What are you avoiding because of Fear?

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Photo courtesy of Live Life Happy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Live Life Happy (Creative Commons)

Do you let Fear stop you from stepping out of your comfort zone? Do you listen to his whisper (or shout in some cases) and back away from experiences that might be terrifyingly incredible? Does Fear encourage you put up walls and not allow yourself to get close to people because you might get hurt?

It’s easy to get caught up in the lies that Fear is telling you. I’ve known people who are so unhappy because they believe Fear – they make comments like “I don’t see how you did that,”  “what if it doesn’t work out?” or “I would be too afraid to do (fill in the blank).”

Just think what you are missing when you listen to Fear!

Some of my most satisfying experiences came because I decided to kick Fear in the face and tell him to leave me alone. I have dear friends who became close only when I tore down the walls that Fear had told me to build.

What I find is that when I bump against possibilities or ideas that make me uncomfortable – when I feel that tug of negativity, almost like someone grabbing my shirt and pulling me back a little – that’s when I need to lunge forward. Instead of giving into the idea that I can’t do something, that I might get hurt, or that I might fail, I want to ignore that voice of Fear and jump into whatever it is with both feet.

And yes, I might not be able to do it. I might get hurt. I might even fail. Spectacularly.

But I will have learned, loved, and grown into a better person, and I’ll be able to face the next challenge even better.

What is Fear telling you to avoid that you need to jump into?

Cheering on your team

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Photo courtesy of JD Lasica (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of JD Lasica (Creative Commons)

I was racing in the backstroke, in the outside lane of the pool. It was the neighborhood swim team and I was in my early teens. I could see my coach along the edge of the pool, cheering exuberantly and waving his arms as he followed me down the length of the pool. I couldn’t hear much besides the splashing of the water.

I swam harder that race, pulling my arms through the water faster, and kicking vigorously. I was not a fast swimmer, so I just assumed that I was behind the other swimmers and he wanted me to catch up.

I counted down my strokes and slapped the edge of the pool. As my coach pulled me out of the water, I realized my whole team was cheering because I had won the race – my first blue ribbon!

My coach’s encouragement helped me excel in that race, and in other races that summer. I remember our whole team did well under his guidance and training, because he made it fun to work hard and rewarded good results. He cheered us when we did well and gently corrected the mistakes.

I think a few of the leaders I’ve had over the years could have learned a lesson from my coach. I’ve been on teams where the leader never acknowledged any of the hard work the team did, constantly pointing out the errors and failures rather than celebrating the successes. There are going to be ups and downs in any team situation, and people tend to respond to positive feedback more readily than negative. With those leaders, I left every meeting feeling beat down and dejected.

There are also those leaders who are aloof and a step removed from the work of the team. In those situations, it feels like you are working in a vacuum – no feedback, encouragement or correction. That kind of leadership can be nerve-wracking because you have no idea if the leader will swoop in and criticize everything, or be happy with the results.

I like to model the leadership style of my coach, encouraging my teams when they do well, and giving kind, but firm, correction when they get off course. Since I respond to positive, specific feedback, I try to do the same for my teams. It’s more effective to tell someone the particular thing they did well, instead of a general “great job.” I also appreciate being told when I need to improve or strengthen a certain skill or action – being specific really helps me improve.

Encouraging or reprimanding? Involved or distant?

What kind of leader are you?

Streamlining communications

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Photo courtesy of Marle-Chantale Turgeon (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Marle-Chantale Turgeon (Creative Commons)

It should have been a simple email with an invoice for some service that my organization uses. We had exchanged a couple of emails to clarify the price and the timeframe, and then she sent me the invoice. I wrote back to say thank you and acknowledge that I had gotten it, thinking the conversation was finished. But then she sent yet another email back basically thanking me for thanking her.

I felt like she was wearing me out to have the last word in the discussion. That last email was totally unnecessary, and made just one more thing I had to look at in my inbox.

My email inbox feels a bit like it has gained weight after the holidays, with such an influx of “stuff” coming in that it’s hard to keep up. Granted, a lot of it is spam, or things I get copied on or can delete right away, but it’s still a large enough volume that has to be sorted through.

I do have rules set up so some things just go to a special folder. I’ve unsubscribed to things I don’t read all the time. But the volume is still huge and there are times I overlook something important because it gets caught up in the mess and I don’t see it until too late.

It is making me much more aware of what I send and how I respond to people so that I don’t overwhelm them too. I’m much less likely to write a rambling evasive response to someone or use a vague subject line. Short and sweet. To the point.

I know that I appreciate when people are succinct and clear in what they need from me, are offering me, and whether or not they require a response (and by when if it is time sensitive). Knowing that, I reciprocate by doing the same. If it’s going to be lengthy, I find another way to communicate, like a phone call.

I find a balance between acknowledging or responding, and just plain overkill.

Like that situation earlier – Thank you. No, thank you. No really, thank YOU.

How can you streamline your email communications?

Order is everything

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Photo courtesy of B.S. Wise (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of B.S. Wise (Creative Commons)

One of the highlights of my weekend is my long run on Saturdays and I have a particular route that is 10 miles long. I’ve done it so often that I know pretty much where I hit my mile markers and I can internally challenge and encourage myself, especially when I get toward the end.

Occasionally, I will run a half marathon as an extra challenge, so I basically have to add 3 extra miles to my regular route. Several times in the past, I’ve done this and added the extra miles at the end, which was tough both physically and mentally, since I was hitting mile markers what would normally be near the end, yet I still had several miles to go. The sequence was out of order.

This time, however, I decided to do the extra miles first, and then finish with my regular route. It was so much better because toward the end, I could just go on autopilot. I knew that when I hit what is usually the 8 mile mark with only 2 to go – it was now the 11 mile mark with still only 2 to go. I could tell myself, “You’ve got this!” The sequence really made a difference.

I realized I need to use a more logical sequence as I approach my work day – with the newer, more difficult tasks or projects first thing in the morning, when I’m fresh, instead of at the end of the day when it is harder to focus. As the day goes on, I can take care of the more routine tasks, knowing that I’ve gotten some good things accomplished already. Motivation is easier when I know the worst is behind me.

What I usually do is check my email and voice mail first thing, then get sucked into a spiral of responding to other people and taking on their priorities. It is sometimes nearly lunchtime before I get busy on what I intended to do first thing.

While for my particular job, it is important to be responsive to people, in most cases, I could wait an hour or two in order to get some focused work done early. If I plan the things I want to accomplish the afternoon before, then I will have an agenda and be ready to hit the ground running in the morning. The order I do things does matter to my motivation and productivity.

How would a better sequence make a difference in your productivity?

Accepting what comes

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Photo courtesy of MilitaryHealth (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of MilitaryHealth (Creative Commons)

It’s hard when things don’t go your way, isn’t it? You have the day planned out, and weather, illness, other people, computer problems, or something else comes along and screws up your perfect plan. Rats. Ugh. #%@!

How do you react when that happens?

Do you stomp around and curse the world? Do you whine and share with everyone around you how the world is out to get you? Or do you just accept it and get on with other things?

I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason, and I have learned (sometimes the hard way), that I’m better off just rolling with the situation when things don’t happen according to my plan. I must not have had the right plan.

It’s not always easy, and I’m not always happy about it, but it doesn’t do any good to get upset, does it? Stomping around, getting crabby, or whining just make me feel worse, and do nothing to solve anything. In fact, all that kind of reaction really does is make me and the people around me more miserable.

Instead, I’m learning to find the good in whatever the new situation is and stay focused on that.

Let me give you an example. I am a runner. I love to run outside, and until recently, really hated having to go to the gym. It’s boring, and not the kind of workout I want. I mean really, who wants to run in place on a treadmill for 5 miles instead of watching the scenery and hearing the birds outside for 5 miles.

But in winter, the weather does not always permit outside running. If it is bitter cold, slippery or rainy, it’s just not safe for me to be out there running, risking a fall or frostbite! Last year, I ended up just taking more days off than I wanted, but this year, I’m tackling the gym and learning how to be happy about it.

I actually realized that I can embrace my gym workouts as learning experiences. If I’m on the dreadmill (oh excuse me, treadmill), then I can listen to a podcast on my phone and the time flies by. On the elliptical, I read leadership books on my tablet and listen to music. Plus, I’ve been doing weights more often, which is building my strength. Win win.

How can you find the good no matter what?

Cursive in schools

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Photo courtesy of Daphne Abernathy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Daphne Abernathy (Creative Commons)

On the local news recently was a story about a return to teaching cursive in schools next year. The anchorwoman shared that her family went to Mexico last summer and her 12-year-old daughter had to print her signature on her passport because she had not been taught cursive, therefore she had no signature.

I had not thought about that impact.

There are a lot of things like that that we take for granted. We make assumptions that others we deal with have the same baseline of knowledge and they may or may not. It could flavor how they respond and interact with us. Just like I assumed everyone knew how to write in cursive, and didn’t realize they weren’t teaching it in schools. I also never thought about the fact that our signatures are basically cursive.

I work at a nonprofit that assists people with basic needs like food and clothing, as well as financial help with rent and utilities. Many of the people we help have grown up in poverty, and their parents and grandparents knew nothing but poverty. We have to be very careful about the assumptions we make in interacting with them because they may not understand some of things we take for granted.

For instance, some may have never had a checking or savings account, and no one in their family knew about or was able to teach them about budgets and saving. If they live paycheck to paycheck, scrambling for cash to cover bills every month, it will sound like a foreign language if we talk to them about things like budgeting or putting money aside.

Learning about differences like this have made me more mindful of what assumptions I make when I interact with people at work, church and other situations. I’m clearer in how I communicate and ask more questions to make sure I’m on the same page with people.

How much better would our relationships be if we paid more attention to ensuring that we understand each other and are speaking the same language?

Are you doing what you are meant to?

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Are you doing what you are meant to do or are you just working to pay the bills?  Do you see other people who have “found their calling” and figure they are somehow special, but think that ordinary people rarely have a calling, let alone find it?

In his new book, The Art of Work, Jeff Goins takes us through a series of real life examples of people finding their calling, or their passion, and shares a rather ordinary secret that he, and they, have discovered. “This is how calling happens: not as a lightning bolt, but as a gentle, consistent prodding that won’t leave you alone until you act. That you respond to the call, not how, is what makes it extraordinary.”

The information in The Art of Work is powerful, and yet comforting; mind-boggling at the same time it is familiar. We all know that feeling that what we are doing is not what we are meant to do, the questioning and aching for more satisfying work. This book helps us see why it’s important to take even the smallest step in that direction; why we need to pay attention to those feelings – and what we get when we do.

I encourage you to be brave and take a step toward doing what you were meant to do – toward finding your calling. For a limited time, Jeff is giving the book away – that’s right – you can get the book before it hits bookstores just by paying shipping. Plus if you move fast, you’ll have access to some amazing bonuses.

CLICK HERE to get your free copy of Jeff’s book and start finding your calling – and start doing the work you were meant to do.

Leap over the hurdles

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Photo courtesy of seandalal (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of seandalal (Creative Commons)

I could feel it coming on, almost like a chill in the air making me want to pull my sweater closer. It wasn’t so much in what he said, it was in how he said it, with a side of poor pitiful me and a twinge of whining in his voice. That negativity crept in like cold air seeping through the cracks around the edges of the door.

It would have been easy to sink to that level – to start viewing my world through that negative lens. To try to outdo by retelling the awful things I had to deal with. But what does that accomplish? How does that help me get through what I need to?

If I give in to the negativity, doesn’t that just flavor everything? Instead of seeking solutions, it makes me more likely to give up. Doesn’t everything just look gray and hopeless through that lens?

When one thing goes wrong, I start thinking “what next?” Suddenly more things are wrong than right and that’s what I focus on. Each challenge becomes a roadblock – too high and wide to see around, let alone get past.

Now contrast that to a more positive outlook which approaches challenges as hurdles. Each challenge is in the way, no doubt, but it’s a matter of leaping over them, not letting them stop me.

Those hurdles might not be easy and might slow me down, but when I choose to be positive, I tend to see more solutions. I’m looking up and out instead of down and inside, so there are more possibilities.

Tuning out voices of negativity is the first step, along with surrounding yourself with positive people and voices. Having affirmations that are easy to pull out and read through helps tremendously too – that lets you refocus and grab a foothold if you start sliding toward negativity. I have a list of quotes and quick sayings that give me a boost when I’m having a rough time. Those have been invaluable in turning my focus back to the positive.

How can you approach challenges as hurdles instead of roadblocks?

What makes you smile?

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catIt’s hard to resist smiling when I see this precious wooden kitty holding his sign! His tail is on a spring so it bounces and his whiskers are like wild little coils of wire – and those eyes. Someone at work gave him to me and he brightens up my apartment. (And full disclosure, I love dogs too but you have to admit this kitty is pretty funny.)

I’ve got other things that are either sentimental or offbeat that make me smile too. I keep them in spots that are easy to see and that I pass frequently so that even when I’m not so much in the mood to smile, they can turn things around. Hard to be sad or mad when you have a little feel-good rush and you just smile automatically.

There are people who make me smile too – who can turn a day around just by a sweet and unexpected text or call. A hug is even better if they happen to pop in my office.

Some people know just what to do or say to brighten the day, and they do not hesitate to reach out. Often.

Do I?

Am I so consumed with my own busyness that I forget to reach out to people myself? Do I only reach out when I need something or in response to something, not just to touch base? And because I do it so infrequently, are my interactions forced and unnatural?

As I begin to delve further into my three focus words for the year (read more here) which are NOURISH, PAUSE and PRACTICE, I realize that connecting with and reaching out to people is a part of all three. It’s so important for me to connect and not to become so focused on “doing” that I neglect “being,” and to explore ways to make others smile, which in turn makes me do the same.

Nourishing relationships makes my life more fulfilling because who truly wants to be a loner? I know there are times when I enjoy being alone, but my best times are shared with family and friends. Learning comes from bouncing ideas off each other and connecting makes me honestly happy, even if we have to do it online instead of in person.

I often think of pause as a lack of action, but it can also mean a switch – pausing the busyness in order to reach out to someone. Pausing work in order to relax in good company.

Practice is probably the most important of the actions because it will drive more frequent contact with those who are most important to me. By practicing the art of reaching out, I will get better, and it will come more naturally. Instead of having to think hard about it and set up reminders, practice will help me just build it into my day and week, and before long, it will be second nature. I’ll miss NOT connecting regularly.

I love the idea of becoming more outward focused and seeking opportunities to reach out to others and smile more often. I’ve got a little grin just thinking about it.

Who and what makes you smile?

What one thing would you take?

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Photo courtesy of Prathlma (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Prathlma (Creative Commons)

We recently played a version of “speed dating” at work as a team-building exercise to get to know each other better. I work at a small nonprofit, and we have added new team members over the last year so it was a great opportunity to connect.

