commented the other day, “one more week and I will have lived through another one.” Has it come to that?

Are we so caught up in the “Christmas spirit” that we’ve lost the real Christmas spirit?

I know this week will be crazy busy, but what if we took some time to be quiet and focused? What if instead of packing in one more party or shopping trip or task, we intentionally stopped to reflect, either individually or as a family?

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the trappings of the holidays but instead maybe we should be overwhelmed by the magnitude of what God did for us in sending His Son.

Do you remember to say thanks?

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Photo courtesy of Nastassia Davis

Photo courtesy of Nastassia Davis

I bumped into an old friend yesterday, someone I haven’t seen in several years. As we were catching up, he mentioned a severe health scare one of his grandchildren had several years ago, and how it was finally resolved. As we talked, he told me thank you.

When I asked why, he said that he had forgotten to thank God for the fact that they weren’t dealing with that issue anymore, and he was thanking me for reminding him of that.

I walked away wondering how often I forget to thank God.

It’s easy to say thank you for the current blessings, the things that are foremost on our minds. But do we reflect on the many ways He has provided for us through this year? And past years? For the successful surgery, the miracle of children, that satisfying job? That dear friend who is always there or your spouse?

The end of the year is always a time to look back on the year, but what if we made being thankful a part of our everyday, all year long? How would that change how we view the people and events in our lives?

What have you forgotten to be thankful for?

 

Who do you run for?

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I Run 4 logo“You will love this! We signed up yesterday morning and had a runner by the end of the day. He even went on a late night, cold weather run to get his first run for my child in. This is such a great community.”

Imagine that – someone went for a run late at night, in the dark and cold, in honor of someone else that they just “met” through Facebook. That someone is a child or adult who has physical challenges that limit his/her mobility. Sounds crazy, doesn’ t it?

But that’s what over 3,300 runners do every day. And what over 1,600 runners wait 8 or more weeks to do. That’s the norm at I Run 4.

I Run 4 is an organization that pairs runners with children and adults who cannot run, and we run in their honor.

I have the privilege of running for Bennett, a 2 ½ year old little boy with Down syndrome who I have never met, but who calls me his “running mom.” I have logged over 1,300 miles for Bennett, and delight in getting out there in the dark, cold, rain or whatever conditions to run and pray for him and his family. We post in a closed Facebook group, and his parents comment back with updates and pictures and videos of Bennett. He is a little superman who inspires me to do so much more than I could do on my own.

I am also the Connection Coordinator for I Run 4, so I have the distinct honor of posting the matches every day. I am continually amazed at the inspiration and encouragement both parents and runners receive through these matches, and how they seem so perfect. I feel like I’m just the keeper of the spreadsheets and it’s God who makes these matches. It’s almost painful when one doesn’t work out.

It is incredible to be part of something like this that takes you out of yourself. My runs are no longer about me. Yes, I would run anyway, but running for Bennett helps me get out there on those days I don’t really feel motivated. There are comments every day about people running further and faster than they ever dreamed, simply because they are dedicating those miles to someone else.

Being part of this group also helps the parents and buddies because suddenly they are not alone. There are others even besides their own runner who are supportive and reassuring, offering advice and prayer.

I just keep coming back to these comments though. I see people post that they are in tears when they receive their match, and that they screamed at work or were running and went back out to run more.

In a world that is so “me” oriented, it is refreshing to be part of something that is so “you” focused.

So who do you run for?

Start your day being grateful

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Photo courtesy of symphony of love (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of symphony of love (Creative Commons)

What was your first thought when you woke up this morning?

I confess mine was, “oh no, it’s Monday.” How’s that for a great attitude to start to the day?

Right off the bat, I am shaping the kind of day I’m going to have. If I start the day dreading it, then it’s going to bother me when I head out to run in the cold, I’m probably going to struggle to find something to wear, tasks and projects will seem like unending drudgery, and any little bump in my path is going to seem like a roadblock a mile high.

Now let’s rewind a bit, and imagine what kind of day it would be if our first thought is one of gratefulness? What if we started the morning with a prayer. “Thank you Lord for a beautiful day and the opportunity to serve you.”

I bet we would have an entirely different attitude the whole day.

Instead of seeing problems, they would be opportunities. The workout becomes a chance to be healthy. We would welcome the chance to right a wrong, complete a task or a project, and make someone smile.

Even how we describe the day would be different – instead of answering the question, “how was your day?” with “ok” or “fine” or “awful” – it would be “great!”

What attitude will you have today?

 

One more thing

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Photo courtesy of patriziasoliani (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of patriziasoliani (Creative Commons)

Ever have that feeling that you are dealing with about as much as a person can deal with in terms of tasks, obligations, challenges and stress? That you are hanging on by your fingernails and one more thing will send you over the edge?

I think many of us feel that way this time of the year with the added pressures of decorating, buying gifts, parties and get-togethers and family expectations. Throw in weather concerns, increased chances of sickness and money problems and you have the makings of a nervous breakdown.

Before that “one more thing” sends you over the edge, take a few steps to protect yourself and ensure you make it through the season sane and in one piece.

  • Recognize you can’t do it all – while it is tempting to think we are Superman or Wonder Woman, we need to realize that we are not. There is only so much time in the day and only so many things that a person can focus on, and we need to lighten up on ourselves when things get so out of control. Yes, it is nice to take home-baked goods to that party, but if that means staying up all night to bake, wouldn’t it be better to buy some nice pastries and get some sleep?
  • Take care of yourself – you are no good to anyone if you push yourself so hard that you end up sick and/or exhausted. That’s when we experience temper flare-ups, poor decisions, and mistakes that can lead to even bigger problems. Get some rest, eat properly, exercise, and cut yourself some slack.
  • Develop a plan – at the time you feel least able to take a moment to plan, that’s when it is most important. Even if you only plan your morning, or the day, it’s important to take a step back and make good decisions on what you need to do. You might realize that you can save time or energy by combining errands or tasks, or that if you do things in the right order, it will make it easier to get finished.
  • Create a backup plan or contingencies – as important as it is to have a strategy, it’s also critical to have a backup plan. That outdoor activity is great but what if it rains – or worse, snows? And if the key person suddenly has the flu, who else can step in? Don’t spend a lot of time on backups, but at least have some options in mind.
  • Be comfortable with the word “no” – this is the one that continually haunts me. Learn to say “no,” or at least “not now.”  When you have so many obligations already, saying yes to one more may be your downfall. Consider new commitments carefully and decide whether it is worth it. People will understand if you respectfully and thoughtfully decline, and will appreciate your honest explanation that you already have too much on your plate.

By taking these steps, it is possible to avoid that trap of “one more thing.”  Take a step back from the edge of the cliff, and allow yourself to enjoy this season. What’s the first thing you need to do today to prevent a breakdown?

Unseasonably warm

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forecastOur high temperature today is expected to be 70 degrees – that’s in early December! Later in the week, we are expecting much colder weather with rain and probably snow or a “wintry mix,” so that makes this warmth even more special.

I wish I could take the day off to sit on my porch and enjoy, but at least I’ve taken advantage by rearranging my running rest day so that I run in the warmth and then will take off the wettest, coldest day. No sense wasting an opportunity to enjoy running in shorts in December!

All it took was to pay a little attention to the forecast. And it made me realize there are other situations in my life that would be improved it I paid attention to the forecast. I bet for you too. What if we look up and out enough to plan better? What kinds of wonderful experiences could we enjoy if we anticipated the opportunities?

I know I get so caught up in the doing and being overwhelmed by today, that I don’t plan even the week ahead. Head down working the grind, I get to the end of the week surprised that it’s the weekend and am newly consumed with all the additional things I need to accomplish at home.

Even though I know how effective it can be to do a weekly review and plan ahead and take stock of my commitments, I rarely take the time to do so, and end up with multiple lists because I write things down on the fly and then don’t combine the lists.

I miss opportunities to connect with people and enrich my life because I’m so caught up in the busyness.

Sound familiar?

I don’t want to suggest that all of life needs to be planned out and scheduled, but I do think there are benefits to building in a regular review time, and to look out at least a week at a time to make better use of the time we do have.

And instead of making grand pronouncements of reorganizing my entire life and being completely in control, I’m going to start small and take baby steps.

Today I will take at least 30 minutes– that’s right, a half hour – to review my task list and look at the rest of my week. That way I can plot of few things on my calendar that are most critical, and start making progress toward seizing opportunities.

As part of that planning, I will schedule a half hour next week to review again. And put that “meeting” on the calendar. By keeping the increments small and manageable, hopefully I can keep that meeting with myself to look over my upcoming commitments, and reduce the surprises.

After a few weeks, it should become more natural and easier to maintain. And by keeping the timeframe short, I will be less likely to ignore it. I know from experience when I schedule a block of several hours for such a review, I am unlikely to feel like I can spare the time and end up disregarding the review altogether.

By looking out even just a little, maybe I can take advantage of more things like this unseasonably warm weather.

Finding balance

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Photo courtesy of ga.mike (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of ga.mike (Creative Commons)

Tame clutter. Organize everything. Heal yourself. Never wear the wrong thing again. Boost your metabolism.

These are the headlines that catch our eye on the covers of magazines when we’re in line at the grocery store. And we bite. We grab, buy and read, ready for a quick fix for the challenges we have – or imagine we have. I’ve been known to read even when I don’t need the advice per se, but hoping for maybe some hints to a simpler way to accomplish what may seem difficult.

But let’s face it. The quick fix is usually not a long-term solution, and the easy way out is most often only a patch for the particular problem.

You really only drop water weight with crash diets. You need to change how you eat and think about food and exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

it’s possible to “get organized” on the surface, but to live an orderly life, takes developing a system to manage all the incoming information, commitments and “stuff” on a daily basis.

Improving yourself takes a little work, and there’s rarely a solution that is painless and mindless. Resolutions sound great on New Year’s Eve, but fizzle out after even a week or two. One thing I have found that helps me more than all the resolutions I’ve ever made is to choose three focus words for my life and work each year (click here to read more).

What I find most valuable about choosing my words is that it gives me a lens through which to view my world. As I navigate new choices and commitments, my words guide me in my thinking and decision-making.

As I contemplate my words for 2014, a few have floated to the top of mind. BALANCE keeps popping up as a contender, since I tend to lean too heavily on work and “doing” and not enough on enjoying and “being.” I barrel full speed ahead and focus on others constantly and don’t take enough care of myself. I don’t rest well. The idea of holding a yoga pose such as this seems impossible. I definitely need more balance in my life.

I love the process of considering my words at the end of each year almost as much as learning to live with them at the beginning of the new year. What an exciting opportunity to improve my outlook and way of thinking!

If you were to choose, what three words would influence your outlook and thinking next year?

Stepping back from the frenzy

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Photo courtesy of Evan Moss (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Evan Moss (Creative Commons)

It seems like in our busy lives, especially this time of year, that we are adding more and more commitments, allowing less and less time to rest. For many, work gets busier at the end of the year, there are family get-togethers, parties, events, and let’s not forget the cooking, baking, travel, and shopping.

Black Friday typically signals the start of the wildness.  I’m tired and out of breath just thinking of it all.

This year, I’m trying a different strategy. Instead of frantically fighting the crowds and filling up my calendar, I’m stepping back and refilling myself. Instead of getting up and out to the stores to catch all the great sales, I’m spending the day at home, easing into my holiday and savoring the quiet and solitude.

To me, the meaning of the season gets lost in all the hoopla. The calendar and task lists rule and the focus is on the material and physical gifts, crowding out the time for reflection and spiritual growth.

Instead, I’m building in time for rest. Gifts may be donations to charities in honor of family and friends. I hope to spend quality time with people in smaller settings. Worship will be a large part of what I do.

I don’t want to get to the end of the year worn out and spent.

So what about you? How can you step back this holiday?

Thankful for contrasts

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Artwork courtesy of kylesteed (Creative Commons)

Artwork courtesy of kylesteed (Creative Commons)

Winter has definitely come to Middle Tennessee this week, and as I was running into a biting wind, I realized that while I hesitate to say that I am “thankful” for the cold weather, it does make me appreciate the more temperate weather that we have much of the time.

And as we come to Thanksgiving Day and a time of reflection and thankfulness, I recognize that the contrast allows me to savor the sweetness of more pleasant things.