We lined up in two rows of chairs, facing each other, and there would be a question that you answered with the person across from you for maybe a minute, then we shifted to the next seat facing the next person, and answered another question.

The questions were as varied as “what is your favorite color?” to “what animal would you like to be?” to “what is the one place you dream of visiting?”

The question that has me stumped was, “if you knew your family and pets were safe, what is the one thing you would take with you if your house was on fire?”

Think about that. You risk losing everything but can save one thing. What would it be?

I’ve got some essentials packed in a go-bag that I could grab if something were to happen, but these are things that would make life simpler, like my passport, birth certificate, and other papers and things I might need overnight (think clothes and allergy meds). Similarly, I have things in a safe deposit box that I would not want to replace – but they are things like the original of my car title, not sentimental items.

As I look around my apartment, I see things that are important to me, autographed books, photographs, letters from loved ones now gone, cherished items handed down in my family. These treasures bring me great pleasure, and make me smile when I see them. There are quilts that I’ve made and my father’s Bible. I would surely hate to lose any of these objects, but what would I take special efforts to save?

I’ve been mindfully considering my belongings and looking through my keepsakes. But honestly, I’m still pondering this question.

What one thing would you take?

How do you wait?

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Photo courtesy of chiaralily (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of chiaralily (Creative Commons)

I’m not a very patient person. I’m not good at waiting. But life seems to be full of waiting – in line, at the doctor’s office, to achieve your dreams, to find true love.

I have to admit I’ve gotten better at waiting over the last few years, and am learning to make the most of it since it is inevitable. I used to think I need to be more patient at waiting, but I’ve discovered lately that life is better when I engage in what I think of as “active waiting.” In other words, instead of simply doing nothing until whatever “event” happens, I do something productive to pass the time until the “event.”

This can be as mundane as checking my email on my phone while I wait for my lunch to heat up. It might be listening to a podcast while sitting in traffic. I have even worked on my grocery list or task list in line at the post office.

I visit my allergist for allergy shots every week, and have to wait there for 30 minutes after my shots to ensure I don’t have an adverse reaction. The first few times I had to wait seemed like HOURS. I kept looking at the clock, sure it was almost time, and maybe a minute had gone by. I was crazy with anticipation by the time I could leave, and I did not see how I could do this every time.

But then I started taking my computer, and I would get a little work done while I waited. Or I would read on my kindle. Before long, I was enjoying the quiet of sitting in the waiting room, away from distractions like the phone or office, and the time became almost a blessing. Some days I’m sorry when that alarm goes off and I have to head to work.

I have dreams that I wish I could achieve with the snap of my fingers – I’m sure you do too – yet it appears I’m facing a wait to attain them. Instead of anxiously pacing and getting frustrated, I’m learning to settle in for a long ride and work slowly toward them.

By actively studying, learning, and developing skills that will help me succeed, I can grow and be better prepared for when those dreams do come true. Waiting becomes something to savor instead of an annoyance.

How do you practice “active waiting”?

How do you learn best?

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Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Gates Foundation (Creative Commons)

I love to train and learn new things, whether it’s a better way to do something, a new yoga pose, or a new program or application on my electronic device.

When you are learning something new, do you want someone to quickly review new things with you and then let you get to it? Or do you need more hands-on experience, trying it out and testing the process while someone looks over your shoulder?

When you are faced with learning something new, do you let your instructor know how you need the information?

I’m the hands-on kind of personality. You can tell me all day long how to do something but until I’ve seen it and felt it and done it myself – I won’t really catch on. On the computer, for instance, when I’m learning a new app or program, I have to physically test it out, pull down the menus, see what happens when I click this – and figure out how to get out of that. I take notes, and unless I get really stuck, I’m ready to venture out on my own with it pretty quickly. I have a much better chance of understanding and learning it when I’ve actually gone through the process myself instead of seeing someone else do it.

Some people want to have their hand held through the process. They want to see you do it for them, step by step, and then they are terrified to try it themselves. When they do, they hesitate and wait on you to say yes, next do this, and then that. It takes multiple times of being walked through something and even then, they are hesitant to actually try.

Almost all of us end up being both trainer and trainee all the time. Whether it’s a change to your favorite program, or a new activity or game, we’re faced with new processes.

The trick to gaining new knowledge is in communicating what kind of learner you are when it’s your turn to be trainee, and to recognize and ask the style of learning of anyone you are training. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in frustration.

Once you have clear communication, then you can tailor the training to what you or that person needs and forge ahead with learning. And isn’t that an exciting part of life? Learning new things?

So how do you learn?

Catching myself wasting time

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Photo courtesy of Yung Tsai (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Yung Tsai (Creative Commons)

It was a simple email. I was clearing my inbox, and saw the notice from Facebook that today was a friend’s birthday. So I thought I’d quickly head over and post a note on her wall.

Ten minutes later, I broke away from scrolling through the feed – reading mostly mindless posts and wondering how I got sucked into that?? What a waste of time! At least I only lost 10 minutes.

But how many times do we do things like that during the day, and how much time does it add up to? It’s the same when I turn on the TV for “background noise” and end up sitting there staring at a commercial, completely interrupting any work I was doing and consumed with – well, junk.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about productivity and work-life balance, and challenging myself to spend less time on work and more on personal time. But then I catch myself wasting time on Facebook, or email, or TV, and think what a shame. That is time that I could have spent reading, visiting with a friend, or doing something worthwhile.

I need to focus more to finish what HAS to be done, so that I can free up more time to spend on what I WANT to get done.

Bring on the focus!

Count it down to a break

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Photo courtesy of Jeanette Goodrich (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jeanette Goodrich (Creative Commons)

Four more, and three, and two, last one!

When I taught aerobics, it was always important to count down for the class, especially when it was a tough repetition, to encourage them and let them know they were almost through. I always tried to tell them “great job” too, to reinforce the hard work they were putting in.

I find myself doing that internally on a run, especially a long one, where I’m telling myself, “only 5 more miles” or even better, “last mile, homestretch now.” It spurs me to speed up and keep going because I know I’m almost finished.

If you think the work is going to last forever, and you can’t see the end, it makes it hard to continue pushing at that same level. You don’t want to expend all your energy reserves, or burn out too quickly, so it is natural to hold back. Knowing you are almost finished gives you permission to push harder to finish.

And breaks are good things, not something to be avoided. One of my three focus words for the year is PAUSE (read more here) and it has been one of the most influential words so far.

So let me ask, do you count down for your team? Or for yourself when you are working on a lengthy or difficult project?

Whether I am running, lifting weights, working on a project, or cranking out work, I function so much better when I preset time to stop and take a break or pause. It could be as simple as the break between sets at the gym, or setting a timer and stopping for a few minutes after working steadily for an hour.

Reminding your team that a break is coming lets them know you recognize the effort they are putting in, and you will reward them when they get to that stopping point, even if that’s just a pat on the back and a “good job.”

So how will you count down for yourself and your team?

Communicating is a two-way process

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Photo courtesy of gfpeck (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of gfpeck (Creative Commons)

Communication is such a key part of teamwork, and is one of the most effective tools in the leader’s toolbox.

It can be the difference in reacting calmly or with anger and frustration, in giving a reasonable explanation to a co-worker or client or in giving a conflicting answer. Communicating effectively heads off confrontations and confusion because at least people are aware of what is happening.

Communication needs to be a two-part process also. It’s important to give information, but also to listen and take it in. Giving information without listening is dictating. Being able to listen and work out solutions is a sign of a good leader.

Good leaders are willing to hear that the solution that seemed to perfect to them, might not fit all their team’s needs. Then they work together to find a compromise.

You can avoid the headaches of duplicate efforts when you communicate well, because each team member is aware of what the others are doing. It’s awkward and embarrassing when your team each has a different version of the situation. Good communication makes for a seamless presentation to your customers because everyone is sharing the same story.

Sometimes it’s important to give people a heads up that there’s been a glitch in the system, and even if you don’t expect any repercussions, you can alert them to be prepared just in case there are questions or issues.

It could be a quick email to say that the warehouse is out of that item but that it will shipped by the end of the week, or a note on the copier to let your co-workers know that tech support has been called so they won’t each call.

When I worked at a bookstore years ago, we would have a team meeting each morning before the store opened. It never lasted very long, but we would share any important information – this title is on back order, here’s the new sale, these are the new releases and this is where they are displayed. It gave folks a chance to ask questions too, and give suggestions.

It got everyone on the same page, and allowed us to offer better customer service and have higher sales because we could find those titles or share that information when we were asked questions. The manager on duty would follow up during the day as additional staff came in so that they had the same information too. You could feel the positive energy in the store, and customers noticed.

At one point, I transferred to a different store that didn’t conduct those kinds of meetings, and the atmosphere seemed strained and disjointed. The team wasn’t as informed, and were not as equipped to answer questions. The lack of communication made a huge difference in moral, and not surprisingly, that store did not stack up in terms of sales or customer service reviews until we started changing the culture to one of communicating.

How could you improve your team’s communication?

No junk mail

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Photo courtesy of Rupert Ganzer (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Rupert Ganzer (Creative Commons)

I don’t quite understand how my email program determines what is junk mail and what isn’t. I am fascinated by the things that get tagged with the “spam detection” label, including some (but not all) emails from my mom, no matter how many times I click the little box “not junk.”

It is nice though, when I’m scrolling through, to know that at least a first swipe has been made to eliminate possibly harmful messages and make me at least take a second look before opening and launching some kind of virus.

I wish I had a spam filter on the negative voices that sometimes haunt me. There are a bunch I want to just send to junk mail.

They are the ones that start whispering when things are going well that it’s too good to be true and something bad is just about to happen. They keep me on edge looking for the bad thing instead of enjoying the good. There are the ones that tell me I’m not good enough or can’t do something.

Or the ones that revel when something does go wrong and hint that it’s just the beginning of the bad day (or week) I have ahead. You know, the voice that says, “Nothing ever goes right for me,” or “It figures that would happen to me, what is next?”

There are also certain trigger words, like the word “hate.” Do you catch yourself falling into that trap? I hate waiting in line. I hate when my computer locks up. I hate having to sit here on hold. I hate people who…

What I find is that if I am so busy saying that I hate something, I am already traveling down that negative road and drowning out the voice that could be suggesting a simple solution or work around.

Instead of dwelling on the thing that I dislike, I can make the best of the situation by using the time constructively. I could use the time spent in that line to check email or text a friend. Before I make that call where I will likely be on hold, I can gather some work I could do while I wait. Then I won’t start off the conversation sounding annoyed!

You can get so used to hearing those negative voices kind of as an undercurrent to your life that you don’t realize how demoralizing they are. And how contagious they are. It can be like Pigpen on Charlie Brown with waves of negativity around you, threatening to spread to anyone nearby.

They keep you doubting the good you can do, what you can accomplish, and the joy you can experience. By listening to those voices regularly, you may be living your life at less than your potential.

What negative voices do you need to send to junk mail?

Swimming in impatience

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Photo courtesy of plus45 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of plus45 (Creative Commons)

I’m trying to launch the podcast. I click the icon and the computer sits there mocking me, almost like it enjoys making me wait. In my impatience, I click again. Still nothing. Come on computer – you KNOW I don’t have much time to listen to this – why do you do this to me?

Then all of a sudden, not one, not two, but THREE versions start talking at me – each a second or two behind the other – like a badly orchestrated version of Row Row Row Your Boat in rounds.

In my frustration, I’ve actually launched the app three times, which partly explains why it took so long to come up – because I had not given it time to process. Suddenly, I’m having to undo what I have done. And I’ve unnecessarily upset myself by freaking out over the delay in the first place.

How often do we do that to and with other people?

We ask a question, or send an email or message? We don’t get an answer in what WE feel is an appropriate timeframe and we ask again – this time more forcefully. Or we resend the email – sometimes with a less than polite insistence that we need an answer right away or…

We start making assumptions about the other person – they don’t want to talk to us, they are dragging their feet, they are purposely trying to make our lives difficult.

How crazy is that? The other person may have a justifiable reason for not responding right away – including the fact that “our emergency” is not “their emergency.” And was our issue really so critical anyway?

I have read more and more about how being so “connected” is making us less productive and more volatile, and I have to admit I don’t get much done when I’m responding to email or texts as soon as they come in. I’m also not very focused when I have multiple tabs and windows open on my computer and switch back and forth between them all, which is why I tend to try to launch things multiple times or forget that I haven’t responded to someone. And it makes me crabby. The frantic pace just increases my impatience and it’s a wonder I can get anything done at all.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, our average attention span dropped to 8 seconds in 2013, which is 1 second less than that of a goldfish. Imagine – a goldfish. No wonder I have such trouble!

They also say that the average number of times we check our email inboxes an hour is 30 – oops, busted! What about you?

So how do we practice more patience and less distractedness? How do we lengthen our attention span?

One thing I’ve been doing is turning off notifications. It’s near impossible to ignore the phone or computer when things are chirping, chiming and popping up to alert me. “Look at me!” they scream.

There are some things I need to know about right away, but most of it can wait until I am ready to check. So my email notifications are off, and I have set up different tones for texts or calls from those people I need to respond to right away, and that way I can hold off on checking the rest. I’ve turned off sound on most other notifications, and often I will turn my phone over so I don’t see what is popping up on the notification screen.

I’ve been experimenting with how I schedule my day, and building in focused time on projects or tasks with a defined end time for a break. That way I can let go of distractions for that specified time period, and know that I will catch up on messages or emails during that break.

Am I gaining more patience? Definitely, but I admit I still struggle. These little tricks are helping me accomplish more and feel less jittery all the time. I still have a long way to go though, because each day is a new challenge to stay focused.

How do you stay more focused than a goldfish?

Do you pause?

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Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz (Creative Commons)

The sun is brightly shining, the tree branches are moving just slightly in the breeze, and the quiet is almost deafening. There are plenty of things on the “to do” list, but thankfully, for just this moment, there is nothing more urgent than just being here.

How often do you indulge in “just being”?

I can tell you I don’t very often. I read about the benefits of meditation and unhooking and down time. I know it is good to let your mind and your body rest. I recognize the benefits of living in the moment.

But moments like this are rare for me.

I am almost always moving – mentally and/or physically – from task to project to communication. Still need to do this, and have to finish that before taking a break, and then break just means a different activity, not really break from all activity.

PAUSE is one of my three focus words for 2015 (read more here) precisely for the reasons mentioned above. Break and rest aren’t strong enough words for me, but PAUSE – now that word carries more meaning for me. Like pausing a recorded show on TV – the action stops –all of it. No sound. No movement. Not changing the activity but a cessation of it. And then it starts back when you hit the play button.

That’s what I need to more of in my life – PAUSE.

Do you pause often enough?

Remembering to be thankful

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Photo courtesy of Beth (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Beth (Creative Commons)

I don’t say thank you enough. Do you?