A hilly run makes a flat one seem simple. Being separated from a loved one heightens the delight when you are together. Silence is welcomed after time in a crowd, or conversely, time spent with a group may be a pleasant change if one is too much alone.

While I certainly do not wish for difficult things to happen to me or to others, I am learning to embrace and appreciate both the good and the bad on my journey, to experience all with an open mind and heart, and to be sure to count each of my blessings along the way.

May your journey be filled with blessings.

The impact of words

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3 words 2013Ever notice how when you get a new car, thinking you never see that model or color car anywhere, suddenly it seems like everyone has one? Or you cut your finger, and rapidly you learn just how much you use that hand and that spot on your finger even though you would have been sure you never used it?

Choosing my three focus words each year is like that (read more here). I pick words that resonate with me and they end up being everywhere, like that car. And one of the three typically stands out as the most influential.

Last year, it was CONNECT, when I started out the year being intentional about a few new connections, and ended the year as part of several close-knit communities both in person and online. I am happy to say even today, I am blessed to still be close to these dear friends.

This year, the standout word has been JOURNEY, and what a trip this has been. Because that word has made me more cognizant of not just the destination or goal, but the trip itself with all its messy emotions and experiences, I have made choices and chosen options I would never have considered.  And my life is richer and happier than ever before.

As we near the end of November, about the time when it feels like we get slingshot to the end of the year, I am reviewing my three words for 2013 and considering my focus for 2014. While JOURNEY has been the dominant word of my three, APPRECIATE and DELIGHT have also come into play for me this year. I think the secondary two words have fed my experience of the JOURNEY, sometimes even unconsciously.

Considering my words for the upcoming year is always nerve-wracking because I’ve seen what an impact they have. It is amazing because at first glance, I have no idea, then words just seem to float to the top of mind and settle in comfortably. One I am considering for next year is actually in a song that keeps running in my head.

If you have not thought about choosing three focus words for your year, I invite you to consider it. I am living proof of the impact of that kind of intentionality.

What might your three words be and how could they change your circumstances?

Spontaneous Joy

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Sweet Cece'sI am a planner. I even plan days off, with a long task of errands or tasks or things to be done. I have never been good with spontaneity, and it actually makes me kind of nervous to be around people who are. Like the folks who just decide to go visit somewhere and hope they find a hotel and that everything will work out.

The whole idea of launching into something for which you aren’t entirely sure of the outcome is a bit nerve-wracking for a planner like myself.

But I’m working on it.

I have realized that one of the side effects of my planning rigidity is that instead of enjoying where I am right now, I’m always looking toward what is next. Check that off and move on to the next task. Always watching the clock. That is a good way to miss a lot of enjoyment and fun experiences.

But yesterday, I tried something new. I had taken the day off work, and had plans of what needed to be done. But a dear friend called and instead of watching the clock, I savored the long conversation. And then I called my mom and invited her to lunch – and we ended up walking around downtown Franklin, a quaint little area of shops, and ended up at my favorite frozen yogurt shop. Totally unplanned, no agenda, but a perfect day.

We’ve been talking about doing that for months but couldn’t “fit it into the schedule.”  Turns out we didn’t need a schedule – we just needed to be spontaneous. And I think it added to the delight that it was unexpected.

I still got the things done that I needed to and had a lovely day. There might be something to this spontaneity.

What have you done lately that was spontaneous, and how would it have been different if you had planned it?

Soft clothes and comforts

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Photo courtesy of Radek Szuban (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Radek Szuban (Creative Commons)

One of my favorite things is to come home after a long day, put on my soft, at-home clothes, light some candles, and settle in with a cup of hot tea. Having my cat curl up in my lap purring just completes the picture.

Seems like no matter what difficulties I dealt with during the day melt away once I’m tucked in and cozy. And having that respite resets my attitude, allowing me to think clearly again and regroup, and even additional challenges don’t seem quite so daunting.

Your comforts may be different, but the important thing is to take a step back and away from the pressures periodically so that you can gain that different perspective. If we keep barreling ahead full speed all the time, we will eventually either burn out or veer in the wrong direction, neither of which is a good situation.

Even if I go back to working on something stressful, I have a new outlook on it.

As we enter this especially busy time of year, what are your soft clothes and comforts?

Sweet routines

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Photo courtesy of  Dean Shareski (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Dean Shareski (Creative Commons)

Lately my schedule seems to get busier and crazier by the day, yet there are some little routines that ground me and give me a sense of balance no matter how out of control everything feels.

My morning routine is very comforting and helps me start out the day right. I hear the coffee maker start before I’m out of bed, and then I have time for my devotions and prayer, writing and my daily run. Most mornings, my cat will snuggle in my lap for at least part of my time at the computer, purring away. After that start, I’m more prepared for whatever the day throws at me.

Saturday mornings are for my long run, a hot bath, and then meeting my mom at the Farmer’s Market. It’s nice to have something regular to look forward to.

Your routines may involve the family sitting down to dinner together, church as a family each Sunday, or talking about your plans for the day on the way to school. Holiday traditions add another layer of familiarity to life, and the anticipation of the activities can be as sweet as the events themselves.

I’m finding great comfort in the little routines lately, as life gets more demanding and new challenges pop up constantly. In fact, I feel very protective of this special time, and am learning to work around it to ensure some sense of balance and sameness in the day or the week.

Those routines reflect the things of importance in our lives, and it’s essential to maintain that connection no matter what else barrels into us. Whether it is your faith, family, personal health or other interests, those are the things that are at your core and add meaning to anything else you end up doing. Protect those values or lose yourself.

So as we launch into another week, what are the routines in your life worth protecting?

Channeling bravery

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spiderI hate bugs. I especially hate spiders.

So imagine my concern when I walked into my kitchen last night and I stopped short before walking into this gigantic spider dangling from the ceiling, slowly dropping toward the floor. I’m talking heart-stopping fear.

I stood there long enough to catch my breath and make a plan – because there was no question who was winning this battle – I could not stand the thought of wondering where he was in the night. I found a magazine, took a deep breath, and whacked him against the floor as hard as I could. He was no more.

Afterwards, I wondered why I have such trouble channeling that kind of bravery and gumption in other situations. Whether it’s a difficult conversation, standing up for myself, or righting a wrong, I shy away from confrontations and end up unhappy and unsatisfied.

Thinking back through what happened with the spider, I want to use these principles in other situations:

  • take a deep breath and quickly analyze the situation – do not act in panic
  • formulate a plan
  • act right away

The problem with most other situations that call for bravery is that I get hung up on the formulating a plan, and think through endless loops of possible responses and reactions and end up thinking myself out of action. I need to just do it. Just have my say, or start the conversation, or make that phone call.

How much better could life be if I was brave and acted on my best interests more often? Pretty amazing, I think.

 

Getting positive results

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Photo courtesy of Simon Lieschke (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Simon Lieschke (Creative Commons)

As a leader, do you praise your team or criticize?

I have found there’s a distinct difference in those leaders who tell their team what not to do, and those who find something their team is doing right, support that positively and then help them work toward better results in other areas. I’m sure you can guess which one has the better outcome.

I have had leaders who conducted meetings and training who left me feeling empowered and encouraged. One of the best leaders I ever worked for would always point out the things that my team did well, and then make suggestions as to how we could other things better. There was never criticism or outright negativity, but he would give examples that would help us see what changes we could make to improve the results in that area.

Instead of feeling scolded, we were given the tools and ideas we needed to excel in new areas. And you can imagine the loyalty that was built by his supportive attitude.

Then there are other leaders who have led meetings and training sessions where we were talked down to. We were told as a group all the things that we were doing wrong (even though only a small percentage of the group had done those things) and given no feedback on how to improve. Basically, we were told that we were wrong and we need to get better without being handed the tools to get better.

Even people who were not directly involved in the situation felt scolded, and everyone left feeling dejected and ineffective. We also had little incentive to improve except to avoid being admonished again the next time!

In order to most effectively influence your team, there are several steps to take to move toward improvement:

  • build up confidence by pointing out specifically what was done right – give examples!
  • ask questions as to what some of the challenges and obstacles are in the areas where results are not up to par, as well as what steps have been taken already
  • suggest additional actions that might lead to more positive results
  • ask your team to outline the new plan of action and expected results
  • set some goals and timelines for re-evaluating the situation after the new actions have been put into place

You won’t do your team any favors by sugar-coating the situation, but neither will you entice effective results by openly criticizing their efforts. Help them map out a plan for improvement, and remind them what they are doing well, and you will see outcomes improve. Empower your team and give them tools to make the changes themselves and watch them excel.

 

Do you pay attention to the alerts?

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Photo courtesy of Dirk Hofmann (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Dirk Hofmann (Creative Commons)

I hear it the minute I turn my Kindle Fire on. It’s a clanking sound, like something is broken, alerting me that there is some kind of weather alert I need to pay attention to. Today it happens to be a special weather statement about the severe cold weather that is expected later this week.

Alerts like that are valuable, and I wish I heard that little clanking sound in other areas of my life when I need to be aware of something. Let’s be honest here – how many times have you blundered into a situation or a conversation that went terribly wrong and could have been avoided if you had heard a warning at the beginning? Or you had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right and you went ahead with it anyway? What relationships could have been improved because you missed the signs of problems along the way?

Warnings are valuable because they do make us aware of danger up ahead – if we pay attention to them. I know I am guilty of disregarding some warnings as overreactions or fear – I decide that whatever hesitation I have is because I am afraid of doing that thing and I stumble ahead in imagined bravery and then regret my decision.

Other times, the alert is centered on inaction – I feel prompted to change something, but ignore the feeling – indecision to do something can be just as dangerous as jumping in too fast.

My goal this week is to heed the warnings, alerts and promptings. By paying attention to the signals that are around me, I bet things will go more smoothly and with fewer glitches.

What alerts have you missed (or ignored) that could have impacted your current situation?

I have done it again

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horse - César AstudilloHas this ever happened to you? You get organized and have a great list of things you need to do. And then all of a sudden, you get really busy – meetings, unexpected issues, family commitments, and craziness – and suddenly you are out of control. You end up putting out fires. You are taking care of the things that are yelling at you the loudest, and then by the end of the day you are exhausted and don’t have the energy to review your list or stay on top of things.

You might add to the list, but you don’t take time to mark things off or to review the priorities. So instead of taking care of things early, you end up hitting and missing and being late or frantic. Whew. Sound familiar?

It feels like the time at camp when I was riding a horse that started galloping before I was ready. I was bouncing along, unable to do anything but hang on and not fall off. What a scary feeling, and what a relief when the horse finally slowed down and I had control of the reins again.

As you can guess, I’ve been going through this lately. Feeling completely overwhelmed and inundated, knowing that there are things I need to deal with but not taking the time to sort it all out. Reliving that ride on the galloping horse!

Until this morning. I decided I had had enough, so I stopped and went through my pages-long list.

What I discovered is that because I wasn’t taking the time to review it properly, I had added a few things several times – and had done a bunch of those things but they were still hanging out on there. A couple of tasks took literally a minute to do – it actually probably took me longer to stop and write it down than to have just done it in the first place.

Once again, I am struck by how critical it is to set aside time, even just 15-20 minutes, at least once a week to do my review. Surprisingly, reviewing my tasks freed up all sorts of mental energy and clarity because now I wasn’t worrying that I was forgetting something important, or processing the other things I needed to get done in the background while I was trying to focus on the task at hand.

My list is not elaborate or in any fancy program right now. It’s just written on a pad of paper. Simple. Easy to deal with. Uncomplicated. But I feel like I’m reining in the craziness, I’m more in control again, and I can focus on getting done what needs to be done – now.

How do you rein in the craziness when you are overwhelmed?

Worrywarts unite!

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leafWorry is like the little leaf that got caught in my windshield wiper this morning. It seems harmless at first, but like the little leaf flapping, worry can become such a distraction that it’s hard to focus on what is important.

The problem with worry is that it is usually unfounded, unhealthy and unproductive. It’s the health concern with no proof, or the money fears over what might happen, or anxiety over a conversation you need to have.

It can keep you awake at night, make you lose your appetite, or make you cranky and on edge. The best thing to do is deal with it directly and get back to your life.

Instead of trying to ignore worry, face it head on. Worry is just a form of fear, and fear hates to be exposed. Write down the things that concern you – even the wild ones that are highly unlikely. Once you have your list, then you can start addressing each item.