And when we do say thank you, do we mean it and do we spell out what we are being thankful for?

I often find myself mumbling “thank you” and it’s about as meaningful as the “how are you – fine” interaction most of us have when we meet. Let’s be honest – most of the time we have that exchange, it’s just a formality – we aren’t really asking how that person is, and we certainly don’t expect any kind of accounting of how they are doing – just like we don’t give them any idea how we are that day either.

I think the same thing happens when we say “thank you” much of the time. We mumble it as an automatic response, and it loses any real meaning.  Plus half the time we walk away wondering what we were even being thanked for!

What if we stopped and actually spelled out to the other person what we are saying thank you about? Instead of just a tossed off “thanks” – imagine yourself saying,

“Thank you for (insert specific action here). That has really helped me (insert specific benefit here).”

When I spell out my gratefulness like this, it not only lets the other person know that I am noticing their actions, but it also makes me more aware of how much I truly appreciate what they have done.

A couple of examples might be:

“Thank you for helping me with the verbiage on that proposal. Your feedback made it more powerful and effective.”

“Thank you for going to lunch with me. It was really nice to catch up and enjoy your company. I loved hearing about your new job.”

“Thank you for your consistently great attitude. I don’t tell you enough how much it brightens the office/house/day when you smile.”

It only takes a minute, but what a difference a genuine thank you can make! I think we especially need to express our gratitude to those who are closest to us at home or work because they are the ones we often take for granted.

Who are you thankful for, and have you told them lately?

Hitting the bull’s-eye

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Photo courtesy of Emillo Kuffer (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Emillo Kuffer (Creative Commons)

How often do you miss the bull’s-eye with your practice of things that are important to you?

It happens so fast. I’ll just turn on the TV just long enough to watch the weather. I need to know whether I can run or need to go to the gym. What’s that rule? If it takes less than 2 minutes just do it? So let me handle this email before I start writing.

I bet you know what happens next – or what doesn’t happen, as it usually turns out. That precious writing time that I carved out early in the morning? It doesn’t happen. Instead, I get sucked into the news and mindless commercials. I go from that one email to another and another and then need to check something online.

Before I know it, the time is gone and I need to exercise and start getting ready for work and I haven’t written a single word or even opened up my word processing program! I’ve not only missed hitting the center of the target, I’ve overshot the entire target!

Same thing happens when I get to work – what starts as a quick check of voice mail and email ends up costing me most of the morning and not a moment spent on that project I needed to plan.

Maybe for you it’s not writing or project time, but time spent with your kids, or exercise, or prayer. Whatever it is, if you have made an effort to plan and schedule time for that and it is an activity that is important to you, it’s essential to protect that time. Sure, I know things will come up every once in a while, but that should be the extreme exception.

It’s so easy to slip into old habits, and get caught up in so much busyness that the things that are truly important but not urgent get pushed aside. You start making excuses. But nothing really justifies it.

I am so much happier and more productive all day when I stick to my plan and take even just 15-20 minutes to write each morning. It is my practice, and I function better when I do it daily. That weather report? It is not so urgent, is it? I’m going to exercise at the same time whether I run or go to the gym, so I can wait until after I write to check. That email? Well, if it was so urgent it needed an immediate response, then that person would have called. I nail my plan and hit that target right in the center.

How can you make sure you are hitting the bull’s-eye with your practice?

What is really next?

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Photo courtesy of Erik Schepers (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Erik Schepers (Creative Commons)

Something I fight constantly is the trap of “loudest and most recent” when I’m getting things done.

It seems no matter how much I plan, I get sent off track when someone interrupts me with their “urgent” need. I think it will only take a minute and will be better than adding it to a list or asking someone to do it, and before I know it the day is over, or my energy is flagging, and I have done a lot of busy-work but not the real work that I had intended.

Often that busy work could have either waited or been delegated, and here I was, wasting precious time and energy taking care of it. Ugh.

What’s really next?

That’s the question I need to be asking myself frequently throughout the day. Secondary questions include: Is this part of my role? Does this action move me toward my mission and my critical goals? Am I the best person to do this?

If the answer to any of the secondary questions is “no,” then I need to stop and consider why that potential action is even on my list. Granted, there will be times when I do things that aren’t related to my mission or role, but that needs to be after I have spent good focused time on activities related to my mission and my primary responsibilities and goals.

Even more than adding things to my list to deal with later, I need to get better at saying, “You can contact (insert name here) and they can help you with this,” or “Here is where you can find that information.” Then I can get right back to what I am meant to be doing.

I work extensively with an organization called I Run 4 (read more here), in which runners/athletes are paired with adults and children with special needs and dedicate their workouts to their buddies. The support and encouragement that develops out of these new relationships is incredible. However, there is a long waiting list of runners to be matched, and also not all the matches work out.

My role is to coordinate the new matches, and make sure buddies and runners get connected initially. As of this writing, we have nearly 30,000 members in the closed Facebook group, almost 9,700 buddy/runner matches, and over 3,000 runners on the wait list, so you can imagine the numbers of emails and messages I field daily. It keeps me busy!

When I get a message from a runner wanting to know what number they are on the waiting list, or that someone is having issues with their buddy/runner and wants a rematch, I have to be diligent about referring those kinds of communications to the person or place where they can get help. I have learned the hard way, if I am not good at deflecting, then I end up bogged down in a lot of “stuff” that keeps me from doing what I need to.

At first, I would stop and look up the runner to let them know where they were on the list, but we post that list in the group every week, and I have learned to simply let them know where they can find it so they can look it up on their own.

Another volunteer manages any HR issues that arise between buddies and runners, and works with both parties to remind them of guidelines, work out issues, or make the decision to rematch or remove members. She is compassionate and kind, and really good at what she does.

When someone messages me with issues, it only adds to the frustration of everyone involved if I do anything other than refer them right away to our HR director. I have learned to not even get involved but to let them know immediately who they need to contact, her email, and that she can help them.

These actions help me stay focused on my true role of processing the new buddies and runners and announcing those life-changing matches.

What things come into your life that you should deflect? How can you stay focused on saying, “What’s really next?”

Don’t look at the top of the hill

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Photo courtesy of Henrik Johansson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Henrik Johansson (Creative Commons)

As I come to the hill and see it stretching up ahead, I almost want to quit right there. It looks so steep that I don’t even believe I can do it, even though I have run up this hill many times. There at the bottom, it seems too much to manage.

What I have learned is not to look up at the top. I keep my gaze focused just on the next few feet ahead of me – eyes down, breath even, legs moving steadily. Before I know it, I have run up that hill and I’m at the top, doing a little Rocky dance in my head. The times I forget and glance up are the times I that I doubt my strength, gasp for breath and walk up that hill instead of running up it.

Sometimes I think reaching for your goals and dreams can be the same way. It is so overwhelming to look up at that end goal – it seems so high and unreachable that we stop believing we can achieve it. We doubt our strength, skill and knowledge. We forget both our past accomplishments and our new plan.

We freak ourselves out. That’s when we give up on the dream.

There are times when we need to look out at the ultimate goal. During planning time, we have to tilt our heads back to gaze at that dream – that huge, big, beautiful dream.

Then we formulate a plan. Along the way, it’s important to glance up to know we are headed in the right direction. We need to make sure we’re not getting off track.

But in the day-to-day – in the grind – we need to practice the even pace and breath that got us so far already, and stay focused a few feet ahead. We need to work our plan and do those things that will take us steadily up that hill. We should push ourselves certainly, even to the point of discomfort, but not get overwhelmed. We can do this. We have done this before.

I sometimes look at the things others have accomplished and wonder at what strength they must possess. Athletes at the peak of their sport, award-winning authors or actors, heads of companies. They have run up hills higher than I can even imagine.

And yet, I bet if you asked them, they would tell you they stayed focused on the ground just ahead of them. They were not magically transported to the top. They methodically made their way there just like you and I can – and should.

Just one step at a time.

Slow down and check once more

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Photo courtesy of Jhaymeslsviphotography (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jhaymeslsviphotography (Creative Commons)

I waited impatiently for a response to my text – wondering why on earth it was taking my friend so long to get back to me. I looked again at my phone, like that was going to speed things up, and then noticed it. Oops, I had sent the text to the wrong person! Yikes! No wonder I didn’t get an answer!

One of the problems with the fast-moving, multi-tasking world today is that we don’t always pay the appropriate amount of attention to the things we need to. At least I don’t. I’m rushing from thing to thing. My efforts are fragmented and incomplete. I am distracted and overwhelmed.

Thank goodness I can check “sent” mail because half the time I can’t remember if I actually followed up and sent that email or just thought about it before being pulled off onto something else. My attention span is about a half a second much of the time, and if I don’t write something down, forget me ever remembering it until you mention it to me again.

One thing I am consciously working on this year is slowing down. One of my three focus words (read more here) is PAUSE, and it is turning out to be an important action for me.

It’s not just about pausing in the sense of resting or taking a break from action, although that is important too. Pause reminds me to hesitate before hitting send – to read that email or text one more time and make sure it says what I want it to (no weird autocorrection) and is addressed to the right person(s).

Pause means I stop before heading out the door to make sure I have everything I need and avoid a trip back in to get that thing I had to take with me that I was about to leave on the counter.

Pause is the breath I take before reacting to a situation – so that I react more appropriately.

I even paused during my run the other morning when I crested the hill and saw the moon setting, huge and orange. I just took a moment to marvel, and thank God for such a beautiful sight. Then I finished my run more refreshed.

I am more mindful when I pause, and I can almost feel the distractions just melting away. Do this – ONLY – and then get to the next thing, instead of this and this and this all at once. You and I both know that doesn’t work well, so why do we keep acting like it does?

When do you need to pause?

Finding your way through

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Photo courtesy of One Lucky Guy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of One Lucky Guy (Creative Commons)

Have you ever felt lost and overwhelmed like you’re stuck in the middle of a hedge maze? All you see is a narrow trail in front of you. You can’t see over the bushes around you to get an idea of which direction you need to go. You can’t tell at an intersection which course leads you out and which is a dead-end. Sometimes it feels like you’re just going in blind circles, hoping to stumble on the right path. The faster you go, the more you stumble.

The only solution I know of when I feel like this is to stop and regroup. Usually the problem is that my mission has become blurry and I’m either saying yes to too many things or mixing up the things “I” need to do with the things “others” need for me to do.

As counterintuitive as it seems at the time, I have to stop when I get that panicky feeling. Stop putting out fires. Stop responding to every interruption. Stop creating more piles and notes. Stop blindly running through the maze.

Usually when I get to this point, I’ve let my inbox fill up (both physical inbox and email inbox), I have little post it notes everywhere with reminders to do this or that, my list is endless, and I’m nervously jumping from thing to thing just hoping that I can check something off the list and feel better.

But the more I flail around, the worse it gets and I lose track of – well, everything.

The key is to make sure that I’m ultimately focused on the right thing – my mission. Then all the other things start to fall in place. I can consider each activity through the lens of my mission (positive impact) and my three words (read more about that here) and get back on track.

Before I know it, I have navigated back through that maze and am headed toward my goals!

How can you find your way through your maze?

Leaving a trail

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Photo courtesy of Kat Selvocki (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kat Selvocki (Creative Commons)

I get interrupted a lot at work. No I mean constantly. It is challenging some days to stay focused and get things done because each interruption invites a shift to a new task or project, and by the end of the day, my desk ends up literally stacked with all the things I started and didn’t finish. I find email drafts the next day that I thought I had sent (no wonder I didn’t get a response since I never finished hitting send!). I have little notes all over the place, and people often have to ask more than once to get something from me.

I don’t like working that way, so I’m figuring out a way to leave myself markers – kind of like a trail of breadcrumbs, to the work I need to be doing.

To counteract all the interruptions, I’m learning some ways to trigger a reminder that gets me back on track. One thing is to leave a blank pad of paper by my computer so that I can write things down. When someone comes in to say we need to order this, or can I print out that, or they need these figures, I write it down for later and continue with what I was doing.

I’m learning to say, “I’m in the middle of something now, but I will get that in a little while.” That way I can finish what I’m working on, or at least get to a stopping point, and then get other things done.

I’m also learning to finish a thought or an entry when the phone rings. Instead of picking up on the first ring, I get to a logical stopping point and then answer – and sometimes I let it go to voice mail (gasp). That action alone has helped tremendously in staying on track, and eliminating a lot of the mistakes I was making.

How do you stay focused in spite of interruptions?

Do your touchdown dance!

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Photo courtesy of Josh May (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Josh May (Creative Commons)

One of my favorite parts of a football game is seeing the touchdown dance some of the players do when they have crossed that goal line and the referees’ arms go up signaling TOUCHDOWN! It is always so fun to see those spontaneous leaps and dances in celebration.

Do you do a touchdown dance when you reach a high goal or finish a huge project?

I confess I don’t. I talk about it sometimes, but I usually just say “whew that’s done” and go on to next thing, instead of pausing to revel in the moment.

Last week I finished a major project and I missed the perfect opportunity for my touchdown dance. I work for a nonprofit, and part of my job is sending  the year-end donation statements to our donors.  It’s a project that takes several weeks on my end to get things entered, checked, and printed, and then several more days for an incredible team of volunteers to get them folded, stuffed and stamped.

I lugged the bags of envelopes to the post office and stuffed them in the bin. A huge sense of relief flooded over me and I really should have whooped and done my dance right there in the post office!

Instead, I quietly folded up all my bags and came home. It was anticlimactic.

Next time, that noise you hear will be me doing my touchdown dance and whooping and hollering! We need to bask in the glow of our accomplishments at least for a few minutes before getting back to the grindstone.

What touchdowns do you need to celebrate?

Troubleshooting compatibility problems

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Photo courtesy of Shalynn Smith (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Shalynn Smith (Creative Commons)

My computer had been having trouble with a particular program, and every time I turned it on, I got an error message that the program had stopped working. I realized that it was slowing things down, and was a redundant program anyway. It was offered when I got the computer and involved free cloud storage, which I already have anyway.

When I checked to see why it was crashing, one of the menus was “troubleshoot compatibility problems” – which let me know right away that there must be some major issues for it to have that kind of menu option. I uninstalled it and my computer boots up much more quickly and smoothly now with no error messages.

That process made me start thinking about compatibility in general – in my work, in the people I know, and in my life and habits. There are times we put up with huge incompatibility because we think we have to, but do we?

Are there activities we need to “uninstall” from our lives, or people we need to limit our access to in order to function better?

I’ve been a bit frustrated lately that I seem to be always busy, preoccupied and rushed, having to squeeze in or skip the things I want to do because of all the things I have to do. But in taking a step back to examine what I’m doing, I realize that some of the “have to” things, are self-imposed.

Like that redundant program that was causing my computer issues, a lot of the activities I engage in regularly are unnecessary and can be eliminated, or at least limited. Or streamlined.