Draft an outline of actions you could take for each worry on your list. If you are afraid you might be laid off, your action might be to update your resume. If you have a health concern, then the action might be to make an appointment to have it checked out.

Once you actually see the worries written out, they won’t seem so scary and vague anymore. Depending on how likely it is that one or more of those things would really happen, you might need a series of actions to counteract it.

But don’t stop there, because that will just shift the anxiety. Since most of our apprehensions are at least somewhat possible (disregard the ones that are wildly unlikely), you might as well take that first step.

If it’s the fear of a job loss, go ahead and update your resume and profile on Linked In. It is better to have things like that updated anyway, and you will have time to think it through and make it more effective and concise if you aren’t scurrying around in panic mode.

For a health concern, make the appointment for a checkup. Other worries are best addressed directly – difficult conversations will rarely go away on their own, and putting them off tends to make the situation more desperate, causing you to say things you don’t intend. As challenging as it might be, go ahead and open that dialogue, move forward toward action, and make progress toward resolution.

By taking steps to move ahead  toward relieving worries, you will find that your mental energy is freed up and you can think more clearly and make better decisions. And then you will wonder why it took you so long!

What steps can you take toward relieving one worry today?

Balancing act

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Photo courtesy of Nicholas Vivian (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Vivian (Creative Commons)

No one can sustain an unbalanced life of all work for very long. It will lead to burnout, health  problems and lost or troubled relationships.

The key to being more satisfied is finding a balance between the things you have to do and the things that you want to do.

But that is easier said than done, right?

For some of us, it takes a conscious effort to create balance. I will admit I have workaholic tendencies, so I tend to throw myself whole heartedly into my work to the exclusion of most everything else. That’s great for being productive at that work, but bad for the other people and activities in my life. And when I take on several responsibilities, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

So how to dig out? One way is to set limits, and use the calendar. As crazy as it sounds, sometimes I have to go overboard on the reminders I put on my calendar in order to create a little balance.

I’m learning to set a few boundaries. For instance, instead of trying to completely finish a particular project (which could honestly take all night to finish), I pick a reasonable stopping point and actually type the work “break” on the spreadsheet. That way when I hit that point, I have a reminder to stop there and either move on to something else, or call it a night.

It also helps to schedule “fun” activities. I have a weekly standing appointment with my mom to meet at the Farmer’s Market. It would be easy to just let that slide and get on with other errands or chores, but we both look forward to that so we are intentional about making sure that happens.

What tricks do you have to maintain balance in your life?

Superhero or coward?

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Photo courtesy of Tim Malabuyo (Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Tim Malabuyo (Creative Commons

I have always thought that bravery was something that you were born with – you know, some people are brave and others, well, aren’t.  Like a superhero – you either are or you aren’t one.

Then I realized that bravery can actually be learned and practiced. A person can take conscious steps to develop courage and overcome the fear of most anything, from speaking in front of crowds to standing up for herself in uncomfortable situations.

But the hardest lesson to learn about bravery is that it is something that has to be practiced every day. You don’t just become brave and that’s it. Like developing a muscle, you must work it constantly in order for it to remain strong.

Community helps. On those days when you feel fearful and inadequate, it is important to surround yourself with others who are supportive and understanding but who will also remind you of the need to be brave.

Reflection helps. Thinking about the times when you were courageous can build you up again. And let you know that it’s possible and necessary to continue to be brave.

Costumes help. Mentally put on that superhero costume if you must – do whatever it takes to boost yourself up and step out in confidence.

What do you need to do to be brave today?

Making time for what’s important

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Photo courtesy of Euan Semple (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Euan Semple (Creative Commons)

When you get busy, what is the first thing that slides?

I know for me, it’s connecting with the people who are close to me. And that is the last thing I need to let go of.

But as the pressure builds, I get more focused on whatever project or deadline is looming, my emails get shorter or nonexistent, my texts more abrupt, I stop reaching out and only give delayed responses when others reach out to me. I lose my focus on what should be truly important and hone in on what is fleeting and temporary.

I also lose track of myself. I don’t eat right and I don’t take the time I need for rest.

Not good.

I’m in that place right now, and need to be sure to turn that around quickly. Having just moved, I’m feeling overwhelmed and behind and frantic. And I realized this morning that I’ve neglected to touch base with some people who mean a lot to me, and I’m working way too late into the night trying to catch up.

The funny thing is, the more disconnected I become, the more ineffective I am.

So it’s time to get some priorities straight and get back on track.

Today I will be intentional about reconnecting with my closest friends and family. That doesn’t even mean a long visit, but more than a short text. I will set myself a time limit for working so that I don’t just “work until I drop.” And I will schedule time this weekend for at least one fun opportunity with someone I care about.

What about you? What steps will you take to reconnect with those who are important?

 

Gratitude

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Photo courtesy of live w msc (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of live w msc (Creative Commons)

Do you say thank you enough?

I had an experience this week that made me rethink and pay more attention to the people around me and what they do. And being more intentional about telling them thank you.

I work at a nonprofit that helps people with basic needs, like food, rent or utilities when they are in crisis. Many of the families we’ve seen lately have never needed help, which makes the requests more poignant.

This particular family fell fast. The husband had been in a car accident, and was badly injured and out of work. The wife worked but did not make enough to cover the bills, mortgage and new medical bills and prescriptions.

They quickly went through savings and became desperate.

We were able to help with utility bills and food. And in order to protect their home, we tapped some special funds in order to cover an overdue mortgage payment. This was more assistance than was typically granted but it was a dire situation.

That was over a month ago.

We got a call this week that the check had not gotten to the mortgage company and the wife had been served foreclosure papers at her work. What trauma!

She had scrounged up this month’s payment but the bank was demanding the full amount in order to stop the proceedings. We reissued the check and she picked it up to go to the bank. Then we get another call that the check was not made out correctly and they wouldn’t accept it. Trauma upon trauma!

We got the correct information and issued yet another check. The bank was on my way home, so I took the check to her and met her in the parking lot. I was floored.

She started apologizing to me that I had to bring the check! Are you kidding me? I kept telling her how sorry we were that this had happened and she was just shaking her head telling me how grateful they were for the help and that I had come by. Amazing.

In the midst of her panic and worry about saving her home, she was more worried that she had caused trouble to me. It was on my way home and not even out of my way.

I learned a new lesson in gratitude this week.

No words

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Photo courtesy of Pierre Metivier (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Pierre Metivier (Creative Commons)

We pride ourselves on having eloquent words for every occasion. We fill books and blogs and podcasts with advice on communicating and interacting and sharing.

But there are times when no words are sufficient.

The loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship. Illness. Devastating news of any kind seems to call for words that appease and soothe the person affected. But often the talk is just noise.

Some situations are best left quiet.

The comfort of knowing friends are near and don’t need explanations. A hug, a touch, a prayer.

Allowing time and space to adjust to the new normal and the freedom to be silent can be more valuable than any words.

Do you know when to stop talking?

Bright spots

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foggy moonWhen you are going through a difficult situation, it can feel like you are running through a fog with everything dark and shrouded. Your senses and ideas feel muffled and your reactions can be slow.

Changing direction might be the best thing you can do in these circumstances. Instead of continuing on the same path, make a small change that can shift your perspective, help you see things with a new focus, and unstick your sensibilities.

On a recent run, I was literally running in the dark in a dense fog, struggling with the run physically and doing some mental battles at the same time. I turned at the farthest point to head home, and was stopped in my tracks by this view of the moon that just took my breath away. You know the rest, don’t you? The run felt easier, and my mindset shifted to more positive things even when I ran back into the fog further up the street.

It doesn’t take a huge event to make a change like that in other areas of your life. But it does take a conscious effort to make something different. And many times, our difficulties have led us to negative thinking that can be limiting and unhealthy.

Making a small change or doing something positive can be what it takes to turn things around.

That could be something simple like doing something special for someone else, even if you don’t know them. Smiling and making eye contact with people instead of looking down and being self-absorbed. Changing your routine even slightly so that you actually have to think about it. Saying thank you (or even better, writing a thank you note) to someone who isn’t expecting it.

While these things might seem insignificant, they can be the trigger that sets off more positive thoughts and ideas to improve your situation.

What little bright spot can you create today?

Thriving or just surviving?

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Photo courtesy of Michael Dawes (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Michael Dawes (Creative Commons)

Have you had those seasons in your life when you felt like you were just surviving each day? Just getting through the day felt like success, until you could go to bed and then start all over the next day. There was nothing to look forward to and little to get excited about.

The drawback of living that kind of life is that your ideas get muffled, your imagination is shrouded, and your drive fizzles out. Before long, you may even start to feel like a victim, with all the negativity that goes with that. The voices in your head are saying things like you aren’t any good, who were you to think you could succeed, and you’ll never reach your dream.

That’s not a good place to be.

What spark would it take to lift you out of that place?

What is one small step you could take that would change your perspective and start a small flame of excitement burning?

Many times, it takes just one little change to start a big movement. It may seem overwhelming to think about leaping to a new life, but a small step could be the start of that journey.

All it takes is making the decision to take that step. Strike that match that will then light your way. Set one small goal that will move you toward better things.

Go ahead – what are you waiting for?

Visioning better things

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Photo courtesy of Dirk Dallas (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Dirk Dallas (Creative Commons)

I have a couple of situations in my life that aren’t the way I want them to be. Not that they are bad, but I imagine better things for myself.

Getting there will be a bit of a struggle – messy and uncomfortable – mostly because it will involve change, and getting out of the routine and comfort of what it is now.

So I put it off.

And in the meantime, I am restless and fidgety stuck in what is, but not quite brave enough to step into what could be.

What does it take to start that movement from here to that better place?

One thing I am doing is practicing visioning. Like looking through binoculars into the distance, I’m envisioning that place that I want to be, and walking around the situation in my head. I’m picturing myself in the middle, my surroundings, the details, the sights, sounds, smells even. Realizing how much happier I could be in those different circumstances.

By visualizing how much better it will be in that new place, I gain motivation. I receive strength. It makes me more unsatisfied with what is right now, and fuels momentum to shake up the routine to make that change happen.

How could visioning move you to improve things in your own life?

Hold your tongue

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Photo courtesy of Nicole Cho (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nicole Cho (Creative Commons)

Don’t you want to tell people what you think? It’s tempting, isn’t it?

I find that often, I formulate a response to a question or a situation and then have to rethink it in terms of what I will accomplish by saying or writing it that way.

Usually, it involves explaining what someone did wrong, and why that led to something being done (or not done) a certain way. .

Yes, it is temporarily self-satisfying to correct or explain. Yes, it feels good to throw that blame the other way. But it rarely reaps any long-term benefits. All it does is make the other person feel bad, and the situation is not changed. I need to exercise restraint

In my work with I Run 4, (click here for more information). I manage all the requests from those wanting someone to run for them (or their child) and those wanting to run in honor of someone.

There are steps to follow in signing up, and if something is left out, I email the person asking them to complete it.  In bold print, I ask them to email me back so I know it has been done. I field hundreds of requests every day about this, and don’t have time to go back and check.

Sometimes people write back telling me they have done that step – but they clearly haven’t. Or they don’t email me back to let me know and then later, they will ask where they are on the list (and they aren’t on the list because they didn’t let me know). Or they tell me that they have been waiting “months” when in reality is it only a few weeks.

My first urge is to tell them “you didn’t follow instructions” or “you are wrong.”

But what does that accomplish? It just beats the other person up and gets neither of us further along.

All they need to know is that their situation is taken care of. I try to quietly take care of the step that was missed, add them to the list, or assure them their wait will be over soon.

I know I appreciate being treated that way when the tables are turned and I am the one with the request.

Sometimes the less said, the better.

The new normal

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Photo courtesy of BK  - symphony of love (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of BK – symphony of love (Creative Commons)

Ever notice how just when you start to get comfortable with a new routine or situation, it changes?

Although I do recognize the need to keep things fresh and improving, I’m not always right on board with change. Change can be scary and painful. It means more attention and energy spent to do things that before you might not have had to think about much.

Change often leads to better things and more happiness. But mostly, we just dread the hassle of getting used to an alteration in our way of doing something.

In my work at a nonprofit, I manage the client database and consequently I see all of the notes in the client files. Recently, a client came in to receive help after suffering some major health issues and the comment in the notes was that he was “adjusting to the new normal.”

That phrase has haunted me this week. It struck me as so disheartening and sad somehow, and I wonder how often I approach change with that attitude. Instead of embracing change as the potential for better things, I take the negative attitude of suffering through it and “making the best of it.”

What if I accept that change will happen no matter what, and focus on the good things? How much happier will I be if I just embrace the new normal?

 

When it’s for someone else

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I run 4 BennettI continue to be amazed every time I post a set of matches for I Run 4, a group that pairs runners with those who cannot run. You can click here for more information. Runners wait for up to 7 or 8 weeks to be matched with an adult or child buddy who has mobility issues and they dedicate their runs to their buddy.

Founder Tim Boyle began the group when he started dedicating his runs to Michael Wasserman, a Facebook friend who is 52, and has Down syndrome and bilateral hip dysplasia, and is now confined to a wheelchair.

I myself run for Bennett, a little boy with Down syndrome whose family calls me his “running mom” – and I can’t even explain how inspirational it is to run for Bennett – mostly because it’s not about me anymore. Even on a day I don’t feel like running, knowing that I am doing it for Bennett pushes me out the door with my running shoes on. I even wear a dog tag with his name on it every day.

I say all that to explain that I do understand first-hand how exciting it is to be matched – and yet I continue to be startled by the exuberance of the responses to each match post.

There are always lots of “yays” and “woohoos” and exclamation points, but also comments about the support and inspiration runner and buddy will give each other, such as “I’ll run my heart out for you,” or “we have lots of places to go together.”

“I am very honored to have this opportunity!” is another statement frequently seen, as well as remarks about learning more about the conditions and challenges of the buddies.

There are plenty of side benefits of this group as well. Not only does it motivate the runners, but provides a support group for parents who may have felt very alone and vulnerable before in dealing with the complications of their children’s conditions. And it is definitely building awareness within the group as well as in the community of these challenges.

And prayer. Prayer is a huge part of this group and we even post prayer requests every day so the runners waiting to be matched can pray for those on the prayer list.

This week, we have exceeded 7,000 members in the closed Facebook group, and 2,000 matches. On average, there are 20-40 new matches every day. There are about 1,300 runners on the waiting list.

That is a lot of relationships being developed and lives being changed. What a privilege to be part of God’s work through I Run 4!

Clearing out the backlog

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Photo courtesy of cmadler (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of cmadler (Creative Commons)

I won’t lie – it’s been tough the last few weeks because I’ve had a lot of commitments, meetings and activities that have kept me busy, and I had some email issues that created an out-of-control monster of emails to read and deal with. Needless to say, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. A clear inbox seemed like an impossible goal.

For a while, I was trying to just put out the fires, take care of the most urgent and critical things, and hope to get to the rest eventually. That sort of worked, but I always had this sense that I was overlooking something, and a fear that there was something really important buried in that mess that I was forgetting about. Plus the knowledge that all that was still hanging out there to be dealt with was crushing.

What I finally realized is that instead of just swimming in confusion and the risk of missing something important in a misguided effort to “keep moving ahead” – it was better to take a step back and clear out that backlog so that I can move logically forward and be more in control.

It was difficult to tell myself that for a couple of nights, I would spend the time clearing out old emails and information rather than responding to new ones. But it has paid off! Brilliantly, in fact.

In this process, I discovered some better ways to organize my email, easier methods of managing the duplication between email on my phone and computer, and time savers for some of the work that I do. I don’t have that massive load hanging over me anymore, and I have a clearer, more focused mind that isn’t cluttered by all that worry. And inbox zero is an incredible feeling, even if it only lasts a few minutes!

Happily, I am much further ahead now than if I had not stopped to deal with that, and everything is much less overwhelming. Going forward, I plan to build in some time to catch up when I have a day of meetings or a seminar. What a relief knowing I have a system to manage that craziness.

What changes can you make to get your out-of-control monsters contained?

Allowing room for yes

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Photo courtesy of Michael Clesle (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Michael Clesle (Creative Commons)

I have a lot of trouble with the word “no.”

I have always struggled with it in large part because I don’t want to let people down. But honestly, when I get too overloaded with commitments, I end up letting everyone down because I can’t devote the time or focus necessary to any of them.

And boy, am I overloaded lately. So I’m practicing that short little word.

But I’m being thoughtful about it. I’m not just saying no to every new opportunity that is presented. I might miss something incredible that way.

Have you been around those people who pretty much respond to any new offer with a quick “no” because of some imagined difficulty they are sure will result? I’d be willing to bet they miss quite a few enriching experiences because they let their preconceived ideas get in the way.

And then there’s the flip side of saying “yes” to everything because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Or worse, you are flattered to be asked but in reality, everyone else has already turned them down or they ask you because they know it’s an easy yes and done.

I’m looking for the middle ground.

Instead of a quick answer, I’m considering my goals and my dreams, and deciding if the new opportunity will fit into and advance those. And if I think that it will, then I find a way to say “yes” to that. But if it doesn’t, or if it complicates something I’m already doing that is moving me toward my goals, then it needs to be a “no.”

Because who can follow their dreams when they are worn out from busy work?

What do you need to say no to in order to say yes to the right things?

Pacing yourself

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Photo courtesy of Todd Lappin (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Todd Lappin (Creative Commons

If there is a crash or an accident in an auto race, the pace car comes out to slow the cars down, and allow time to clean up the mess. They continue moving, but at a slower rate, and passing is not allowed. Usually after a few laps, the pace car then pulls off the track and the race continues.

It’s like that in life too. I think we sometimes become so out of control and overwhelmed, we don’t realize that we are working way too hard and cramming way too much into a day. Then the wrong things get done, mistakes start to happen, and we are headed for a crash.

Like the pace car in an auto race, we need something in front of us to slow us down so we can find a better balance and regain our awareness of our situation. Then once we get control, the pace car can pull off and we take off running (or racing) again.

For me, that means taking time to do a periodic review of the things I have on my plate and that I have said yes to, so I can take stock of all the little actions that need to be taken. Otherwise, I end up barreling ahead in the wrong direction, and forget this other project that I needed to be working on. Suddenly I’m scrambling with extra complications because I neglected to take care of this other project when I should have.

In David Allen Getting Things Done style, I try to do a brain dump of everything in my head – from write business plan to pay bills to schedule appointment for checkup. Then I can determine what steps are next for each thing, and group things together – calls, errands, online, etc. I really need to do this weekly – I’m lucky to stop once a month.

Often I find that there are a few things I need to take care of right away, and by clearing that mental clutter away, I have renewed focus for the big project at hand. What a relief! And why don’t I do that more often?

The start of a new month is a perfect time for a  thorough review. Let’s get that pace car in front of us so we can get back on track.

 

Blessed beyond words

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I Run 4 logoOne of the most rewarding activities in which I have ever participated involves a group called I Run 4. Here’s the website if you want to check us out. Basically, we match runners with those who cannot run, and we run in their honor.

Founder Tim Boyle began the program by running in honor of Michael Wasserman, who is confined to a wheelchair.  That was in January – and now at the end of September,  we have over 6500 members in the closed Facebook group and nearly 1850 matches.

My responsibility with this group is to facilitate the matches. I have spreadsheets and pair up the people requesting a runner and the runners requesting a buddy. We say that I match, but basically God makes the matches and I just facilitate the spreadsheets.

You cannot imagine the excitement that a match post will generate – the runners have been waiting 6-8 weeks to be paired with a buddy, and the buddies and their parents are so excited to have someone who is willing to dedicate their runs to them, pray for them, and support them so they don’t feel so alone.

I see comments about people bursting into tears when they get matched – and there are lots of exclamation points in the comment feed. One runner noted that she had not understood that people cried when they got their match – until she got her match!

I know from my own personal experience, running for Bennett has been truly inspiring. He turned 2 last summer, and faces the challenges of having Down syndrome. His family calls me his “running mom” and I dedicate every run to him –pray for him, worry about him when he’s not feeling well, and rejoice when he reaches some new milestone. His picture is on my lock screen on my phone, I wear a dog tag necklace with his name on it, and my messenger bag has “I Run 4” and his picture on it.

The relationships that are developing through this program are immense. I’ve written before about the different ways people connect – the buddy/runner connection, of course, but also the runner network. We have folks at all levels of fitness, so it’s a great resource when you have a question or need advice.

While the program is for adults and children challenged with mobility issues, many of our buddies are special needs children. Parents talk about how isolated they felt before, and how incredible it is to have the bond of someone running for your child as well as the support from other parents going through the same things you are.

I feel richly blessed to have the privilege of working with and being inspired by such an incredible group. It’s a lot of hard work and long hours, but the results are so worth it.

What have you done lately that brings both satisfaction and inspiration?

Teamwork is give and take

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Photo courtesy of Mr. Ducke (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Mr. Ducke (Creative Commons)

One of my favorite activities at the playground when I was little was the seesaw.  But it was a team activity, not solo. Both parties needed to be focused and paying attention to make it enjoyable. It was important to have the right give and take so that both of you moved up and down smoothly, without banging, and without jerking.

Give and take is key to any team situation, and the teams that function at the highest levels are successful at having that right give and take, using the strengths of the team members to balance the activity and communicating with each other so everyone is informed along the way.

Teams in which the activity level is not balanced, where some team members do more than others or have to step into areas that are not their personal strengths tend to end up as those dysfunctional teams that are made fun of in presentations and sitcoms.

The team I’m on with the organization called I Run 4, is one of the best teams I’ve worked with. This organization pairs runners with those who do not have the gift of mobility, and we run for them, in their honor. The group has grown to nearly 6300 members and over 1800 matches in just 9 months.

As part of the administrative team that does the matches and works out issues between buddies and runners, it is important that we communicate well and use our strengths so that no one has an unfair load. It is amazing to be part of a team that is so balanced – just like the up and down of the seesaw, one person does their part to push up, then the other one takes over, and on and on. We communicate throughout the process so each of us stays up-to-date on issues and solutions.

Think about the teams you are on – is that balance there? What would you need to change to have a smoother ride?

The one or the many?

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one starEver notice that no matter how many good things happen, it is often the one bad thing that you remember?

When I worked in retail, there would be great customers all day long, but that one that gave me a hard time or got upset because their order wasn’t ready or they had to wait too long – that was what I would go home thinking about.

Authors remember that one bad review. Athletes focus on the missed shot.

It is important to keep things in perspective.

I participate in a group called I Run 4, in which we pair runners with those who do not have the gift of mobility, and we run for them, in their honor. The group has grown to nearly 6300 members and over 1700 matches in just 9 months, so as you can imagine, we have a few complainers. The challenge is to focus on the good stories that are coming out of this group.

Stories of inspiration because you are running for someone else, support between parents, advice between runners, relationships building, marriages strengthened.

Those are the things to remember, not the whining or complaints.

When you have that bad experience, it’s important to take a deep breath and redirect your thinking so that you don’t get caught in that web of negativity.

Because it’s always better to focus on the many good things than that one bad one.

How do you escape that cycle of negativity?

Paying attention to what counts

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Photo courtesy of Maureen Sill (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Maureen Sill (Creative Commons)

As much as I hate to admit it, I am not Wonder Woman, and I can’t do it all. That is hard to admit, but so true.

And no matter how much I try to cram into a day, there are going to be things that get me sidetracked, and it’s important to pay attention to them.

Yesterday is a perfect example. I had a list a mile long of what I had hoped to accomplish after church, so I was eager to get home and get busy.

But God had different plans.

A friend caught me in the parking lot. We had not spoken in months, and he had been struggling with a situation at home. And he needed to talk.

We stood there in the parking lot for at least 30-40 minutes talking, hands up to shield the sun from our eyes, sharing our stories.

I think we both felt a sense of fulfillment when we finally parted to our separate cars. So what if I was later getting started on my list?

What God appointments have you had recently?

The power of community

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crowd - James CridlandWhat an amazing thing community can be.

I am part of several online communities – closed Facebook groups in which members interact primarily around a subject such as writing or bravery or running.

I have developed some of my closest friends through these groups, even though we’ve never met face to face.

I have also seen power unleashed when these communities step into action.

Yesterday, I happened to see a post in one of the groups by a woman who said that she had been in the shadows until now, and that her actions were not brave in comparison to many of the others discussed.

She went on to share that two weeks ago she had left her husband of over 20 years, with whom she had 12 children, 9 still at home. She left because he had been abusing her (and probably those kids) all those years. He had been arrested and she had a court hearing the next day. She said that the night before, she and the kids had left dirty dishes in the sink and went to the park – laughing and playing – and hadn’t felt that free in years.