Even simple things can suck time away from significant activities. I’m starting to get ruthless in looking at not just what I’m doing, but how I’m doing it, and even how I have things arranged.

Clutter makes me crazy, and yet I let my desk get cluttered up with piles, notes and mail. It takes me twice as long to find what I need. I let my task list get jumbled up with tasks that take longer to write down than to do and then tie up mental energy because they are undone. I need to straighten both my physical space and mental space.

I do things at work that my team could easily do, so I must relearn delegation. That would free me up to get the things done that only I can do. It’s ok to ask for help and actually, people are often thrilled to be able to assist.

Negativity must go too – it can be such a drain, so I’ll establish a “no whine zone” around myself. Positive energy only around here!

The more I think about how and what I do, the more I see I need to streamline to be more compatible with my goals, dreams, and mission.

What compatibility issues can you resolve?

How do you make time to read?

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Photo courtesy of Mo Riza (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Mo Riza (Creative Commons)

Amazon has got me pegged. I am not a big shopper, and I don’t often go to the mall and buy clothes or shoes or things for my apartment. But boy, do I love books! When I get an email from Amazon telling me about the latest new book, it’s hard for me to resist.

As an avid reader and former bookseller, I love a good read, and while I said I’d never replace real books with anything electronic, I confess that most of what I buy lately is for my Kindle Fire, which is a little tricky, because at least with real books, there are limits to the size of bookshelves and places to stack them. With my Kindle, the “virtual bookshelf” is endless, so space is not much of an issue.

My problem now is that I have all these wonderful books, with more being downloaded nearly every week, and I don’t have time to read them. Maybe I should rephrase that – I don’t MAKE time to read them.

One of my three focus words (read more here) this year is NOURISH, so nourishing both mind and spirit is a key part of my focus. Lately, I tend to relegate reading to something I do just before bed, and it’s usually a mystery or other fiction. It often takes me weeks to finish a book because I read a few pages before falling asleep and then end up having to re-read part of it the next night – you get the picture. I find it hard to just sit and read on a weekend afternoon or after work one evening because it “feels” like I’m goofing off. There are surely more important things that I need to be taking care of.

But actually, there is not anything more important than expanding my thinking and learning new things or ways to approach things. Reading for development needs to be a priority, and not something to feel guilty about.

I need to be sure I’m filling my bookshelf with more than just murder mysteries (although I can still learn about writing styles and ways to turn a phrase from fiction writing). I seek books that challenge me to think differently, to act differently, to be a better person.

I also need to not just read them and go on. I’m bad about reading and thinking, “oh that’s a great way to think about that,” and then promptly forget about it. One of the advantages of reading on Kindle is that I can highlight sections and go back and easily review my notes electronically. I need to revisit these sources of inspiration periodically to reinforce what I learn.

Incorporating these ideas into my life and PRACTICE (another of my three words) is important too. If I don’t build on my learning and experience, then I’m wasting my time reading it in the first place.

How do you make time for reading?

Don’t think too hard

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Photo courtesy of Steve Harwood (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Steve Harwood (Creative Commons)

Sometimes the best goals in soccer come when players race down the field and kick, without spending much time lining up the shot or figuring out where the other team might interfere.

In the same way, some of my best decisions are the ones I make quickly, without a lot of thought or consideration. Even big decisions often benefit from a quick yes or no.

What I find is that when I agonize over a choice, weighing all the benefits against the downfalls, the great things against the possible awful things, I start exaggerating them in my head. And then fear starts egging me on and before I know it, all the things that can go wrong or the pain or discomfort that might result get blown all out of proportion.

Like a monster in a nightmare, those possible bad things loom and jeer at me. At the same time, the good I will derive from the experience shrinks – it cowers in the face of such horrific possibilities.

Suddenly, I am in danger of missing out on a possibly life-changing (or at least day-changing) experience.

If my mission is aligned and I’m practicing discipline in other areas of my life, then big decisions become pretty easy.

Let’s take a simple example of going for a run outside in winter. My first thought is great, I’m going to run. But then I look at the temperature, and the wind chill, and I imagine how cold I’ll be, that awful slice of the wind cutting right through me like I’m in a tank top, my face feeling frozen so it’s hard to smile, and thinking my fingers might just fall right off, no matter how many layers I have on.

That can be enough to make me stay home and do nothing. But practicing a healthy lifestyle is important to me, and that does not include slacking off on fitness.

If I just make the decision to run and suit up to go, I get an invigorating workout, I have a better outlook on my day because I faced a fear, and I can feel good that I got my exercise for the day. I ALWAYS, without fail, end up glad that I went ahead and ran.

I tend to second guess myself when I’m starting a new project or when deciding whether to sign on to a new opportunity. Sometimes I take so long deliberating that I miss the opportunity altogether. The class fills up or the special price ends.

Even worse, the deadline that seemed so far off when I started thinking about the project is suddenly too close to be able to plan at all. Then it’s time to throw something together in order to say “done” and the project is less than spectacular.

I’m not advocating a willy-nilly approach to things that doesn’t allow time for realistic reflection, but being deliberate in limiting that time is key. Whether you have to set a deadline for a decision or ask someone on the team to check back with you in a couple of days, it’s important to prevent fear from hindering or delaying your decision.

How have you missed opportunities by thinking too long about them?

Skip the negative commentary

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Photo courtesy of Natalle Shuttleworth (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Natalle Shuttleworth (Creative Commons)

I’ve noticed something about how I get things done lately, and it’s really helping me face difficult tasks without as much hesitation and worry.

I used to engage in a mental conversation about how much I didn’t want to do something, or how hard it was going to be, or how much it was messing up whatever else I wanted/needed to be doing. It’s easy to fall into that trap, but it’s such a negative mental loop that really doesn’t accomplish anything except make me dread whatever it is I have to do.

There are several books I’ve read lately that promote a more go-get-‘em attitude of facing challenges which have shifted my outlook a bit.

In his book, The Way of the Seal, retired U.S. Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine tells us, “To win at anything, we must first win control over our minds.”

Ryan Holiday tells us in The Obstacle is the Way that it’s important to stay calm. “It’s the kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions. Not the loss of feeling altogether, just the loss of the harmful, unhelpful kind. Don’t let the negativity in, don’t let those emotions even get started. Just say: ‘No, thank you. I can’t afford to panic.’ ”

He goes on to say that, “This is the skill that must be cultivated – freedom from disturbance and perturbation – so you can focus your energy exclusively on solving problems, rather than reacting to them.”

Now I find myself accepting and doing whatever it is without all the mental commentary – no need to rehash how much else I have to do or anything else, just get busy and do it. What a relief it is to approach things that way!

Let me give you an example. One of my duties at work is computer support. If things go wrong with the computers or registers, I am the first line of defense. If it’s over my head (which much of it is), then I have people I can contact to solve the problem.

I got paged first thing one morning about one of our registers, but instead of sighing and moaning, I just went to deal with it. Turns out it was not something I could fix, so I contacted tech support and scheduled a service call. I returned to my desk only to be told the other register was having troubles. Same thing – called tech support and this time, they were able to talk me through a solution.

Before, having something like that go wrong would have sent me into a tailspin of negative thinking and crabbiness. But this time, I just dealt with the problem and got back to the other work I needed to get done.

No mental discussion, no complaints, no crabbiness, no negativity.

Zooming

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Photo courtesy of Bram Cymet (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Bram Cymet (Creative Commons)

My thoughts are zooming like a high-speed chase.

Flying and looping through my mind are all the things I need to do, ideas, chores, regrets, dreams.

The physical clutter just perpetuates the mental clutter, with thoughts like “how did you let it get so messy again?” and “oh I need to take care of that.”

Coming off a crazy week at work, where I didn’t accomplish half of what I needed to because I was stomping out fires instead (a non-functioning register trumps any other planned work), super cold weather, and lingering frustrations over unfinished stuff in all parts of my life combine to create a whirlwind in my mind.

None of the usual remedies seems to relieve the pressure. Lists are started and abandoned. Piles are moved around. Thoughts of working are quickly replaced with worry about how to get all the errands and chores done.

And I seem frozen and unable to actually GET anything done.

At the heart of all of this is fear. Lower case fear, not uppercase Fear, which is reserved for things like failure or speaking in front of people.

Lower case fear is more insidious, and tends to disguise himself. He’s sneaky, and works by making me feel unsettled and uncomfortable. It’s that nagging feeling that I’ve forgotten to do something. Or the nervousness at looking at my inbox and hoping there isn’t an unpaid, overdue bill in there. Even the memory of that conversation with a co-worker I had recently and the hope that I didn’t say the wrong thing and sound callous or rude.

Lower case fear even makes me feel like I’m wasting my time on whatever I choose to do. If I’m working, he’s whispering that I should be relaxing. If I’m resting, he’s nudging me to get busy and quit goofing off.

Instead of being productive, I’m just spinning my wheels, letting fear get the best of me.

This is when I have to get back to basics to shut fear up. Stop the cycle and get back on the right track with the voice of reason in my head.

Whatever it is for you that stops that cycle – remember it. Write it down and keep it handy. For me, it’s exercise. Somehow moving my body helps quiet that voice of fear. Whether I run, workout at the gym, or simply walk away from my desk down the hall, moving helps me refocus and get back to what I need/want to be doing.

How do you slow down the zoom and shut up fear?

How do you decide what to do?

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Photo courtesy of The Inadvertent Gardener (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of The Inadvertent Gardener (Creative Commons)

When you get to your desk at work each morning, how do you decide what to do first? And next?

If you are like me, it’s other people who decide what you do a lot of days. You’ve got email waiting, the red light is shining bright on your phone like a beacon indicating all the voice mails you have waiting, post it notes clutter your desktop, and there are stacks of files or papers on your desk or in your chair. So and so has been looking for you, says a co-worker as you walk in. Then there’s the stack of client files that need to be entered so you dive right in.

So much for the focused hour on that project you had scheduled with yourself, and forget planning time. You jump right in responding to everyone else’s priorities and “emergencies.”

I’m not advocating being unresponsive to others, but sometimes you need to protect that project or planning time, especially when it pertains to things that will be beneficial going forward.

For instance, we changed databases at work last year, and I faced the challenge of needing to learn it and stay up to date entering all the client information, and yet also find time to train my volunteer data entry team on the new system. The longer I delayed training them, the more work I was creating for myself. But setting up training documents and getting them up to speed took away from time I could be entering. It was quite a dilemma.

I finally realized that it was critical for me to take time to put together that training and go over it with them. Having them enter information correctly so all I do is spot check takes a huge load off of me now because it frees me up to do other work that they are not able to do. It helps me accomplish more in a week because I’m not doing every bit of data entry. But for a couple of days, I had to let things back up while I put together the training.

In his new book Procrastinate on Purpose, Rory Vaden shares the popular grid that talks about Urgent vs. Important tasks, but adds a third layer to his diagram. He suggests that we also need to consider Significance in determining our priorities. In other words, how will what I’m doing today improve things later on?

He says, “There are things I can do today that will make tomorrow better. There are choices that I can make now that will create more space later.”

So when I was developing the training for my volunteers, I had to consider the significance of saving time in the future not having to enter all that information. The time spent THEN has saved me tremendous amounts of time SINCE. Plus, my volunteers know they are doing important work so that also makes their volunteer experience more enriching.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the urgency of having to get things done right now, and of having to do it all. Spinning my wheels chasing tasks that could easily be done by someone else is a trap – and one that I fall into often.

According to Vaden, “We haven’t believed in ourselves enough to zero in on what is going to have the most Significant impact rather than the one that is just going to have the most immediate impact.”

He goes on to tell us, “The only way you can’t appropriately pay back everyone who has helped you become who you are is to trade the Significant things that you are supposed to do for the insignificant ones.”

In other words, if I stay “busy” entering all that client data myself, then I deprive myself and my organization of the many other accomplishments I might have achieved had I trained my team and freed myself up for other work.

How would your life change if you layered Significant on top of Urgent and Important when determining what to do each day?

Riding shotgun with fear

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Photo courtesy of Stephen Wolfe

Photo courtesy of Stephen Wolfe

Fear is not a good driver, and riding shotgun with him is pretty scary. He drives really fast, and screeches around curves on two wheels, slams on the brakes and then floors it to start off again.

Fear encourages me to do things I shouldn’t – focus on the wrong tasks, drink too much coffee, stay up too late, get caught up in the now instead of dreaming and planning for the future. He insists I say yes to too much and feel guilty when I say no.

I’d rather ride with Discipline. He is a great driver, slow and steady. With him, I practice good judgment, make better decisions, and take care of myself mentally and physically. He encourages me to say no to things that keep me from following my dream and mission.

When fear is in charge, life seems unpredictable and overwhelming. I end up scrambling to finish everything and always feel on edge and jittery. Being with fear is like trying to carry too much and then you start dropping things.

Fear is the conductor who is keeping a different beat for every section of the orchestra. Cacophony results.

Discipline is a calming presence. When he’s around, things just go more smoothly. There’s no rushing around, no guilt, no panic. It’s like having your list perfectly in order from task to task, the load is easy to manage and nothing gets dropped.

The orchestra plays flawlessly when Discipline directs.

Who is driving in your life?

When in doubt, reboot

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Photo courtesy of Magnus. (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Magnus. (Creative Commons)

One of the first things I try when I’m having issues with my computer, phone or other electronic device is to reboot it. That’s right, I just turn it off.

That’s also the first question my IT guru at work asks when we have issues, “have you rebooted it?”

Much of the time, that simple action of turning off, letting it sit and then turning it back on, resolves whatever minor issues the device was having, and will help in determining if the problem is more serious.

So I wonder why it takes us so long to “reboot” our bodies and minds?

When I get tired and overwhelmed, my decision-making process is not as keen and I don’t react well to challenges and issues. That’s when I say and do things I regret later. It makes me make mistakes and missteps. But more times than not, I just keep blundering blindly ahead, getting more tired and frustrated, and making things even worse.

Once I take a break, get some rest, and step back from whatever is going on, I’m able to react more appropriately and make better progress.

Just like a computer or other electronic device needs to be shut down periodically, so do my body and mind. There’s no benefit to going full steam ahead 100% of the time, and that only leads to mental burnout and physical injury.

One of my three focus words this year is PAUSE (read more here). I chose that word as a reminder to step back not only throughout the day with short breaks, but to also plan blocks of time off so that I can refresh and renew both my mind and my body. It’s a lie when I let myself think “there’s no time to take off,” and I am delusional if I think I can function without an occasional reboot.

Are you making sure to pause and reboot?

What distractions are you inviting?