You cannot even imagine the outpouring of support that flowed throughout the day! People commenting that they were praying for her and her kids, that she was the bravest person among us, that she had begun a new chapter for her family, contacts of people that could help her with her legal battles, housing, food, job, etc. etc. etc.

I was brought to tears each time I read the comments. She commented several times how overwhelmed she was with the support and how she didn’t feel alone and could go do this because of the courage she gained from us.

Now that is what community is for! 

The power of No

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no - Nathan Gibbs“What you say no to determines what you say yes to.”

That short sentence was tucked in a presentation by Alli Worthington, founder of the BlissDom Conferences and Blissful Media Group during Jon Acuff’s Start Conference this past weekend.

I think I missed whatever she said next because I was sitting there stunned by the simplicity of her statement.

Have you ever considered the word “no” that way?

I have struggled with that word for a number of reasons. I hate to disappoint. I don’t want to miss out. I dislike conflict. The list goes on and on.

But turning the thought process around backwards clarifies that decision to decline in a way that gives such freedom.

While I know intuitively that I can’t do it all, I still waffle in the heat of the moment and cave in with a weak, “yes” or “sure.” Later, I’m left wondering what on earth just hit me and why I agreed to yet another responsibility or project.

Instead my focus needs to be on the yeses. What is most important and does this new thing support that? If not, then the answer needs to be either “no” or “not now.”

Let’s practice that now – does this support my yes? “No. I am not able to take that on.”

What do you need to say no to? 

Prompts and reminders

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LEbandI need reminders. Daily cues that keep me on track. Prompts that keep an idea or a goal in focus for me.

Earlier this year I trained for a half marathon to raise money for clean water through World Vision. I had an orange World Vision bracelet that I wore as a reminder every day of what I was doing (training) and why I was doing it (clean water).  It kept me focused on my goals.

This weekend, I attended Jon Acuff’s Start Conference and left filled to capacity with courage and inspiration to step out in strength not just toward my dreams, but in pursuit of my life goal of impacting lives in a positive way. But as my other responsibilities and everyday worries came crashing back to the forefront, some of that drive faded. It’s too easy to forget about those dreams and get swept away in the mundane tasks of getting by.

One of Jon’s daughters was selling rubber band bracelets (lebands.com) so I bought one. It is a simple reminder every day to Start, to be brave, and to quit sitting on the sidelines and get in the game.

And as if the bracelet was not enough of a reminder, this morning, there were two references to the same idea in my devotionals.

“Be brave and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged.” Words of strength and hope in Joshua 1:9 and 1 Chronicles 22:13 – and what are the odds that those words would both be the featured scripture in two different devotional booklets on the same day? Guess I need to pay attention.

What reminders do you have to be brave and to start living your dream?

Breathe deeply for best results

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lavenderThose are the instructions on the back of the bottle of lavender body wash that I use in the shower.

I just happened to look down at it in the shower this morning and that line leapt out at me. It goes on to tout the relaxing benefits of the “aromatherapy blend of essential oils” that calm feelings of stress and help you sleep better. I actually use it in the morning because I like the scent – but I realized I was busted!

There I was thinking about my day, planning what I needed to do, how I would deal with this situation and that – and I hadn’t even noticed that wonderful scent. It took that simple command to make me stop and pay attention.

Where else am I forgetting to breathe deeply? When am I forgetting to pay attention?

In what other areas of our lives are we so caught up in busyness, distractions and interference that we forget to do the simple things?

When you are having a conversation with your family, are you completely focused on that conversation, or are you checking your phone or thinking of what else you need to do?

Do you even notice the beauty around you when you go for a walk or a run in nature?

How often do you clear your workspace and put your complete attention on that one task or project at hand?

As I move through a weekend packed with activities, I plan to clear as much of the physical and mental clutter as I can and soak up each moment as it happens. I want to engage in each activity as fully as possible. I want to breathe deeply and experience the best results.

How would “breathing deeply” change your world?

Starting to be brave

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Photo courtesy of Generation Bass (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Generation Bass (Creative Commons)

One of the primary things I’ve been learning over the past year is bravery. Courage. I don’t know about you but I have always played it safe, hanging back from the big challenges because … I might fail, I might be embarrassed, it’s too hard, it’s too scary – what are your excuses?

I say “yes” because “no” is too difficult to pronounce. I put up with situations because conflict is too uncomfortable. I miss opportunities because fear puts up a wall that is too high to climb over. I settle for less than my dream because to imagine success is too overwhelming.

That needs to change. Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean it is what you should do. I have actually said no a couple of times lately, and once I got past the dizzy feeling – I realized that it was better because I would not have been able to do that activity properly considering the other obligations I have right now.

I have pushed back in a few situations instead of sighing and feeling like a victim. Wow, talk about a good feeling! That was empowering.

Fear has such a stronghold on many of us that we can’t even imagine what life could be like in strength. But once we start fighting back, once we take that first step toward bravery, we gain momentum because we realize how powerful it is to take care of yourself and to chase your dream.

This weekend, I am totally stepping out of my comfort zone and diving head first into unknown territory. I am attending the Start Conference with Jon Acuff, based on his best-selling book Start. PLUS, I have registered for a Writer’s Workshop with Jon and Jeff Goins (author of Wrecked and The In-Between).

Having participated in the first two sessions of Jon’s Start Experiment, I am learning how important it is to state a risk toward your dream and then take steps toward achieving that risk. Just one risk at a time, one step at a time. Community support helps you as well because you are all stepping out without clearly seeing the path. You hold each other up.

I anticipate this weekend being filled with ideas and inspiration on ways to chase your dream and come closer to making it a reality. Jon talks about “punching fear in the face” and “escaping average” in the pursuit of awesome. I am putting on my boxing gloves and getting in position, Fear!

 So let me ask you – what are you doing to “Punch Fear in the Face”?

Is your vision fuzzy?

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Photo courtesy of Norbert Urban (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Norbert Urban (Creative Commons)

I don’t mean your eyesight, but your life vision or mission statement. Whether it is for you personally or for your organization, have you let that vision become blurry and out of focus for where you are today and where you want to be headed for the future?

To me, your vision is the core of what you are and what you do. It shapes your decisions and your actions, and for an organization, even the kinds of people you choose for your team.  It is the heart of how you act.

I spent time this past weekend vision-casting with the leadership of my church, revisiting our current mission statement, and honing in on what it needs to be for the future of our church. What an incredible experience to identify our strengths, weaknesses, dreams and goals based on research from focus groups over the last few years as well as our own thoughts and feelings.

To spend time with people so passionate about serving Christ, and seeing the similar ideas bubble up as well as the differences that were identified was encouraging. To start to sharpen that vision and work toward crafting our new mission statement is exciting.

While it is critical for an organization to update its mission statement regularly, it is just as important on a personal level. But I think a lot of us just wave off a mission statement or vision as unimportant or something that doesn’t apply to me.

Stop and think – on what do you base your long-term decisions? How do you ensure that you are making the right choices for you and your family?

Last year, I spent time thinking through what activities I enjoy (as opposed to those I feel  I have to do), the things that bring me joy, and some of the dreams and “bucket-list” type activities I tell myself I “would love to do someday.”

What emerged is that I feel most satisfied when I am helping people develop new or improved skills and abilities, have a more positive outlook, and find a better place to land than where they are at the moment.

Out of that exercise, I developed my own personal vision to “impact lives in a positive way.”

Now, when facing a decision on what to do next, whether to take on a new responsibility or accept a new challenge, I view that choice through the lens of whether or not it “impacts lives in a positive way.” Decision-making becomes much more straightforward. And my work becomes much more satisfying.

Vision-casting is an exercise that is best done regularly – at least annually – because let’s face it, sometimes our vision changes. We need to ensure that what we are clear on our goals and long-term objectives.

Is your vision clear or blurry? What do you need to do today to sharpen that vision?

Simplify

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Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

How do you manage your email?

If you are like me, I get hundreds every day. Most days, I can hardly keep up with the bombardment of new information. The complication is then what do I do with that information once I’ve opened/read/heard/seen it? As more emails pour in, that one I needed to respond to sinks lower and lower on the inbox list until it’s out of sight and lost in all the others.

My favorite kind of emails are those that I can just read and delete. But sadly, most are not so simple to deal with. There are some that need to be answered, pondered, researched or otherwise saved and put away. So how to keep up?

I do use Outlook, and have rules set up to send certain emails to a folder so that it bypasses my inbox altogether. That way things like blogs I want to read later end up in a folder so I can just go through them all when I am ready.

I’ve been saving emails that way too. If it was something important that I wanted to keep, I tucked it in the appropriate folder to refer to later. I thought I was being very organized and smart.

But this weekend, my Outlook crashed. I had a corrupted Outlook data file, and I lost all of those emails. After that initial heart-stopping panic (“oh no no no no no!) and sinking feeling when I opened Outlook and there was nothing except an empty inbox and no folders, I took a deep breath and went about finding a solution.

I was able to set my email box up again with a new data file, and thankfully, the last few weeks of emails downloaded again from my server (yeah, all 3434 of them, and I am still wading through them to make sure I’ve dealt with them all). But I realized I needed to set up a different system for saving and processing the important ones, other than letting them live in Outlook folders.

Luckily, I discovered two tricks, which I will be testing over the next few weeks. (Some of you may have already known these two tricks, this but for me it was an aha moment).  I already use Evernote as a way to keep track of notes and other information, in conjunction with Nozbe as a task and project management tool. But I did not know that I could email to both of these apps. Are you kidding me?

So already, I can see great potential for the “new Carol”! Those sweet inspirational emails from friends can be forwarded right to Evernote with the designation @inspiration to go into my inspiration folder. That email from my church committee that I need to act on can be sent right into Nozbe to be scheduled and dealt with on my next weekly task list review. Even work emails that need to be referred to later can be sent to my work folder in Evernote or Nozbe for safekeeping.

The beauty of this is that not only will things be safely stored so that they won’t be lost, but I can access either program from any of my electronic devices or online, no matter where I am.

I just felt a little wind of relief puff by me. This isn’t just email management, it’s life management.

What tools and shortcuts do you use to simplify your life with email?

What are you savoring?

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farmSummer is slowly slipping away, and autumn is whispering its hellos. I noticed this morning for the first time in a long time that I could see the stars when I began my run – Orion high in the east sky, there with the little sliver of moon that slowly faded as the sky lightened.

I am savoring my runs these days for more reasons than just that I can still run in shorts and a t-shirt without having to add-on layers. I enjoy running in the shroud of darkness, but right now, I also get the double treat of starting out in the dark yet seeing God’s glory as He splashes colors across the sky as the sun rises. I love rounding one particular corner and having my breath taken away with the sheer beauty laid out above me.

There’s a stretch of road that is my favorite part of the run, still undeveloped, quiet, smells good, and I see all kinds of wildlife there – deer, possums, armadillos, foxes, even a bobcat once. In part of it, there’s an old barn, and it looks like what you see out in the country on a trip to the beach.

I saw an article in the paper last week that was applauding the new development just announced for that last undeveloped parcel of land – touting the millions of square feet of office space and retail, the hundreds of hotel rooms, the thousands of jobs that will be created.

It made me sad. I will miss that little stretch of “wilderness” in a sea of concrete and buildings.

I know I can’t stop change, any more than I can stop those bulldozers, so I will just relish the quiet while I can, and enjoy the sightings of wildlife.

I need to savor more in my life. Instead of constantly being busy and pulled in so many directions, multi-tasking, and always looking toward “that” in the future – I need to be more mindful of what is happening right now.

I need to be present.

My present may not be perfect, and it may not be my dream, but it is leading me to my dream. It is making me who I am. I must cherish the interactions, relationships and experiences that are happening now. Otherwise, what else is there?

I think PRESENT may be one of my three focus words for 2014. A reminder to slow down and savor.

How can you be PRESENT today?

 

A circuitous route

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Photo courtesy of taylorpad212 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of taylorpad212 (Creative Commons)

I tend to be a straight to the point kind of person. I prefer taking the shortest route, the interstate as opposed to the windy back roads.

But when I chose JOURNEY as one of my three focus words this year (click here to read more), I signed on for the back roads, stuck-behind-the-slow-truck, stop-at-every-point-of-interest itinerary. And what a learning experience it is turning into!

Basically my intention in choosing JOURNEY was to stop focusing only on my destination or goal, and to savor the process of getting there. What I am discovering are rich relationships, hidden strengths, and insights as to my own fears and hopes.

By slowing down to connect more with friends, both online and in person, I am realizing the high value of these bonds and the depth of caring in the people around me. It works both ways as well, since I am more contented through loving and caring more deeply instead of just superficially.

Introspection is part of the journey as well, which has been an uncomfortable but necessary experience. Spending time with me, thinking through what I enjoy and want, dreaming of what I truly want to be and do – are activities that have been difficult. For someone who is typically focused on planning for and reaching goals (usually set by someone else) and doing the hard work to get there, the touchy feely process of internal examination and analyzing my own desires and passions is excruciating. And enlightening.

Participating in the initial two rounds of the Start Experiment with Jon Acuff has helped to clarify my dreams and take a few steps in the right direction toward achieving them. There is a long road ahead, but it’s encouraging to at least know that I’m headed in the right direction.

My other two words, APPRECIATE and DELIGHT, have become rather secondary to JOURNEY, and yet also an integral part of the experience. Perhaps by making more of an effort to show and accept appreciation as well as seeking out situations that provide delight – my journey will be even richer.

How have your three words impacted your year so far? If you have not chosen three focus words, what words might you choose for next year?

Change is in the air

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Photo courtesy of Stefan Munder (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Stefan Munder (Creative Commons)

Can you smell the difference? I’ve noticed the last few days that the air smells different outside, and I can just feel the change in seasons coming on.

I think it’s partly the Labor Day holiday. Even though we’re having some of the hottest days of the summer, that holiday has always signaled the end of lazy days and the beginning of fall in my mind.

Nature is changing though. I now start my daily run in the dark and get to see the skies lighten and turn brilliant colors as the sun comes up. I have actually seen a few trees with red leaves, like they are getting a jump on everybody else.

The fields and trees just seem to be starting their fall activities, pulling in toward hibernation. I find it fascinating that as nature curls in, everything else seems to be ramping up to busyness. New programs at church begin, school starts, football season begins – all signs of a change in season.

In my own life, I feel the need to examine and consider making changes with each change of season – whether it’s to scrutinize priorities, adjust responsibilities or rethink relationships. It’s easy to just flow along until you realize you are not on the path you want to be anymore.

It’s important to pause and reflect periodically – to review my goals and make sure they are still audacious, to put some activities on hold if they aren’t taking me to a key goal, and to nourish those areas of my life or relationships that might have been neglected in the past season.

What changes do you need to make with a new season?

Are your priorities right?

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Photo courtesy of AndYaDontStop (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of AndYaDontStop (Creative Commons)

I have found lately that some days, no matter how planned the day is, life gets in the way and I have to be flexible. Not that it’s bad to plan the day, just that there are times when it’s more important to pay attention to what is put in front of me and know that whatever else I had planned can and will wait for another day.

And I need to keep a healthy perspective on what I am accomplishing.

For instance, one day recently a friend had car trouble, and I ended up lending my car until the repair could be made. I was feeling stranded and frustrated, upset over the extra time needed to go back to the garage. Then another friend mentioned that it was actually a great day because I helped someone out of a difficult situation. I realized I had only looked at it as a disruption to my own day.

And one day last week I had a lot to get done at work and was making good progress. The afternoon was planned out and I was ready to check things off my list.

But then a coworker and friend came in my office in tears, sharing that someone who had been very close to her had passed away. As my office mate and I comforted her, we tried to encourage her to go home and grieve away from the pressures of work. But there was a project she needed to finish. So instead of what was planned that day, we shifted gears and helped her finish so she could go home.

We all need healthy perspective on balancing planning and spontaneity. Obviously, it is important to have structure, and there is great value in planning out the day to get things done. But we also need to be ok with the fact that there will be opportunities that God places in front of us to connect with people and do things for others that doesn’t involve a task list.

I wonder what opportunities I may be missing because I’m too wrapped up in myself and my own priorities most days.

What opportunities are you missing?

Time flies

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Photo courtesy of deux-chi (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of deux-chi (Creative Commons)

The other day at work, I happened to look at the clock that was on the wall, and the second-hand was zooming around in circles, causing the minute hand to fly around like some kind of time warp. Time was literally flying by according to that clock!

That’s how my life feels a lot of times, what about yours? On Mondays, I feel like I must have skipped a few days because wasn’t it was just Monday? And how can it be the end of August already? Didn’t the month just start?

Sadly, when I look back at the month, many of the things I had intended or hoped to do and accomplish have not been done, and I can’t even give you a highlights reel of the fun, great, exciting, cool, inspiring, etc. things that I have done.

Not that I didn’t do them, but they are blurred in the mundane everyday things and not captured to be savored.

That needs to change right now.

In June, I started “3 good things” (click here to read more) in which I would stop each day (even have a reminder on my phone) and write down 3 good things about the day. That activity made me think back through my day and filter even those days that feel like they were awful and nothing went right at all. It made me realize that even simple things like seeing a beautiful sunrise, watching the hummingbird at the feeder, or a text from a friend, are good things and should be noticed and enjoyed, not glossed over and forgotten.

I logged my good things all during June, but missed a few days in July. I just checked my log and I have only logged one day in August – and only 2 things that day. Now I KNOW that some good things happened this month, but that log sure doesn’t reflect it. And sadly, that reminder chimes every single day on my phone and I just ignore it.

I will admit that some days are filled with difficult circumstances that are hard to classify as “good.” But usually even in the darkest times, some good emerges. Friendships are rekindled when people gather to mourn a loss. Strengths are realized when there are challenging times. Rainbows do appear in the break after a storm.

So starting today, I will pay attention to that chime on my phone and stop to log 3 good things about my day. I will spend some time planning my day and week so that I have some time to enjoy and appreciate built into my schedule instead of charging full speed ahead and flinging myself from busy work to busy work.

I will take time to savor that sunrise, touch base with friends, and reflect on the good things each day, even the difficult days.

Dedication to your dream

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Photo courtesy of Nick Lee (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nick Lee (Creative Commons)

How important are your goals to you? Are you willing to sacrifice to reach them?

That’s the theme of best-selling author Jon Acuff’s book Start and his group called 5 Club.

5 Club is a monthly meeting of dreamers at, you guessed it, 5 am. Casual and low-key, we meet at Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace Plaza conference center. There’s coffee, a talk by Jon and networking. And it’s one of the most encouraging things that I do each month.

Not only do you hear progress reports and the “brag table” from other dreamers, but you get insight into “The Road to Awesome” from Jon. Most of all, you realize that you aren’t alone in dreaming of something better. I come away from each meeting fired up and ready to tackle my dream with both arms and wrestle it down. To make it happen.

Those who just do what is expected won’t be able to reach their dreams. It takes a willingness to be uncomfortable to grasp for things that are out of reach. That might mean getting up earlier – or staying up later. Or giving up some of your television or web surfing time. Or _________ (you fill in the blank).

What are you willing to give up for your dream?

Details make a difference

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designs by mrsIn our fast-paced, bulk rate world of today, what a difference details can make. A personal touch really stands out in the sea of mass-produced products, don’t you think?

This week I received my hand-stamped dog tag necklace that I had ordered from http://www.designsbymrs.com/ and was blown away by the personal touches that made this delivery so special. It was special already because it honors my running buddy by proclaiming “I Run 4 Bennett” (click here for info). But the packaging was almost as special as the jewelry itself, and it was obvious that much thought and care went into making this an incredible experience.

And you better believe I will be recommending this company to others and ordering additional items!

The box was tiny, and inside the top, were the words, “Live Beautifully, Dream Passionately, Love Completely.” My necklace was nestled in a little bed of soft cotton, and along with the box, was a bag with care instructions and a little polish cloth specially made for the metal.

It felt like someone put that together especially for me and presented it to me in person.

These days is seems that we are settling for low quality, run of the mill products rather than appreciating the specialness of care in unique items, and the service that go along with them.

When I go into stores and see the racks and racks of identical products, or have to settle for less than ideal because it only comes that way, I am disappointed. There is something so appealing about the fact that this necklace was made just for me and there’s only one like it in the world.

In your business, are you appealing to the masses or do you seek out the exceptional? Do you revel in meeting special needs or do you expect your customers to just take what you have? Are you tailoring the customer service experience so people walk away feeling special or just a number? How would your business success change if you paid more attention to the personal touch?

So then we agree…

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Photo courtesy of buddawiggi (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of buddawiggi (Creative Commons)

Have you ever gone into a situation thinking you knew what you needed to do, and then found out later there was much more involved?

Or gotten into an argument with someone because you discovered that you each had different ideas about what was to be accomplished in a project or situation?

In many cases, conflicts and hurt feelings can be avoided if the expectations are spelled out in the beginning. Whether it is a project, job, club or relationship, each person involved has certain ideas about what needs to be done, and it is crucial to make sure that everyone is in agreement.

We all know how dangerous it is to make assumptions, and what kinds of struggles ensue when we assume we understand rather than clarify that we understand.

Spell out and agree upon clear, simple statements of the responsibilities of each party early in the project or relationship. Sometimes it is also important to state what is not expected, just to avoid confusion.

I saw an example just yesterday in the group I Run 4, which pairs runners with those who cannot run. Runners are asked to post their workouts at least 3 times a week in honor of their buddies in the private Facebook group. We had a complaint from a parent that their runner wasn’t posting, and they wanted to be rematched. What we discovered when we delved into the situation was that the runner was hurt and thought they could only post when they run. So they were not posting, which meant the parent thought they had dropped out or didn’t want to run for their child anymore.

That was a simple situation to correct, but could have been avoided altogether if both parent and runner had thoroughly read and understood the guidelines, and had communicated better with each other. An explanation by the runner that they were hurt could have opened up a dialogue with the parent that would have prevented the elevation of emotions.

If you are a supervisor, review job expectations with your team members regularly so they understand what you are holding them accountable for.We all know that as time goes on, our minds become cluttered with other things, and details may be lost. The more critical the project, job or relationship, the more important it is to revisit those expectations periodically.

Think about the situations and relationships in your own life. Where are expectations a little fuzzy? Where do you need to clarify those expectations?

What if?

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Photo courtesy of Ambuj Saxena (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Ambuj Saxena (Creative Commons)

When you plan, do you intentionally develop a Plan B? Do you think through what could go wrong and some possible remedies just in case?

I realize that my personality type is highly detail oriented and contingencies just naturally come to mind when planning. But I experienced first-hand last night how important it is to have backups, especially when you are dealing with important information.

I am working on a volunteer basis with an organization called I Run 4, in which we pair runners with those who cannot run, and we run in their honor. I’ve written about my running buddy, Bennett, who inspires me daily to stretch myself and work harder.

My function with IR4 is to help with the matching process, so I manage the spreadsheets with literally thousands of names of buddies and parents as well as runners, and the status and contact information. I have been experiencing some trouble with my computer lately – it will occasionally freeze, and I’m forced to reboot. I save these files constantly and so far, I had not lost more than a name or two which could be easily updated.

But last night was an epic freeze.

I patiently waited on the computer to reboot, and reopened my IR4 folder. There was the master file, and the file of those requesting buddies – but wait. The runner file was missing. Are you kidding me?

Apparently, it was corrupted and instead of just losing the last bit of information I had entered, the entire file disappeared. Yikes.

Thankfully, something had told me the night before that I should save a dated copy of each of those files in a different folder. I was able to use that file, and rebuild the day’s data using the emails I had sent along with the master list. Whew. Problem solved with just some extra time spent.

Needless to say, I immediately saved those files in the other folder as well as on a thumb drive. And in the future, I will stop and save throughout the day to each of those places. Overkill? Maybe. But I do not want to risk losing that information plus notes ever again.

I know this is one small example of how to protect your important information, but the experience made me think through other forms of backup in my life. I have a “grab and go” bag that contains my most important documents, extra keys, and emergency supplies should something happen and I have to evacuate my apartment unexpectedly. But it’s not completely up-to-date.

I have a will and insurance but have not reviewed either lately to ensure they are current. There are other things in my life that I need to consider if something were to happen to me.

Dealing with contingency plans is not at the top of my list of fun things to do, and honestly, most of the time my hands are full handling the day -to-day activities that seem to overwhelm me.