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Photo courtesy of Lars Kristian Flem (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Lars Kristian Flem (Creative Commons)

I have a confession. While I don’t just sit and idly watch a lot of TV, I do sometimes turn it on in the morning to check the weather so I can plan my run later, and end up leaving the local news on. At first it seems like a good idea – I need to see what’s going on in the world, to stay up on what’s happening around town. Good, there’s the traffic report, and the weather, and the sports Oh, but there are all those annoying commercials for cars, quick loans, lawyer services.

Guess what?

Those days I turn on the TV early are the days I don’t get much done in that prime morning writing time. The noise and distraction prevent me from fully focusing on my writing, even if I’m not fully paying attention to the TV. It isn’t quiet time anymore.

One thing I’ve discovered is how precious my quiet time is in the morning. Why would I invite all these irritating people into my living room when I want to be alone and focused? What was I thinking? I don’t need to know an hour before I leave whether I’m running or heading to the gym – I can wait until after I’ve had time to write.

When you set aside time to be with your spouse, your kids, or a good friend, it is important to focus on them. You are inviting extra people in the form of emails, or texts, or social media if you keep your phone out and on. That keeps you from your special time with that other person, and that’s downright rude!

At work, unless your job is email or social media, then turn off notifications so you can focus on your task or project. And by all means turn off your phone in that meeting – that’s almost the height of rudeness to have it out on the conference table almost like you are waiting on a reason to be pulled away from the meeting!

In each of these situations, there are likely other distractions that you can’t avoid, but at least manage the ones you can. It may take deliberate action and forethought, but be considerate of the time of others AND of yourself.

Imagine what you can accomplish and what rewards you will enjoy for respecting that distraction-free time!

When do you need to stop inviting distractions?

Get it finished

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Photo courtesy of Paddy (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Paddy (Creative Commons)

Have you ever noticed how gray your world becomes when there’s something hanging over you that you don’t want to do and you keep putting it off?

It might be something simple like cleaning off your desk, paying the bills, or making that doctor appointment or something major like doing your taxes or having that difficult conversation with a co-worker or family member. Whatever it is, you get that, “ugh” feeling when you think about it but tell yourself, “I can’t face that – not now.”

You go on about your life, but the thought that you still have to deal with “it” is niggling the back of your mind, so you aren’t fully present in anything you are doing.

Now what if instead of putting it off, you just suck it up and do it – git ‘er done – check that off your list?  Get it finished.

Don’t you feel better? Doesn’t your world suddenly return to full color after being a muted gray?

My question to myself is always, “why did I wait so long?” I have no idea why I put things off because that action robs me of living life to the fullest. I’m determined to face things head on this year and take care of them right away – so I can get on with being more content.

Listening to the voice of discipline

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Photo courtesy of crypto (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of crypto (Creative Commons)

I was talking to a fellow runner the other day and we were commiserating at how hard it is to stay motivated in the winter – in warm weather, I happily suit up to run every day, no second thoughts (well, only occasionally). But when the weather is cold, windy and nasty, it gets harder to keep running every day. I just want to curl up with more coffee under a blanket and stay in!

That’s when I have to listen to the right voice. That’s when the voice of discipline needs to be louder.

If left to my own devices, then I would not run. I would let that voice of comfort talk me into staying in every day. “It’s too cold to even go to the gym,” it would say. “You are going to FREEZE out there, maybe today should be a rest day.” “One day off won’t hurt.” “One MORE day off won’t hurt.”

But you know how it is, one unplanned rest day leads to more rest days and before I know it, I’m lazy and putting on weight and losing the fitness I have worked so hard for. Not to mention the whole negative mindset that giving in to that voice sets up.

Instead, I listen to the voice of discipline – that’s the one that says, “Yes it’s cold, but you can bundle up and you will feel so much better when you are finished.”

That’s the voice I need to listen to in order to reach my goals. I want to hear it loud and clear as I start a new year, as I make my plans, as I set my goals.

What voice are you listening to?

How do you start?

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Photo courtesy of Edward J Foley (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Edward J Foley (Creative Commons)

When I run a race, my tendency is to start off way too fast, keeping up with those around me. Before I know it, I’ve slowed down because I can’t keep that pace up for a full distance. It ends up taking me longer because I have to walk some and go slower toward the middle and end of the race.

When I start out at my own pace and run my race, then I have energy left to power through to the end.

I’ve discovered I do the same thing in the morning. Some mornings, I jump up and launch into the day, turning on the news, catching up on email and gulping coffee as if on deadline. I get to work and there are more emails, voice mails and interruptions galore – I get caught up in the busyness and priorities of everyone else other than me. It’s like being swept along in the race with all the other runners.

I get distracted easily and end up starting and stopping a lot without making real progress on much of anything. I feel frazzled and frustrated and worn out by the end of the day.

Other days I start out slower, with time spent on my devotions, quietly writing, reviewing what I need to accomplish, and taking time to savor my coffee instead of gulping it down. I get to work with a plan, and block out time for the work I need to accomplish before diving into less urgent matters.

Those are the days that end up being incredibly productive. Those are the days I feel calm, in control, and powerful. I become more energized as the day goes on and I check more off the list.

Can I end up being productive even if I don’t start out that way? Sure, but it is much harder to turn the day around if it didn’t start out the right way.

My goal this year is to focus on starting each day at my pace, so I can accomplish more of my goals and feel more productive and satisfied.

How will you start each day?

What will you choose?

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Photo courtesy of Simon Greening (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Simon Greening (Creative Commons)

There’s something so exciting about turning the page on the calendar to a new month (and even better to a new year) – just think of the possibilities. You can start fresh with new resolve to accomplish those goals you missed last month or last year, take care of those issues you wanted to earlier, check things off your list.

So you start out on your plan, and you bump into the same distractions, problems and interruptions that you always do. What now?

I love the quote by Charles R. Swindoll:

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

The only thing that you can really change is you, right? You’re not going to be able to make the distractions, problems and interruptions go away, as much as you try. The key will be choosing how you react to them.

Instead of falling into the trap of negativism and succumbing to the distractions, you’re going to have to find a way to respond in a more positive manner to stay on track. Don’t let the problems (or challenges) make you veer off your path – stay on track and just let the issues be the scenery you pass right on by. Look forward to the positive things – and focus less on the negative things.

Something I try to do when I feel myself sinking into the mire of negativity is to take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. Then I blow it out hard, tell myself “it’s all good,” and refocus on what I need to. I find that is a great way to let the bad things fall away and get my head back in the game.

Keeping your mission or your ultimate goal front and center helps too – so you always have that as a reminder of why you are working so hard. For me, that can change my focus really fast – it takes me out of whining mode and makes me see that it’s not all about me, but about others.

It really boils down to choices. I can choose to let things get to me, or I can choose to get busy and make things happen. Positive or negative. Me or others. It’s all about choices.

What will you choose today?

My Three Words for 2015

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three words 2015I have never been good at resolutions, and to me, picking something(s) that I will start fresh on January 1 is just setting myself up for failure. Besides, I am more interested in becoming a braver, stronger person who lives out her mission rather than just meeting some arbitrary goal.

So for the last few years, I have chosen three focus words that guide me every day. Following Chris Brogan’s lead (read more here), I have discovered that my three words have been instrumental in my growth and development as a person, accomplishing things I never thought I could, and stumbling on true happiness in the process (read about last year here).

With great excitement, I am ready to share my three words for 2015:

NOURISH, PAUSE, PRACTICE

NOURISH means more than just food because it applies to nourishing my soul, mind and body. I have a confession that I am not a foodie, and often eat mainly to fuel my running. I want to learn to feed my body in ways that are more healthy and interesting. Instead of the same meals all the time, I want to explore new ingredients, new ways to prepare things, and new flavors. I also want to nourish my mind and my spiritual self by discovering new authors and topics, even if they make me uncomfortable. Sometimes the best way to learn new ways to think or understand is to be challenged. Connecting with people is another way to nourish myself, whether that is online or in person, through conversations or activities.

PAUSE reminds me to rest – to stop and to take a break. I am on the go pretty much all the time, and struggle with the idea of rest. Pause helps me remember that I do need to step back periodically to refresh and renew myself.

PRACTICE is a love/hate word for me but holds great depth of meaning. When I was little, I took piano lessons and then in college, I took guitar lessons. I currently play neither piano nor guitar because I hate to practice – I find myself wanting to just be good at things, but it doesn’t work that way without practice. Yo Yo Ma is the best cellist in the world and he still practices 3 hours a day, so who am I to think I can be even average at something without practice. Anything you want to do consistently and well must be practiced daily. Practice applies to all areas of my life, from spirituality, to fitness, to mindfulness, to writing, to owning my choices and decisions.

I look forward to the new opportunities and challenges headed my way this year, and feel confident that my focus on these three words will help me excel.

What are your three words?

Reflect and anticipate

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Photo courtesy of Eisgrafin (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Eisgrafin (Creative Commons)

New Year’s Eve is always an exciting time – there’s the reflection on the past year, the excitement and sorrows, the happiness and loss. There is also anticipation in looking toward new opportunities and experiences in 2015.

I continue to be amazed at the impact of being guided by my three focus words MOMENT, BALANCE and DIRECT (read more here). Without that grounding, my choices and decisions would be reactionary and impulsive, but when I slow down and consider everything through the lens of those words, I not only have better judgment for myself, but I’m able to serve others even more in the pursuit of my mission.

Be sure to read tomorrow for my three words for 2015. I pray that 2015 will be filled with blessings and opportunities for each of you.

Who are your teachers?

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Photo courtesy cybrarian77 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy cybrarian77 (Creative Commons)

I’ve noticed lately that some of my best teachers aren’t labeled as such. They aren’t in a classroom, or leading a webinar, or giving assignments.

They likely have no idea they are teachers, and might even resent the fact if they realized. Others would be embarrassed and profess they were just being themselves, not giving lessons.

Some of my best teachers appear unexpectedly. It is the customer going off on the poor cashier because the wrong price was charged or something took too long. Instead of calmly seeking resolution, they seem to think that shouting and making a scene is the best way to accomplish their goals and get their way.

Another teacher is the person who complains about everything from their spouse to their health condition to everyone around them, not realizing how many blessings they actually have.

Then there’s the person who thinks of no one but themselves, and is only concerned with what they are doing, never seeing the needs or concerns of the people around them.

These teachers provide a wealth of knowledge by demonstrating what not to do and how not to act.

Don’t get me wrong, there are also many teachers in my life who I want to emulate. They are the ones who stay positive no matter what they are going through or suffering, and constantly seek ways to help or pray for others.

The ones who stay calm even in the face of troubles, or quiet when everyone else is shouting to be heard are worth listening to. And what about the leaders who are not afraid to do whatever it takes to bring the team together, even if that means getting down in the muck before everyone else?

What kind of teacher are you?

Mental tug of war

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Photo courtesy of Tom Blackwell (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Tom Blackwell (Creative Commons)

Decision-making can be like tug of war sometimes – the opposing voices in your head are deafening.

Go. Stay.

Do it. Don’t do it.

Be brave. I’m afraid.

The longer you let those forces pull that imaginary rope in your head, the more confused you can get and the fewer actions you actually take.

There are times when it’s important to take the appropriate time to review and analyze all your options, especially when the decision is a big, life changing one. But most of the decisions you and I make on a regular basis come down to discipline and a focus on your mission. I have discovered that decisions almost make themselves when I keep those two things front of mind. A lot of the confusion falls away when I am focused on those things that will move me closer to my mission, and that help me be a better person.

When it’s cold and nasty outside, running is the last thing I want to do, but discipline kicks in and I suit up and head out. I know the bad feeling both physically and mentally if I skip a planned workout, and want to avoid that. Some days I make a choice to head to the gym instead of outside, but I still get in that workout.

Same thing when I am choosing what to eat (or not eat). I’ve had people tell me I’m not fun to eat with because I don’t have many sweets or decadent desserts, but I know how I feel afterwards, and I would rather be disciplined and say no thank you.

In terms of what I accomplish during the day and getting sidetracked by interruptions, I keep my focus on whether I’m at least moving toward my mission. I may not fully accomplish the goals I set for myself that day or even that week, but if I am headed in the right direction, then I’m on track.

Letting discipline take a larger role in my decisions has helped relieve a lot of the anxiety and wasted energy over my choices. It frees up mental energy to really concentrate on what will make me a stronger, better person, and isn’t that what we all want anyway?

What tug of war is going on in your mind, and how can discipline relieve it for you?

Merry Christmas!

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ChristmasThe Christmas lights are lit, candles are burning, and there is a sense of peace and hopefulness. Time to slow down and appreciate time spent with family and friends, making the memories instead of just racing through a checklist.

My prayer is for each of you to feel God’s grace and peace as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Merry Christmas!

Feeling the sun on my face

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Photo courtesy of 15prof (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of 15prof (Creative Commons)

This may sound a little strange but I enjoy running in the dark. It’s a good thing too since my only window of opportunity to run most of the time is early morning before the sun comes up (at least this time of year).

My route has streetlights and sidewalks, and there’s usually at least some traffic as people make their way to work, so it’s not scary. There is a peace to the dark, and it’s easier to block out the world, and dive into my thoughts. I usually have great ideas out there without so many distractions, and can practice mindfulness and prayer.

This weekend I had a slightly looser schedule and took the opportunity to run a little later in the morning, and both days, the sky was clear. I must say that was a treat, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face despite the chilly breeze and seeing my shadow chasing me. I was able to observe the world in color instead of the gray of early morning.

I had a different perspective on the run. The change was nice. But with the distractions of looking around, I admit I didn’t practice mindfulness very well.

I think it’s important to change up our routines every once in a while so we can get that different perspective. Just because you love doing something one way doesn’t mean it should always be done that way.

Changing the way you do something, when you do it or even how you do it can trigger new ideas and help you see things from a different angle. You might meet someone new in the process. At the very least, it may make you appreciate your regular routine even more.

I’ll be running in the dark again this morning, but with a renewed enthusiasm for the peace it brings.

What routine do you need to change?

Recharging your batteries

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Photo courtesy of Micheal J (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Micheal J (Creative Commons)

I’ve noticed that lately, my cell phone doesn’t hold a charge very long, and I have to plug it in often (yes, that is partly a commentary on how much I use it as well as its age). It also can drop more quickly from a 50-60% charge to shutting itself off if I’m not paying attention!

I think we can get to that point too when we push harder and harder with more stress and less rest. Especially this time of year when there is so much that needs to be done at work, at home, shopping, entertaining – it’s easy to let our own personal energy levels drop from 50% to zero too quickly. I suspect that is part of why tempers flare, impatience is rampant, and meltdowns are so common.

On top of feeling on edge and overwhelmed, add the pressures of dealing with more traffic just getting around town, lines everywhere, unreasonable expectations of “traditions” and things you “should” do. You have compounded the frustration levels so they are off the charts.

It is all worth it?

Simple answer is NO.

In the end, no one will remember that you had every single decoration up, that you attended every party and event, or that there were more presents than would fit under the tree. What you and others will remember might just be the sweet conversation, that one especially thoughtful gift, or the time spent working a puzzle or playing a game together instead of rushing around.