But would I have (or want to spend) the time and energy to start from scratch if something were to happen? Isn’t it much easier to think through backup plans when you don’t need them and be prepared?

I will be spending time in the next week or so updating my papers and other documents, just in case, and thinking through other things I need to back up.

What about you? What contingency plans do you need to put in place?

Audacious

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Photo courtesy of Robert Young (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Robert Young (Creative Commons)

Audacious is not a word I’ve experienced often. My personality is such that I am not a risk taker nor an adventurer. Mostly I play it safe and do what is expected.

But that seems to be changing.

I’ve written a lot here about courage and bravery. No more standing on the edges like a wall flower, it’s time to dream big and go after those dreams.

Ok, I admit I have to sit down and catch my breath after bold words like that. Whew, I’m a little dizzy and out of my league.

But really, why should you and I shy away from big dreams? What makes us any less worthy of vision than anyone else?

As I begin round 2 of Jon Acuff’s Start Experiment, our first assignment is “Audacious” – we are to spend time thinking about what that word means to us, and what is keeping us from being Audacious.

Fear is the thing that comes to mind – fear of not reaching the goal, of disappointment, of embarrassment, frustration and exhaustion. For an optimist, it’s tough to realize that my first inclination is so negative.

So what if I step out in courage as I wrote about last week (click here)? How will I feel then?

Elated, proud, satisfied – maybe still disappointed if things don’t work out quite as expected, but at least let down that I didn’t reach all my goals, not that I didn’t try. I’m realizing that I do not want to continue stand on the sidelines wishing things were different. I want to leap in with both feet and MAKE things different.

I feel like I’m standing at the edge of a canyon with a little rope bridge stretched across it and I’m terrified of heights. I can turn around and hike back down to the base camp, or I can take a deep breath, grab hold of the rope, and start walking across.

Will you be audacious and walk across with me?

Be strong and courageous

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Be strong and courageousThe Joshua prayer contains powerful yet comforting words. It’s a bold prayer. And I’ve been praying big, bold prayers lately. Prayers of healing, peace, guidance.

As I begin this week, I have a friend dealing with fresh grief over the loss of a loved one. Another friend is facing surgery tomorrow. Yet another is nervously awaiting results of medical tests. Others are nursing family members through cancer, recovering from illness and injuries themselves, wrestling with major decisions, and seeking life-changing answers to questions.

It’s hard for me to see people I care about struggle like this. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that there is nothing I can do – in some of these cases, I cannot even comfort them in person. My heart breaks that I can’t just snap my fingers and make things better. As an eternal optimist, I’m always looking for the bright side, but sometimes, we need to push through the darkness before we can find that bright side.

And the key to pushing through that darkness is to remember the Joshua prayer. To remember that God is with us, and has plans for us. We may not understand or like them very much, but we are not in control. If we focus on and lean into Him, He will give us the strength to get through whatever struggles we face.

And the best thing I can do is pray.

Be strong and courageous and not afraid. God is with you.

Learning courage

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“When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

Tao saying

Photo courtesy of Arup Malakar (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Arup Malakar (Creative Commons)

Evidently, I’ve been ready for a while and needed a lot of teachers. Over the last year or so, it seems that I have been given lessons on many fronts, mostly focused on learning to face fear and step out in courage.

From Chris Brogan and his Brave New Year course and his book It’s Not About the Tights, to Jon Acuff and his books Quitter and Start, to just yesterday at the Global Leadership Summit when Bill Hybels began the two-day leadership sessions with a segment on courage, and then speakers throughout the day continued the theme.

“Don’t let fear make you abort the vision,” Hybels tells us. Powerful words. How many visions or goals have you backed out on or ignored because you were afraid they wouldn’t work, afraid you couldn’t do it, afraid of ________ (you fill in the blank)?

How many times in my life have I played it safe and done what was expected, only to be bored and unfulfilled?

Lately I feel like I am hurtling forward at such an incredible speed, fear can hardly keep up. Yet there are times in the night or on a run when I wonder just what it is I’m doing, and maybe I’m making a mistake and should just calmly step back. But then I remember that feeling – that inexplicable feeling of satisfaction when you are doing something that you feel passionate about and know you were meant to be doing.

Yeah, that feeling. And I close my eyes and keep rolling past that fear.

How are you stepping out in courage?

Fill me up with inspiration

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GLSHow do you keep your mind and spirit from becoming stale?

I revitalize my mind by soaking in inspiration from other leaders in settings like this week’s Global Leadership Summit. Two days of incredible speakers and presentations which are broadcast from Willow Creek Church by Bill Hybels and his team.

This year’s faculty includes Gen. Colin Powell, Patrick Lencioni, Dr. Henry Cloud, Dr. Brene Brown, Bob Goff and Mark Burnett (yes, the TV producer). Topics include leadership, faith, people management, teamwork. The Summit is unabashedly Christian and yet grounded in business principles as well.

Each year I arrive depleted, frustrated, spent, and wondering if it is worth the hassle to be away from the office for 2 days. Within minutes of the opening video, I feel more hopeful, energized and fired up to put the things I’m learning into practice.

So today I will scramble to wrap up my week in the office – get a fresh legal pad and new pen, and get ready to be stimulated and stirred to discover new ways to tackle old issues and look at challenges with new eyes.

How do you refresh your mind?

 

Finding happiness in the ordinary

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farmers marketI’m going to put you on the spot – what fun did you have last weekend?

I know for many people, the weekend is the time to catch up on errands, chores, and other obligations that we can’t get to during the week, and there isn’t always time for fun or truly relaxing opportunities.

One of the regular things I do on Saturdays is visit the local farmers market  with my mom to get our weekly supply of fresh tomatoes, peaches, kale and other goodies. The trip takes maybe 30 minutes, depending on how crowded it is, and then it’s on with the rest of the day.

And yet that is one of the highlights of my weekend.

I was thinking why I enjoy such a simple thing so much, and it’s hard to pinpoint. I think the ordinariness and familiarity are part of the charm.

There is something wonderful about buying produce from the people who grew it, knowing that the money you pay goes directly to them and not a middleman.  I’m not a foodie by any means, but local homegrown produce is a treat.

The spirit of the market is enticing – people from all ages and walks of life milling around with their bags, their children, their dogs. And smiling. If you look around, most everyone is smiling and enjoying themselves as they search for treasures.

There is nearly always live music, from a lone singer with his guitar to the bluegrass band pictured above that was playing this week. The song they are performing is called the “Farmers Market Blues.”

In addition to the produce are fresh-baked goodies, French press coffee, soaps, candles, jewelry, flowers and even a food truck, so there’s a cross-section of all sorts of things to enjoy.

But somehow the simplicity and routine of visiting the market is its appeal. Mama and I meet in the same place, do a loop around the booths and tents, take a listen to the music, make our purchases and head our separate ways.

And it is delightful.

What ordinary things do you do that bring delight?

Which voice do you listen to?

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I’ve been hearing a new voice lately. It started out as a whisper, but lately, it’s been getting louder.

Now don’t think I’m crazy because you have voices too – we all do. Whether it’s a voice of fear, telling us we can’t or shouldn’t do something, or a voice of confidence assuring us that we are on the right path, we all have these voices. I guess it boils down to whether or not we choose to listen to them.

Today is Day 19 of a 24-day Start Experiment in which I have participated with best-selling author Jon Acuff and 23 others in my group. At the beginning, we had to state a risk we would take toward achieving our dream, and then we’ve taken steps toward that dream. Challenges and homework from Jon each day have helped guide us and shape our thinking in powerful ways.

It really doesn’t matter for any of us what our risk or dream involved, because the experiment was more about changing our mindset.

What I have discovered about myself in this adventure is that simply listening to that voice of confidence instead of the voice of fear has influenced my approach. Instead of simply settling for what is comfortable, I’m more willing to look at what could be and move in that direction. And that brings a different energy.

Are you listening to the voice of fear, or have you let that voice of confidence start getting louder?

Joy in the face of sorrow

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Yesterday I received news that the wife of one of the volunteers at the nonprofit where I work, who I also consider a friend, had died on Monday of pancreatic cancer, only 35 days from diagnosis.

My heart was heavy, sad for the pain she had suffered and the loss he was now feeling.

But two different people made the same comment that caused me to turn my thinking around.

Instead of feeling sorry, they both said we should be happy, envious even, because now she was with Jesus in heaven, which is our ultimate goal anyway.

That does not erase the hurt of losing a loved one, but it does change my perspective a bit. He stopped by yesterday also, and seeing the strength of his face and his positive demeanor let me know he felt the same way. In spite of his loss, he was rejoicing that she was home now.

 

Appreciate the contrasts

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Photo courtesy of portraitsandsuch (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of portraitsandsuch (Creative Commons)

The weather this weekend has been delightful – cooler and much less humid than a normal Middle Tennessee weekend in July. Made for better running and pleasant sitting on the porch.

What I realized during some of that porch-sitting, is that I’m not sure I would appreciate the days quite as much if there hadn’t been many days when it was too stifling to even consider going outside, let alone planning an afternoon out there.

When I chose APPRECIATE as one of my three focus words this year (click here for more on my three words), I was not considering this context of the word. I thought more in terms of saying thank you and appreciating people for what they do.

But the contrast of good and bad, or pleasant and not so much, is a huge part of appreciation. I would not be enjoying this weather as much if it was always like this. I need the bad to make me appreciate the good.

That concept has applications in so many areas of life, from friendships, leadership, health, and more. Amazingly, it is entwined with one of my other focus words, JOURNEY.

God has led me on a journey through my life and when I look back, the difficult times were getting me ready for better times. In the struggles, I gained strength and knowledge that couldn’t have been earned any other way. It’s important to embrace the challenges as much as the rewards, because they go hand in hand.

My third word is DELIGHT, seemingly the least of the three, and yet this month, a key piece of the puzzle. No matter what I am going through, I am learning to seek moments of delight in the process.

What are you learning about yourself with your three words? If you didn’t choose them this year, what might you choose for next year?

Find the door

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Photo courtesy of Marc Wathieu (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Marc Wathieu (Creative Commons)

No one is immune from adversity, whether that is in the form of illness or physical challenges, mental or emotional anguish, or struggles with work or personal life.

It can feel like you are standing in front of a wall of difficulty, with no way over or around, but wringing your hands and feeling sorry for yourself is not the way to get past it.

There is a woman who volunteers at the nonprofit where I work who has cancer. When she was first diagnosed, instead of having a pity party, she educated herself on her treatment options, their potential effectiveness, and the likely side effects.

It surprised me when she announced that she was not seeking treatment. She has shared that she has constant pain, but that if she takes a pain reliever each morning, she can function at mostly full capacity. She was not willing to lose the quality of life that she would have with any of her options for treatment.

I understand that choice, although I’m not sure it would have been mine. Yet it’s her attitude that is so amazing. She embraces life, and marches right up to every day determined to live it to the fullest. When you ask her how she is, she always answers with “Great!”

Instead of standing in front of that wall of trouble, she found a door. She did not wring her hands and whine about her situation, but boldly pushed her way right through.

That’s how I want to approach my life – boldly pushing through problems and complications. I want to – no, I WILL – find that door!

So how am I today, you ask? I am great!

Stick with your systems

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Photo courtesy of TEDxManipalUniversityDubai  (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of TEDxManipalUniversityDubai (Creative Commons)

In the midst of chaos, don’t you find it comforting to have systems and habits in place to help you do some things?

Getting ready in the morning, for instance. You probably have a routine for your shower, dressing, etc. that you hardly even think about, but move from one activity to the next on auto-pilot.

Systems for getting your work done can function the same way.

I’m discovering that with a new project I’ve taken on, there are quite a few steps to finishing what I need to do, and it can be even more time-consuming when I just tackle it without a plan. There’s a much higher margin for error also.

But I’ve developed a bit of a routine, which when done in order, makes the project go quickly and efficiently.

Yesterday, I tried to short cut my process, and boy, did I discover that it was not a short cut! Kind of like when you try to cut through a neighborhood to miss traffic, and the road is so windy and slow that it takes twice as long!

Yeah, I had to backtrack and double-check myself and ended up not getting it right. It took me much longer to correct my mistakes. I realized right then that I need to follow my original routine and all will be well with the world!

What habits do you have that you rely on every day?

 

Falling off the wagon

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Photo courtesy of Courtney Dirks (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Courtney Dirks (Creative Commons)

I had aced the whole “planning-the-week” process. I was spending time on Sunday afternoons to plan out and schedule the tasks and projects I needed to work on during the week, complete with reminders on the calendar and time built in for a little fun. I had that down.

And I was getting things done. For once in my life, I was moving smoothly through the week, completing things, and feeling good about my accomplishments.

*sound effect of screeching tires*

I didn’t really see it coming. It totally snuck up behind me.

I took on one extra responsibility, but I’m not blaming my downfall on that.

What I didn’t do is continue what was working so well. I got sucked into the new project and instead of taking a step back to continue planning the week with time for that project built in, I let it rule my focus.

I continued to float for a week. Things still got done, but not at the rate as before. But then as more time went by, the more out-of-whack my world felt. It suddenly dawned on me what was wrong when I got up Saturday morning feeling so overwhelmed that I felt ineffective at everything I touched. Even habitual things felt wrong.

For some people, planning the week may seem like torture, and blocks on the calendar and reminders may just be like fingernails on the blackboard.

For me, however, the appointments and reminders allow me to let go of that “thing” and focus my whole attention on whatever I’m working on, rather than have part (usually a large part) of my brain trying to remember that I need to stop at the bank and the post office on the way home, start laundry and work on the minutes from the last committee meeting.

So I am working hard to remedy the situation. Once again, I spent time on Sunday reviewing my week, and planning out some of the major tasks and projects that need to be completed. I blocked out time on the calendar, which I can move if something else comes up, but which at least serves as a placeholder or my “flag” to remind me that it needs to be done.

The sense of liberation is incredible. Yes, I still have WAY more to do than I can ever hope to accomplish, but I have a plan now. And surprisingly, once I actually worked on some things that were looming, they didn’t take very long and now are completed. What a relief.

How do you stay in control when your life gets too busy?

 

Found time

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Photo courtesy of Collin Harvey (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Collin Harvey (Creative Commons)

Ever notice how if you give a busy person something else to do, they are somehow able to do it on top of everything else they’ve already undertaken?

I think I’ve discovered one of their secrets. But I’m not going to keep it a secret from you!

It’s what I call “found time.”

I’ve discovered this because I’ve had to. As my life has gotten busier lately, almost to the point of overwhelm, I’ve looked for ways to squeeze a little more out of my day.

One thing I realized is that there’s a lot of time wasted that could be utilized, especially if you plan a little bit. For instance, I clear email on my phone when I’m waiting in line for my latte at Starbucks or at the grocery store. I plan work (in half hour chunks) for my wait at the allergist after my allergy shot.

By spending a few minutes at the end of the day planning the next day, I can scope out the day and be more efficient. If I am not shuffling through papers trying to figure out what needs to be done next, then I am accomplishing something and it is truly “found time.”

By planning the day, I can set up reminders, so I move smoothly from one task or project to the next. An added benefit is that if something happens and I need to reschedule, I still have that landmark on the calendar and it’s easy to adjust the date so I don’t lose track. I chose not to do one of my errands last night, and before, it would have fallen off my radar, but I took a second to adjust the entry and now I can easily take care of it tonight.

The sense of eking out a little bit more each day sure is a relief when the to-do list is so long, and once you start hunting for these pockets of time, you’ll find more and more.

Where is “found time” in your day?

Declare your risk!

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Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Michael Bentley (Creative Commons)

What risks are you willing to take on the road to reaching your dreams?

Sometimes the fear of what might happen is enough to stop us from even considering pursuing our dreams. That voice of Resistance starts in telling us that all these awful things will happen, whether real or imagined, and we crawl back into our shell like a turtle.

But what if you were brave and like that turtle, took a small risk by sticking your head out of your shell?

In a sense, that’s what I am doing as part of New York Times best-selling author Jon Acuff’s new adventure called the “Start Experiment,” an extension of his book Start. Participants were asked to state their “risk” and we are bravely sticking our heads out of our shells to make progress toward that risk over 24 days.

With guidance from Jon and the support of a group of like-minded people, the risk seems less scary. Plus, the combination of a defined time period and the breakdown into smaller, doable steps helps quiet that voice of Resistance. Like the turtle, I’m making slow, steady progress toward my dream.

No matter what your dream or goal is, stating it is half the battle. Once it is distinct, it becomes easier to break it down into smaller pieces, all leading to the big goal. Then fear is just whispering to you.

Fear is easier to squash when he’s not yelling. Once you master the smaller piece, then you can look toward the next risk, and before you know it, your dream will be within reach.

What small risk are you willing to declare on the way to your dream?

Where do you find calm?

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coffee and candleIf you are like me, your life is out of control busy. Am I right?

It seems like there’s never any downtime, even a break is spent planning the next task, catching up on email or social media, or returning phone calls. Feels like I go full speed ahead until it’s time to collapse in bed at night.

No matter how well I plan my day, it still seems that there’s no quiet time. What I have discovered is that I must build the quiet time into the day intentionally.

One thing I discovered about a year ago is that because I’m so much more productive and clear-headed in the mornings, it helps me to get up early and use that time effectively. I set the timer on the coffeemaker so it’s ready when I get up, light a lavender candle that is calming, and spend the first half hour or more of my day in devotions and prayer.

That is my favorite part of the entire day. No matter what is going on in my life, I feel hope wash over me.

Writing is next, when it’s still quiet and peaceful. That can sometimes get my brain going, so the next best part of my day is my run – especially on Sundays. I enjoy the solitude of the early morning, when traffic is light, it’s dark or the sun is just coming up, and hardly anyone else is out.

I don’t play music, but listen to the birds singing and the rhythm of my footsteps and breath.

It calms the ruckus that is in my mind.

I pray, ponder, and on occasion, have great clarity of ideas. Siri is my friend on those days, and I use my iPhone to record the ideas as I continue.

Somehow the rest of the day is bearable once I’ve had my quiet time. Seems strange that such exertion brings such pleasure and calm, but I think that the physical effort somehow allows my brain to let go for a little while. Instead of having to plan and process, it can just let my body do the work.

In the midst of your busyness, how do you find calm?

 

Waiting well

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Photo courtesy of Robert Gourley (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Robert Gourley (Creative Commons)

I spent a good bit of yesterday waiting.

I drove my mom to the eye doctor and waited for her appointment to be completed, then there was traffic. Later I took one of my cats to the vet for yearly shots and had to wait over an hour just to be seen. That was altogether several hours of waiting, and I don’t typically wait very well.

It got me to thinking about how much we wait for in life, whether it’s physical waiting in line or traffic, or to find the perfect job, heal from injury or illness, or pursue your dream.

Instead of just wasting that time while you are waiting, are you able to use it for good?

Yesterday I cleared out my email, worked on a project on my Kindle and caught up on correspondence while I sat in those waiting rooms. I put productivity in my way by having things in mind to do ahead of time.

What about while you’re waiting for that perfect job? You can study and learn what you need to in order to excel, as well as network and get experience that will help you.

If you have a dream that seems impossible, you can lay the groundwork for success by getting finances in order or the pieces in place so that when the time is right, you are ready to reach out for that dream.

There are things I feel like I’ve been waiting for such a long time, but I believe that often, it’s because I’m not ready. God is preparing me for the challenge or the blessing, and there are still things I need to learn. And probably, I’m not doing the things that I need to in order to be ready.

As I refine my dreams and my goals, I’m looking to use that waiting time better. No sense getting frustrated about it, if I look to get the most out of the experiences no matter what.

So I’m learning to wait well. How do you use your waiting time well?  

Digging deep when it matters

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Ever notice how you can be so completely worn out or emotionally drained, but something happens and you find just a bit more strength to keep going?

It might be your “second wind” or sheer determination, but it always amazes me that when we think we are tapped out, we still manage to find that little extra.

I see this phenomenon in my own life, but even more, I’m seeing it in the lives of parents of special needs children and the children themselves through I Run 4, an organization that seeks to bring awareness to disabilities and diseases of all types. Runners (or those who have the gift of mobility) run in honor of those who cannot run, and find new motivation, inspiration and connections in the process.

Most of all, as we share our stories, I am in awe of these parents who deal with unimaginable challenges every day, just in day-to-day activities. They somehow find that extra strength every single day.

It makes my challenges seem insignificant.

And I pray that God continues to give them the strength and the blessings to keep digging deep.

Running toward blessings

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I Run 4 logoThe best part of my day is my run every morning. Without a doubt, my day starts off right when I can run 5 or more miles as the sun comes up. I spend the time in prayer, praising God for the beauty of the sunrise and the wildlife I see, and thanking Him for connecting me with a program that is becoming a true blessing in my life. You see, I don’t just run for myself. I Run 4 Bennett!

Bennett is a little boy with Down syndrome who I have been paired with and to whom I dedicate every one of my runs, walks or workouts. His parents and I message on a closed Facebook group, and I can honestly say that Bennett has stolen my heart. I love hearing updates on what he is doing, like visiting his grandparents at the lake, or how he is progressing with walking or other health concerns. I post every day how many miles I ran for him and what I saw (sometimes even post pictures). His parents send me pictures and videos of him that always make me smile! We are developing an incredible relationship and I have never actually met this amazing family.

Tim Boyle, founder and executive director of I Run 4, says that God gave him the gift of mobility and others are not so fortunate. So he runs for Michael, his friend who is physically unable to run. Or walk. And he started this organization so others could do the same.

I am pretty motivated, but I have discovered a whole new level of inspiration knowing that I run for Bennett. You know those days when you feel like slacking off a little, or taking a rest day, or wimping out? Those don’t happen very often when you think about how hard the person you are running for works every day – just for ordinary things.

One of the huge benefits of this group is a growing awareness of disabilities, challenges and conditions that are sometimes ignored or overlooked. I will admit that I knew very little about Down syndrome at first, but I’ve been doing research and learning more about the struggles that both Bennett and his parents have to deal with daily.

I am thrilled to have been tapped to take on an administrative role with I Run 4 helping compile the names of runners and those requesting runners. So I’ll be part of making more matches happen, and be part of the joy as more relationships grow.

I truly feel like I’m running toward more and more blessings.

I run for Bennett. Who do you run for?

Make the most of your life

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pooh cloudIf you were taken to heaven today, would you be ready? Do you make the most of each day? Do you consistently tell those you care about how you feel?

I’m afraid I don’t always. And I tend to get so caught up in planning and doing and wanting that I miss precious moments now.

I forget to be thankful for what I do have because I’m too busy looking for what I don’t have.

That needs to change.

I received news this week that the spouse of a dear friend has had a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and yet this couple has such strong faith and such a positive outlook that they are a lesson for everyone else. To face such a scary prospect confident that their lives are in God’s hands and that He holds them both is an inspiration and an encouragement to everyone they meet.

Eyes open and alert is the way I want to approach life! There is such beauty and glory all around me that I miss every day, relationships I don’t cultivate because of the pressures of life, opportunities I miss because I’m caught up in the details of the moment.

Starting now, I will embrace every day in a new way, ready to drink in the goodness, head up and ready to make a difference. I want to take the time to nurture close relationships with friends and family, take advantage of the prospects presented me, and pay attention to the beauty of God’s world.

How will you make the most of your life?

Switch gears to prevent a breakdown

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Photo courtesy of arepyeva_natalie (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of arepyeva_natalie (Creative Commons)

Ever have those days where you flit from thing to thing and can’t seem to “light” on any one project, task or activity?

Yeah, that’s been me the last several days. I recently heard the expression “the attention span of a gnat” and that so perfectly describes me!

I have struggled to stay focused on anything for more than 20-30 minutes, and even then I get fidgety and anxious and ready to move on to the next activity.

Problem is, I do the same thing with the next activity and the next, and by the end of the day, I have a string of unfinished projects, tasks and “stuff” that’s just a confusing mess. Even in conversation, I’m antsy and unsettled.

It seems that running is about the only thing I can stick with these days, and honestly, part of that is that I get far enough away from home and have no choice but to keep running to get back home!

I have consoled myself with the fact that part of the problem was the number of interruptions at work and that each day is a new day and a new start, and not every day has to be wildly productive. And I have so much on my plate that it’s just too overwhelming.

It’s time to switch gears a bit so the motor doesn’t burn out!

One solution I tried with small success was using a new app for my phone called the 30/30 App, recommended by Rob Hatch for his Work Like You’re On Vacation (WLOV)