I’m taking care of myself better this year by making smarter decisions about activities as well as food, exercise, and rest. Like my phone, I’m recharging more often – making sure to have quiet time by myself, without TV or radio blaring. That has meant saying no to some things, and knowing that in the end, I’ll be better for the people around me who matter because I’m not burned out, sick and cranky.

How are you recharging your batteries?

Accept the compliment

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Photo courtesy of David Jones (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of David Jones (Creative Commons)

Have you ever told someone you like their outfit or their hair looks good, and they start making all kinds of excuses? It almost makes you sorry that you said anything, doesn’t it?

I find myself doing that sometimes, too. I make comments like, “thanks, everything else needed to be ironed,” or “I just didn’t have time to do anything else with my hair.” As if I need to discount the nice thing they said and make it not so meaningful.

What does that tell the person who gave the compliment?

When people do that to me, it makes me feel like they don’t appreciate my comment, and that I’m bothering them by even having brought it up. I’ve even had people sigh, and then proceed to tell me all the reasons why whatever it is I complimented is wrong! That really made me want to retract my comment altogether!

Next time someone pays you a compliment, you just say, “thank you.” Feel good inside that they noticed, and let that buoy your day.

Thank you very much.

Treading water

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Photo courtesy of Catherine (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Catherine (Creative Commons)

Getting behind in your work, life or even email can feel like you are underwater with lungs burning and arms getting tired as you swim hard toward the surface. As your body gets more exhausted, panic can set in making the surface seem even farther away. You feel completely out of control.

Isn’t it a better feeling to tread water? It’s less work, breathing is easy, your arms and legs don’t get as tired. You can stay calm and in control.

One of the things I’m focused on lately is putting things in place so that I can tread water more often than sink underwater. In my work, my email, even my personal life, I’m seeking practices that help keep me updated instead of falling so far behind.

Some of the things I’m doing are simple. Keeping my email clear is one example. I get hundreds of emails each day, many of which do not require any action on my part other than deleting them, but when my inbox overflows, I can’t even find the ones I do need to pay attention to, and end up missing or delaying responses.

I have set up rules in Outlook on my laptop so that many of them are shuttled to different folders, making it easier to find what I need to pay attention to. I also take advantage of small windows of time to clear those on my phone – time like while I’m waiting on my lunch to heat in the microwave, or standing in line at the coffee shop. It is so much less overwhelming to deal with fewer than 100 emails instead of seeing that number rise to 250+!

Using my tools to keep lists updated helps also – because as I plan my day or next block of time, I have a more complete inventory of what needs to be done, and can make better choices. I use Trello.com as my app of choice, and can set up “boards” for new tasks, as well as one for “non-urgent” things I need to do but that don’t have to be done right now. As I slide the cards or items between boards, it streamlines the process of determining what to tackle, and is much easier than having a massive list that makes my eyes glaze over!

Just little things like these can help you tread water and not be so overwhelmed.

What can you put in place to help you tread water?

Living through my Three Words

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3 words 2014My three focus words serve as a touchstone for me, a way to course-correct frequently in order to stay on target for improvement. They keep me grounded. They keep me focused.

This year, my three words have been MOMENT, BALANCE, and DIRECT (read more here), and what I have found this year that is different from past years, is that they have been more a part of me. Usually, I stray and have to make a conscious effort to revisit the words periodically. But I find myself living them out this year, a part of every day and everything I do.

The other difference this year is that all three have been equally important. Usually one word will rise above the others as more impactful, but these words have worked together with even more power than I could have imagined.

DIRECT has been the starting point, and has led to better decisions of what to do and not do, what to continue and what to step away from. Whether related to work, church, or personal decisions, I have felt more in control by staying focused on directing my actions instead of letting my life be managed by others. There is great power in that word, and even though it means facing my fears at times, it also results in a happier mindset because I know that I am controlling those things I can control.

Directing leads to more BALANCE, and being more cognizant of how I’m using my time. Yes, I work a lot and have a lot of commitments, but I have also made sure to spend time reading, enjoying family and friends, and resting. Balance also plays into my fitness, with more weight training and stretching instead of just running. Even my food habits have been more balanced, and I have begun cooking a little more and making sure my meals are healthy and delicious, not just quick.

The other piece of each of these actions has been to live in the MOMENT more often. No, not always. There are still days when I can’t tell you what I did, or where the time went. But more often than ever before, I’ve been more aware of experiences, and noticed more by staying in the moment instead of thinking about what’s to come or dwelling on the past.

As I start choosing my three words for 2015, I will continue to live through these words, but the new ones will add an additional layer of focus and intention. I am amazed at the process because it is almost like the words choose themselves – I will hear or read the same word often and it seems to stick with me. I’ve had a running list since summer, and some just resonate more than others and get left on the list while others fall off. By January 1, I will have made my decision and will post the new words for the new year!

What three words will you choose for 2015?

Wave a magic wand

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Photo courtesy of Amancay Maahs (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Amancay Maahs (Creative Commons)

Ever wish you had a magic wand to wave and make things magically happen?

Whether it’s completing a big project or event, or just the mundane acts of getting through the day, there are some days that we could use a little special magic to help us through.

I always find myself bogged down this time of year and wishing more often for that wand – work is busier, there are more activities at church and with family or friends, plus shopping, Christmas cards, and general end of year frenzy – whew, I’m out of breath just thinking about it.

What I am finding helpful this year is that I’m trying not to get so caught up in the feeling of having to do it all, and recognizing that some things can be left undone. I do not have to go to every parade and party and event out of a sense of obligation. I’m choosing what to go to because it will be meaningful to me.

Gift giving can get totally out of hand if I am not careful, so I’ve taken a step back this year and simplified it. For many on my list, I have donated money to an organization in their name, and will give them a card notifying them of that gift. I have managed to avoid the crowds by shopping early for the few remaining gifts I needed to purchase, and will order online if any others come up – no sense wasting my precious time driving around a packed parking lot at the mall and fighting the crowds to get to a checkout!

At work, I’m learning to set myself up for success by taking a few minutes at the end of my day to determine the top 2 or 3 things I most need to accomplish the next day. I physically write them down (yes, with pen and paper) and leave my list along with any supporting material, like the files or information, right in the center of my desk. That way I see it first thing the next morning and can dive right in.

By only listing a couple of things I need to accomplish, I avoid that feeling of overwhelm since everything always takes longer than I expect. Then, if I do finish those things, I can regroup and determine what else I can get done later in the day or get set up for the next day.

It is almost as good as a magic wand!

It’s all talk

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Photo courtesy of Garen M. (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Garen M. (Creative Commons)

I hear it all the time.

“I’m going to start working out 3 times a week.”  “No more desserts or chips – I’m back on my diet.” “I’m going to be on time for every meeting!”

These kinds of declarations usually last a week or two and then are abandoned for old habits. Then the excuses start.

But instead of making bold statements with huge changes that are quickly left forgotten, I have found it’s healthier to start small. No absolutes like “every” or “none.”

Building healthy habits doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s important to ease into it. That way you get used to the new action and can build on it – one small step at a time.

I run every day, but have needed to add weight training into my routine to strengthen my upper body and core. I struggle with an entire weight training day, and each week I told myself I’d get to the gym, there were reasons I ended up just running instead. Then I decided to add one weight exercise each day after my run – I have hand weights at home, so I started doing arms one day, then back, then shoulders. Just a few sets after I finish running, so it doesn’t even take long.

Guess what? It is working. I’ve been doing that for a couple of months now, and it’s become a habit, and while it isn’t the same as an entire intense weight workout in the gym, I am feeling stronger, and best of all – I’m sticking with it.

How can you avoid the excuses by adding one thing at a time?

Does complaining fix the problem?

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Photo courtesy of zizzybaloobah (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of zizzybaloobah (Creative Commons)

Have you noticed how many people live in a “complaint” mindset? They whine about everything from the weather, to their weight, to all the things they have to do. Instead of being thankful for what they have, they grumble about what they are lacking. And in their minds, nothing ever goes right, and everyone is out to make their lives more miserable.

That is not a fun place to be.

And honestly, they have put themselves in that place.

Life isn’t rainbows and happiness all the time for any of us, but even in difficult circumstances, a lot depends on your perspective. Instead of focusing on the negative things in life, I would rather look for positives.

When I look back at the darkest points in my life, I am thankful for them because they have made me the person I am today. I am smarter, stronger and braver for having been through those things, and can use that knowledge and experience to face the things I face now.

And I sure didn’t get through them by complaining and settling for those situations. I worked hard to stay focused on positive aspects so I could make good come out of the experiences.

When I am faced with things not going the way I hoped, I adjust my expectations and look for solutions. Sometimes answers are in unexpected places, so I’m open to new things.

Have you found yourself in a place where no one is stepping up to help? Then you need to figure out how to do things for yourself or – gasp – ask for help. Many times, people are embroiled in their own drama and don’t notice that you need help until you ask. Then they are more than willing.

And a pity party is never a good thing to have – all it does is reinforce the negative mindset that closes you off from looking for a way out.

One of my favorite expressions is “it’s all good.” I tell myself that when things go wrong, my day starts to head downhill, or I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t even know what all I have to do, let alone where to start. It’s a reminder that I can get through whatever it is, and that the challenges are making me stronger.

What complaints do you need to ditch so you can see the positive side of things?

Break down each play

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Photo courtesy of Peter Pajor (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Peter Pajor (Creative Commons)

Don’t you hate it when you have things looming so large over you that you can hardly breathe?

Whether it’s a project, a meeting, a health issue or even just a long run, you will function so much better if you break it down to the next action, the next play.

You can’t DO a project, but you can figure out what the next action is to move it forward and focus on that.

You can’t lose a lot of weight or become more fit overnight – but you can take steps now – today – to move in the right direction.

You win a football game by focusing on each play, one at a time. Each huddle, each snap, each throw, each tackle.

Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama football team, teaches his players “The Process,” and he mentions that a lot when he is interviewed. He says, “Don’t think about winning the national championship. Think about what you need to do in this drill, on this play, in this moment. That’s the process: Let’s think about what we can do today, the task at hand.”

In his book The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday quotes Coach Saban, and goes on to explain that when you have something difficult to deal with, “Simply do what you need to do right now. And do it well. And then move on to the next thing. Follow the process and not the prize.”

There’s almost a sense of relief when you think this way. No longer is that “thing” overwhelming.

Instead of obsessing over the idea that there’s no way I can run 10 miles, I just focus on “this” mile. Just get started and moving, and before long I’ve run 2 miles and then 3 – next thing I know it, I’m halfway, and then it’s “downhill” from there. Breathe, focus on the scenery, enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

Holiday goes on to say that “when you really get it right, even the hardest things become manageable. Because the process is relaxing. Under its influence, we needn’t panic. Even mammoth tasks become just a series of component parts.”

As we move into the busy holiday season and the end of year madness, it’s important to remember The Process. Don’t let yourself get swept into panic-mode or become frozen in inaction. Approach your challenges “moving forward, one step at a time. Subordinate strength to the process. Replace fear with the process.” And as Holiday continues, you will be able to “depend on it. Lean on it. Trust in it.”

For what challenges in your life do you need to apply The Process?

Incremental progress

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Photo courtesy of Henk Jan (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Henk Jan (Creative Commons)

I had a huge list of things I wanted to accomplish over the Thanksgiving break. I had been looking forward to the time off for a while, expecting to start checking things off my list and feeling lighter with each check-mark. My hope was to start December with all sorts of things taken care of, a plan for the busy holiday season, and no piles or lengthy annoying lists or backlogs of “stuff.”

Done. Done. Done.

I’m sure you know what is coming now – I still have a stack of things to deal with on my desk, a partial plan for the month, and lots of things I still need to figure out.

I also feel better about everything because I did make progress. Small baby steps, but progress just the same.

And because of that progress, I am more confident going into this new week and new month, knowing that I have started things moving toward some new and exciting goals, and will build on that success.

I think we often expect for success to come riding in like Prince Charming on his big horse with sword blazing, knocking down problems all around. We want to look out and see opportunities cheering and the challenges flat on their backs. Done means there’s no list left, we have accomplished our wildest dreams, and there is nothing left to worry about.

That’s a nice dream.

Reality is that as soon as I check one thing off the list, I realize there are two or three others I need to add.

Reality is I would become stagnant if I actually did hit all my goals.

Reality is I need to buckle down and continue to focus on making incremental progress on improving every day and never expect to be “done.”

In all honesty – the minute I reach a goal or do come to completion on something – I need to be reaching toward a new goal.

How have you made incremental progress on your goals?

Crashing my comfort zone

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Photo courtesy of Jeanette Goodrich (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jeanette Goodrich (Creative Commons)

I love the expression “crashing my comfort zone” that I heard in a song by Hunter Hayes the other day.

As nice as it is to settle into a routine and not explore things that make me uncomfortable, I am not growing and learning if I am not crashing those zones.

Just putting my toe in the water is not enough – I want to dive in and feel the exhilaration. That’s why I am learning to face my fears and not shrink back when confronted with challenges. And sometimes I’m seeking those challenges out.

Exploring ways to improve and become stronger physically and mentally means doing things like taking online courses that force me to think through daunting topics like identifying my mission, looking at my habits, and finding more productive ways to do everything.

It means pushing myself physically to run harder, lift weights, eat better and become healthier. Another way is by reading books that expand my thinking about being positive and disciplined (I seem to be finding incredible books by former Navy SEALS lately).

I am not gently pushing through or asking permission. Instead, I am blasting through that “comfort zone” barrier. Can’t wait to see what I find on the other side!

How are you crashing your comfort zones to improve?

Just run to the next light pole

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Photo courtesy of Billy Wilson (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Billy Wilson (Creative Commons)

Sometimes on a long run I just want to stop. I am too hot or too cold, my breathing is ragged, or my legs are tired. There are days when I’m struggling from mile one.

Those are the days that I have to break down the distance and quit thinking in terms of miles to go. There are days when I have to tell myself to run at least to the next light pole and then decide whether to walk.

And you know what?

I usually keep running and finish my goal.

Following your goals and your dream can be the same way. There are going to be days when you just want to quit and take the easy way out. There is so much hard work ahead, and tough decisions to be made. There are sacrifices today in order to be successful tomorrow.

So it makes sense to break it down and just run to the next light pole. Just make it to that next mini-goal, and then decide whether to keep going.

I bet you finish your goal.

Start moving

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Photo courtesy of zachad (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of zachad (Creative Commons)

When I get super busy and end up with piles both physically and mentally, I can get paralyzed and find it difficult to dig out. Whether it is figuring out how to start a new project, or just cleaning up my apartment, seeing the forest as a whole can be overwhelming.

What I find most helpful is to just start somewhere, even if it isn’t the ideal place to begin. The act of moving forward, even with baby steps, can get me past that point of inertia, and then things start making more sense.

Emptying one bag from the grocery helps you see what is there and how to get the rest put away.

Writing down a few ideas for that project you have to plan can get your mind working in “solution mode” and you’ll figure out the next steps more quickly.

Putting on your exercise clothes will help you start moving out the door to the gym.

Grabbing the paper on top of your inbox gets you underway in cleaning off your desk. Then you can tackle the next messy pile.

Instead of freezing up when searching for the “right” first step, just start moving and then make your way to “right.” There likely isn’t a perfect place to start and the most important thing is to move. Things will fall into place and before you know it, you will be making progress.

 

“You are loved.”

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Photo courtesy of jenni waterloo (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of jenni waterloo (Creative Commons)

That’s all it said. It was a text out of the blue from a friend I hadn’t heard from in a little while. Oh, I had been meaning to reach out to her – how many times have I told myself to message and then get caught up and forget?

The fact that she contacted me meant so much – even though we didn’t even have a conversation right then. Just knowing I was on her mind meant a lot.

How often do we fail to connect with those who are dear to us because we get busy – we get distracted – we get caught up in other unimportant things that really don’t matter.

Who can you reach out to today?

Inspire or impress?

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Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

I read an article recently where singer/musician Keith Urban was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to impress, I want to inspire.”

I am intrigued by the statement, because so many people, especially those in the spotlight, are only happy when they are impressing their audience. It seems like many folks I am in contact with want me to be impressed by what they do and say. I’m not.

The people who quietly do awesome things for others, making a difference but not calling attention to themselves. The ones who lead by example. They inspire me.

They also impress me – with their humility, their concern for others, and their unassuming nature.

My guess is they are truly happy.

What are you out to do? Impress or inspire?

Suiting up

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Photo courtesy of Evan Long (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Evan Long (Creative Commons)

Thermal pants and shirt, hat, jacket, gloves – suiting up for a romp in the snow or a winter run is a process. But the benefits are definitely worth it because you can still get out to play or exercise without it being painful.

I realized that “suiting up” for the week needs to be just such a process. The last few weeks I have felt frazzled and out of sorts, not at all organized and steady but mostly rushing around putting out fires. At the end of the day I have no idea what I accomplished, and even less of an idea what I need to get done the next day. It has been painful.

But if I suit up properly over the weekend, then maybe the week will be more productive. That means actually writing down the things that are swirling in my head that need to be done. And that means writing down all of it, because if there’s even one little thing floating up there – it will distract my focus from where it needs to be.

Also checking my calendar – don’t you hate when you have forgotten about a meeting or a commitment until your phone chirps 30 minutes (or even worse, 15 minutes) before you are supposed to be somewhere and suddenly your whole day is thrown into confusion?

Looking at the hard commitments of the week before the week starts can allow you to schedule time for planning or preparation, and also make sure you have built-in travel time (if needed) or project time around that commitment.

Blocking out time to do things at home is important too – like errands, cleaning or even laundry. Those weeks when I have obligations stacked up can be really frustrating when I get ready to run but realize I needed to wash running clothes and didn’t allow myself time to do that. Or I get ready to cook supper and don’t have all the ingredients.

Even though planning the week may be the last thing I want to deal with on a weekend that is already packed full, it sure will make the rest of the week less frustrating. And who knows, I might even find time to relax!

Simple is best

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Photo courtesy of carla arena  (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of carla arena (Creative Commons)

Have you noticed how some people will go into a long explanation of why they are choosing to do (or not do) a particular thing?

Most often, I suspect it is fed by some sort of guilt, whether real or imagined, that they feel for making that choice. But honestly, it is their decision, and none of my business. I really don’t need anything other than a simple “no thank you.”

The more detailed the refusal, the more insincere it feels. And it leaves the recipient with a decidedly bad taste in their mouth, as if it were a personal rebuff.

Recently, I had an email from a potential runner in the I Run 4 group that I work with where runners are matched with an adult or child with special needs, and runs in their honor, posting to each other in a closed Facebook group.

She was asking questions about the group, and I replied with the general guidelines, about numbers of times per week we ask runners to post, and other details.

She wrote back with a lengthy explanation of why she guessed she wasn’t qualified (she might only run once a month), why she detests Facebook (creates a fake reality, but “that’s their problem”) and how she sometimes doesn’t even have time for her dog (not sure why she shared this?). She ended with some rather sarcastic remarks like “hope no one is upset by my choice.”

Simply asking to be removed from the list would have been better. After all, she was the one who signed up in the first place, and I certainly understand that this group is not for everyone.

I’ve experienced the same thing when someone declines an invitation to an event or get together. Instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry, but I am unable to attend,” they go through a complicated excuse of what else they have to do, etc. etc. It sounds fake.

Let’s declutter our communications, and get better at just getting to the point. A polite “please remove me from the list” or “I’m sorry I already have plans” is so much easier on everyone.

Getting my second wind

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Photo courtesy of castgen (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of castgen (Creative Commons)

Don’t you love that feeling of getting a second wind?

I notice it especially when I’m doing a long run, at about mile 7 of 10, once I’m past the big hill (which is always a challenge), I get a surge of energy that gets me home.

Sometimes I get a second wind at work in the afternoon – I’m feeling really tired and out of focus, and out of nowhere, I feel renewed and ready to tackle the next stack on my desk.

What I would like to do is be more intentional in bringing on that second wind, instead of just hoping that I find it.

Many times taking a break can help me. Even just taking five minutes to get up, stretch, walk around a little, and not stare at the computer screen can do wonders.

Changing mental focus can help too, like when I am running. If I can stop counting how many miles I have to go, and realize I have only a few left, then I am suddenly not so tired.

Noticing that I need a break and a new focus is half the battle – usually I start slowing down way before I realize and sometimes it’s too late to salvage the day or the block of time. Working to exhaustion doesn’t help anyone, especially since that is when mistakes are made.

The goal this week then, is to take intentional breaks in order to get that second wind and accomplish more.

How will you get your second wind?

 

Surprises abound

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cabinI was running this morning on my normal route, head down, thinking about what else I needed to do today. I suddenly realized I needed to be paying more attention to the moment – to “this” experience instead of missing it all.

When I did, it was incredible. I noticed the moon setting, large and nearly full. I saw a field of gold touched by the newly risen sun.

And in the middle of the land that’s been cleared for a new office park, I saw this little tin-roofed cabin (shack, building, not sure what to call it) with the well in front. I had seen it there before the bulldozers started their work, but had assumed it had been torn down or moved.

What a treat to see that little piece of history in the midst of new construction.

And what a different way to start my day more cognizant of the now, instead of dwelling on the future, or the past. Even though I was cold and my legs were tired, it was nice to stay present in that moment.

I need to get back to being in the moment throughout the day instead of wishing time away. I get so caught up in frantically “doing” and “planning” and “worrying” – I need to focus on “being.”

What surprises might you see if you live more in the moment?

It’s been a good week

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Photo courtesy of revertebrate (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of revertebrate (Creative Commons)

I found myself telling someone, “It’s been a good week,” when they asked how I was yesterday. Then I realized I’m not sure what made this one stand out as being “good.”

Nothing particularly grand happened, no earth shattering news or spectacular event.

There wasn’t anything predominantly bad that occurred either – no drama or awful problems.

It was just a week. But it was a week in better focus.

What I did realize is that I am beginning to live into my mission more, and for once, I thought of my work and my life a little differently. I planned my days thinking more of how what I was doing fit into my desire to creative positive experiences for myself and others. I responded to requests with that in mind, and planned my activities around that goal.

I brought my focus to the moment more often instead of looking ahead to what was next, and planned better so I accomplished more. And while the week was not free of drama, I approached issues with resolution in mind instead of dwelling on the problem – I looked for solutions instead of whining.

It took a lot of work and attention, but I am ending the week feeling better than I have in a while. I think that effort was worth it.

What changes in your focus can you implement to improve your week?

Uncommon courtesy

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crosswalkI heard the honking behind me as I ran up the street. I turned to see the two girls I had just passed, running across the street in the cross walk. A car had stopped to let them go by.

The honking was from the car behind the one that had stopped, the driver upset over the delay in their commute.

Sadly, the honking driver did not surprise me, but the one who waited did.

I admit that both times someone has stopped and waited for me to cross in the cross walk, I was shocked. Yes, I can count the number of times out of all the hundreds of street crossings because it caught me so off guard!

People are so rushed and inconsiderate these days. We have become a society focused on ourselves. The focus is on getting what “I” need and making sure you know what “I” think. It’s obvious in our interactions with each other and online.

That’s why it makes such a statement when someone serves. When they give instead of take, listen instead of talk.

A simple act such as stopping to allow someone on foot to cross the street really sticks in your memory.

What if we each did one unselfish thing each day? What kind of difference would that make in the lives of those we touch?

It could be something small, like holding the door for someone or helping a neighbor carry in groceries. Maybe you stop checking your email or texting and really listen as your spouse or children tell you about their day. You might message or email a friend simply to see how they are doing – not because you need something from them or want to tell them about your own day.

Looking for opportunities to practice courtesy might just change our perspective from “me” to “you.”

Decide to fight fear

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Photo courtesy of Grant MacDonald (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Grant MacDonald (Creative Commons)

The key to fighting fear is to decide. No matter what you are afraid of, you have choices. You can choose to hide or to act on things. To say yes or no. But the key ingredient is that you have to decide to make one of those choices.

I suppose doing nothing is a decision too, and that choice will never get you past your fear.

In his book, The Way of the Seal, Mark Divine presents the idea of the OODA loop, in which you approach situations with the following in mind:

  • Observe
  • Orient
  • Decide
  • Act

In my mind, the most important piece of that puzzle is the decision, because without that, there is no action.

I have a history of being wishy-washy – I will spend so much time going back and forth – do I do this? – maybe not – maybe I should. On and on. I’ve missed some incredible opportunities because I just couldn’t make up my mind and the time to decide passed.

So my choice was made for me. If no path is chosen, then you are stuck standing still and fear has won.

The “me” of today is more decisive. Instead of agonizing over a choice, I am learning to be quicker at observing and orienting – including asking the appropriate questions to get enough information for an assessment. Then I decide – yes or no, go or stay, do or don’t do. No more maybe!

Learning to say no to some things so I can say yes to better things has been a critical lesson.

I move ahead with things or let them go. It may mean that I don’t go to that event, but I don’t use energy regretting my decision. I get busy doing whatever it was that I wanted to say yes to.

And those things I say yes to? I embrace and enjoy, regardless of any potential down sides. Why waste a moment on regret and negatives?

To give you an example, I planned a long run for last weekend – a half marathon. As it got closer to the weekend, the weather turned cold and windy. But I had made the decision to run and instead of wimping out because of fear or focusing negatively on how cold it was, I simply bundled up. I fought that fear. Instead of wincing when the wind blew, I paid attention to the beautiful fall leaves and the amazing clouds as the sky cleared. I ran my 13.1 miles and then felt incredible when I was finished.

I am glad I didn’t miss that opportunity by waffling on my decision and letting fear win.

How can you employ the OODA loop to fight fear?

Making time

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Photo courtesy of CityGypsy11 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of CityGypsy11 (Creative Commons)

How do you schedule your day? Your week? Your month even?

Do you direct your schedule or does your schedule dictate to you?

One thing that keeps me on track are reminders and hard appointments on my calendar. When my phone chirps that x is due, I am more likely to actually do it than if I just have it on a vague list somewhere – especially one that I might not look at frequently.

Specific things like end of month reports, rent, meetings, or even reminders to pick up the dry cleaning on the day it is due go on my calendar. But lately, I’ve realized it could be so much more powerful in directing my work.

I’ve been wondering why I can’t seem to get things accomplished and always feel behind. But then it occurred to me that I am letting each day be hijacked by other people – through email, interruptions, phone calls, new assignments, etc.

Instead of planning out blocks of time to accomplish things, I end up being tossed from task to task based on loudness and newness, and then wonder why I crawl home at the end of the day spent and feeling like I didn’t achieve anything.

I’m taking care of other people’s commitments for me instead of what I have already committed to.

Some of the interruptions are unavoidable, and because of the nature of my work, I can’t post a “do not disturb” sign on my door. But I can do more to plan and schedule my days and my weeks so that I stay more on track. And make time for the things I need and want to do, like take a day off here and there!

One of the first things I need to do, as dull and boring as it may be, is to create a comprehensive list of all the things I have on my plate, both home and work related. Once that is done, then it will be easier to add to it and keep it updated.

Knowing the entire scope of my responsibilities will mean I’m not blindsided by a deadline I wasn’t expecting, and will also allow me to be more effective in those odd little blocks of time such a between meetings or at the end of the day. It will also allow me to be intentional in moving projects forward a little at a time rather than suddenly realizing it is due tomorrow and I haven’t even started.

Using my calendar, I can block off time for some of these projects early in the day when I am mentally sharpest, while also leaving plenty of time to take care of the daily things that come up. If I keep my desk clear of all but the current project, then I have a marker to return to when I do get pulled away.

Having the full range of commitments will also allow me to say no more easily. I can make informed decisions based on what I already have on my plate. Sometimes that might mean compromising but I will be able to confidently say I am putting this on hold so I can do that, instead of just falling behind on both.

What are your methods of directing your time?

Are we on the same page?

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Photo courtesy of Mr. TinDC (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Mr. TinDC (Creative Commons)

Something I’ve noticed lately is how far apart people can be when it comes to what different terms mean.

For instance, I schedule the furniture pickups for the thrift store at the nonprofit where I work. When people call to donate an item, one of the first questions I ask is, “is it in good condition?”

“Oh yes,” is usually the response that I get, although sometimes it will be a hesitant, “it’s ok.” Often when the guys arrive to actually take the item, they find tears, broken pieces, scratches, or unusually heavy wear, which in my mind and theirs, indicates something other than “good condition.”

The same happens when someone says they will be somewhere or do something “soon.” There are very different definitions of “soon.”

I’m learning to be more descriptive of what I mean when a word could be taken different ways, just so my communication is clear. Instead of “soon,” I will say “in an hour” or “this afternoon.” Instead of just “good’ condition, I continue by saying “with no tears, stains or broken areas.”

Communication is so important, and unclear or misleading communication can be almost more dangerous than no communication because it sets up a certain expectation that can be easily misunderstood.

How clear is your communication?

Check your attitude

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Photo courtesy of LollyKnit (Crreative Commons)

Photo courtesy of LollyKnit (Crreative Commons)

I overheard part of a couple’s conversation in a coffee shop the other day. Her tone of voice was decidedly whiny, and she was telling him about her upcoming day. Victim oozed out of her words as she talked about she had to do this, and no one ever did that so she must, and she sure wished they would…

The poor guy had a look like he was searching for an escape, and the few times he tried to say something to her, she snapped back at him.

I wonder what she would have thought had she been watching from my position?

It made me sit up and pay more attention to my own attitude. Even when things aren’t going my way, I’m even more focused on projecting a positive attitude. I may let myself sink in private, but no one wants to be around anyone with a whining victim mentality.

What does your attitude project?

Getting out of my head

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk (Creative Commons)

I almost didn’t go run, mainly because it was cold, and in my head, it seemed unbearable. I imagined how awful it would feel with the wind on my face, my fingers hurting from the cold, and the shivers I would get afterwards.

I almost talked myself out of it.

But something made me go ahead and try.

You know what? It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had imagined, and I got the added benefit of seeing the moon rising – a small sliver that at first appeared 4 times bigger than usual and was a deep orange. By the time I got back home, the sun was coming up and the moon was barely visible, tiny and faint.

I was glad that I pushed past the fear.

Now I wonder why I let the fears in my head talk me out of other things.

Part of my mission is to fight fear and live with no regrets. Look out fear – I’m going to kick you to the curb!

My heart is just not in it

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Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz (Creative Commons)

How many times do you say that your heart isn’t in something that you feel compelled to do?

I sometimes say that about exercise (especially on a cold morning when I get ready to run) or after I have told someone I will do something that I later regret (wouldn’t it be nice to just go on home and relax?). It might even be about work (oh for a day off!).

Let me ask you an important question – when that thought comes into your mind – how do you react?

I am learning about being an Owner, and about directing my life, and I have to say that now more than ever, when I think that my heart is not in something, I go ahead and do it anyway.

Why? Because I’ve made a commitment and it’s important to uphold my promises to others as well as myself. If I have said yes to something, then I need to follow through with it.

But then I rethink why I said yes in the first place.

Usually it is fear or laziness that is the voice behind that feeling of hesitancy. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of the unknown if it is something I’ve never done before. Or pure laziness – not wanting to exert myself or be uncomfortable.

Yes, I could wimp out and not go for that run, or cut it short and only run 3 miles instead of 5. But what does that say about me? How will I reach my goals if I am not willing to push through that lethargy?

But if I am regretting saying yes to a project or meeting, is it because I am just tired or because I am not passionate about that activity or topic?  I need to consider more deeply before I say yes again next time. I need to examine my motives for saying yes, and make sure that I’m directing my activities instead of being directed by others and their agendas.

In some cases, I must say no up front. I need to be more thoughtful about how I spend my time and direct my calendar more intentionally.

I’ve noticed that when I do gather up the courage to say no – there’s a moment of near panic – and then peace. That’s right – peace at knowing I made a good decision.

What do you need to say no to?

Spinning your wheels

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Photo courtesy of Ed Hunsinger (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Ed Hunsinger (Creative Commons)

The other day at work, I was asked to check on someone in the database, and I was given the name – I spent way more time than I needed to searching without finding them, even though they assured us they had been in recently.

I later found the file – I had been given the wrong name, so I had been looking at the listing all along without realizing it. I got so focused on doing everything I could to find that information based on what they gave me, that I forgot that the information might be incorrect or inaccurate.

I wish I had asked for clarification on the name sooner instead of spinning my wheels like I was stuck in mud.

When you are stuck in the mud, just spinning your wheels in the same spot is pointless. You have to get help whether that is in the form of something under the tires to give you traction or help pushing the vehicle to gain a grip on more solid ground.

Getting answers should be approached in the same way. If the solution is not clear right away, asking better questions and seeking additional information need to be the first things you do to gain traction.

In the case of the person I was asked to check in the database, I should have asked things like clarification on the spelling of their name, whether a family member had come in (and the file was under that name), whether they changed their last name since the last visit, or what had they requested when they were here before (occasionally a difficult case will be diverted while we seek a solution).

All of these questions would have helped us find the person’s file more quickly, and avoided the frustration and annoyance of having them basically fill out the information again and start from scratch.

Asking better questions is almost always the solution no matter what kind of situation you are stuck in. Whether it is work, relationships, or health issues, asking different questions helps you get the information you need to make an informed decision and get unstuck. The broader your knowledge of the situation, the easier it is to find a solution and get moving again.

What questions can you ask so you can quit spinning your wheels?

Affirming change

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tree autumnThe trees are starting to turn red and golden, there is a crispness to the air in the mornings, and the sunrises have been later but more beautiful. I try to tell myself that I don’t like fall because of the winter it precedes, but in all honesty, I love autumn.

Soup simmering on the stove smells so good and sweaters are cozy on cool mornings. It is refreshing to have new (well at least different) clothes to wear, and altered routines.

The change is welcome.

So why is it that we fight change so much in other areas of our lives?

Whether it’s a new season or a new process at work, change often comes with fear and reluctance. Fear of the unknown and reluctance to do things differently, even if they aren’t working.

I think some of that reluctance comes from a tendency to focus on the negatives instead of the positive. We will miss what is familiar. Until it becomes automatic or a habit, the change will mean we have to think about what we’re doing. We may be uncomfortable.

Instead of clinging to the old, it’s important to reach out and grab the new! Bemoaning the fact that you hate change or miss the old way only makes it harder to get used to the new way.

I recently had to replace my laptop because I was getting error messages that the hard drive was failing. Rather than wait until it died, I went ahead and got a new one but not without difficulties. The new one is a touchscreen with Windows 8, so right away, there was a huge learning curve! I struggled to figure out what to press, click and swipe to do the things I needed to do. My initial reaction was not overwhelmingly positive.

But then I started thinking of the positive things about the new computer – it is noticeably thinner and lighter than the old one, so carrying it back and forth to work is more comfortable. I can use a combination of keyboard and touchscreen to actually go faster than ever before. I figured out how to split the screen so now I’m more productive because I can see things better and work faster.

By affirming the change, we can be excited that there’s a better way. Being focused on the moment will let us savor the differences. In many cases there’s no going back, so we might as well decide to embrace the changes and move ahead.  Being intentionally positive about change helps make it the norm much more quickly.

How do you affirm change?

What are you hiding?

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Photo courtesy of Nicole (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Nicole (Creative Commons)

I have a friend who seems very put together on the surface. She is doing well in her business, getting new customers and new work every day, and finishing projects on time with nothing but rave reviews.

She asked me for some help with her office work, and when I peeked at her inbox – it took my breath away. There were piles of papers – bills mixed in with junk mail mixed in with receipts. She didn’t know what she owed to whom or when, and it’s a wonder things like her phone service or electricity were not in danger of being cut off!

I was amazed that she had such a mess on her desk because from all appearances, she was handling things well. I guess her inbox was like her junk drawer – just stuff it in and close it real fast before anyone sees!

Turns out the negative energy generated by this chaos was affecting her work. It was churning in the background and causing her worry and concern, which was eating into her creative abilities on the job. Something had to be done or it would be her downfall.

We got to work sorting out the mess and setting up some systems to help her going forward. Since she is a creative person in her business, her mind just freezes up when it comes to administrative things. It was important to create some easy ways for her to cope with the constant inflow of paperwork.

The first thing we did was set up not one inbox, but racks with files, so things could be sorted up front, with easy to understand categories like Urgent, Receipts, and Filing.

Hopefully sorting into these files will help keep things from getting buried and possibly thrown away.

I suggested that instead of just dumping things on the desk, like mail or papers, that she get in the habit of sorting them into these files right away to save the hassle later of figuring out what is what. One less pile to deal with.

She’s going to test the system over the next couple of weeks and see how it works. My guess is that it will streamline that part of her business and relieve a lot of pressure and fear that can come when there is a nebulous pile of papers and you aren’t even sure how to begin dealing with them.

Knowing that things in the office are not falling through the cracks or being buried and mishandled will free up her mental energies to be brilliant in her work.

What kinds of messes are you hiding?

Systems save the day!

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Photo courtesy of Jesse Millan (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jesse Millan (Creative Commons)

I feel like I have been on a merry-go-round lately, so busy with taking care of things mostly for other people that I’m just spinning round and round, unable to jump off.

The thing that has saved me through all this is the systems and habits I have in place. It was encouraging to know that in spite of being pulled in so many different directions, and needing to do things that weren’t even remotely similar to things I normally do, the basics were still taken care of.

Two of the key tools have been my calendar with reminders and my Trello task lists.  Thankfully my calendar kept me on track with appointments and commitments – in fact I would have completely missed one that was scheduled months ago had that reminder chime not come up on my phone!

When I did have a block of time without a duty facing me, I was able to refer back to my lists on Trello.com to see what else I needed to be doing. The hard work I had done lately to update those lists really paid off.

Some might think it is rigid and controlling to have systems in place, but for me, it is freeing. I can trust that I’ve put things in the right places with appropriate reminders and can let go. I don’t need to hang onto those nagging thoughts that I need to do something because I know that I will be reminded at the proper time.

The other bonus is that when I find myself with a block of unexpected time, then I have something to refer to so that I make the best use of the time – instead of wasting it and getting further behind. Or, if I decide I just want to read or relax, I can own that decision because I know what I’m not doing.

What systems do you have in place that help you on that merry-go-round of life?

Not if, but when?

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Photo courtesy of Peg Hunter (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Peg Hunter (Creative Commons)

How often do you say “if such and such happens”?

The more positive version is “when such and such happens.”

I have realized that I approach things differently when I think of things as “if” events. I imagine how nice it would be, and hope that it will happen, but there’s also a part of me that accepts from the beginning that it most likely will not happen and I don’t try as hard.

Yes, I just said that. I don’t try as hard.

But for those “when” events – I put my all into it – even while I’m scared. I work like crazy to make it happen, and I do everything in my power to make it a reality. No matter how far-fetched the idea is, if I approach it as “when this becomes reality” – the expectation is that it will.

What things in your life do you need to approach as “when they happen” instead of “if they happen”?

Work in progress

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Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of BK (Creative Commons)

I am a work in progress. There are so many areas in which I can improve, from my organizational skills and my handling of email and tasks, to my health, personal development and relationships.

One of the most important things that I’ve discovered in getting better is understanding that I need to be constantly working at improvements. There is and never will be any part of my life that is “ok as it is” because no part of my life is static. There are always new opportunities, harder challenges, and bigger mountains to climb.

Chris Brogan, New York Times bestselling author and CEO of Owner Media Group, has said, “One enemy of mastery is complacency.”

The more I think about that statement, the more brilliant it becomes. Those times in my life when I have felt smug and satisfied about my skills and abilities were when I was just about to slip off the edge into disorder and chaos. I am at my best when I am constantly working to improve instead of feeling like I have made it.

I believe the danger is in ever thinking that I’ve “mastered” anything – that is when I get into trouble. I prefer to have the attitude that I may be nearing mastery of something, but there is always still work to be done.

Running is one example. I run a lot – not because I’m training for a race, but because I enjoy it and love the feeling of being strong and healthy. But instead of just settling at the current distance and speed I am averaging, I have added the component of weight training to build up my overall strength.

My reading list is growing with titles about self-development, and I connect regularly with others who are working at improvement. I cultivate those relationships that are most important to me by intentionally seeking opportunities to interact, rather than leaving it to chance.

There are always better ways to do things, different ways to think, and more positive habits to develop.

How are you a work in progress?

Excellence no matter what

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Photo courtesy of Alex Prolmos (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Alex Prolmos (Creative Commons)

I was with a friend at the hospital recently after surgery, and saw the good and bad of nursing care.

When you are just out of surgery, still scared, and in pain and discomfort, you need a confident caring team who can calm your fears and make you comfortable. What my friend was met with was a frazzled care partner whose first words were an apology, and a team of nurses that seemed almost inept and indifferent to his concerns.

As I helped the care partner change the bed, she complained about being tired and overworked, and behaved very unprofessionally – and I should not have had to help. In that kind of situation, it is critical to project a level of excellence no matter what else is going on.

After the shift change, the new team was like a breath of fresh air. Confident, knowledgeable, understanding – they quickly did what needed to be done, and were responsive to concerns and worries. They owned the situation and projected excellence in everything they did.

In whatever work you do, excellence should be a goal on every level.

Which team are you on?

Adding unnecessary stress

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Photo courtesy of Katie Krueger (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Katie Krueger (Creative Commons)

The more you veer away from daily practice of the things that are important to you, the more you put unnecessary stress on yourself.

Whether it is writing, exercise or playing an instrument, if it is something you feel is important, then it is critical that you build in a daily practice.

There’s no way to be really good and steady at something without regular practice. You don’t just go from start to finish by doing something once a week or every once in a while. It takes working at it every day to really improve.

That regular repetition helps to reinforce the skills. Football players rehearse drills every day until they are second nature, runners train for months before a race, and writers need to pour out their words every day to create that blog or story or book.

Not every day will be successful. There are days when my running is slow and labored. There are days my heart is not in it. But I still suit up and struggle to get through the miles, knowing that it is making me stronger and healthier. I don’t have to do a long run every day to reap the benefits.

I’ve gotten away from daily practice with my writing, and consequently, the ideas tend to get stuck and it is harder to get into the flow when I do sit down to write. When I stick to my practice of writing each morning, even on those days when my heart is not in it, the ideas start to flow and I’m able to process my life and clear my head. And like with running, I don’t have to write for hours to reap the benefits.

In what areas of your life are you adding unnecessary stress by not adhering to a daily practice?

Ownership is a choice

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Photo courtesy of Derek Bruff (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Derek Bruff (Creative Commons)

Do you own your choices?

I’ve noticed a change in my thinking lately and it has a lot to do with ownership and choices.

I realize that when I own my choices – good or bad – I am better able to handle the results. Even if the results aren’t what I expected or wanted, if I have taken ownership of that initial decision, I can deal with the results better.

I have seen people who veer toward victim mentality – from their perspective they have no control and the world is against them. Anything that happens gets a negative spin and they jump to assume that everyone they deal with has ulterior motives. Someone asks a simple question about a project, and they immediately think the person is pressuring them to finish. Their boss asks for a meeting and they assume the worst.

I admit there are times when I dip into this pool, but I am realizing how unhealthy that mind frame is, and I am working hard to avoid it.

One thing to keep in mind is that everything is a choice – doing or not doing, yes or no, even not making a decision. Procrastination is a choice. I am learning to own my choices and then taking it a step further, to own the results (or consequences).

In a lot of cases I’m already making choices that are healthy for me – I do not buy or eat things like potato chips (my weakness) and if I do, then I have to own the fact that I won’t feel great afterward. If I stay up too late or drink too much coffee, then I have to own the fact that I will be tired or jittery.

The more difficult things are turning down requests for me to do things or take on new responsibilities, but I am learning that by saying no to some things, then I can do other things better. Otherwise, I don’t do any of it very well and end up feeling overwhelmed. That’s when victim mentality can creep in. I have to own the fact that I can’t do it all.

Are you owning your choices?

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?