My Three Words for 2017

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Choosing three focus words each year helps me avoid the failure that inevitably accompanies the practice of making New Year’s Resolutions.

Following the lead of Chris Brogan, a few years ago I began choosing three focus words to take me through the year (Read about Chris’s three words for 2016 here).

What I have found is that the words keep me focused and on task, give me a lens through which to view my choices and decisions, and they make me more productive and thoughtful in how I live my life.

Past words have included “connect,” which opened me up to build a network of trusted friends and colleagues both online and in person. Words like “moment” and “journey” have helped me focus more on the present.

One practice that Chris Brogan recommends is to look at them daily – each morning – to start the day with the right focus. I made the mistake of not revisiting them frequently this past year and they slipped out of mind. I have made the graphic of the words the background of my laptop – so I will see them every time I turn it on!

 

My three words for 2017 are DO, FIRST-DOWN and SEE.

DO means more than just action – it’s making sure that my actions are authentic. It comes from a quote from University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban. He says, “What you DO speaks so loudly. It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s what you DO. Put more focus on the DO.”  It’s easy to get caught up in the talk, but you must do what you say you will or people will realize you don’t mean it. There is also a tendency for a planner to spend so much time on the plans and the possibilities, that the work never gets done. Spend more time DOING.

FIRST-DOWN is another football reference, but it combats my perfectionist tendencies. Often, a quarterback will attempt a long pass for the touchdown, when all he needs to do is get the few yards for the first-down and then the team has more plays and more time to score. I don’t always have to have things perfect or have it finished, but it is important to move the project or the process forward. I often fail to start something because I am afraid I won’t finish, but it’s important to start and just move it forward a step at a time. Before long – it will be completed. SCORE!

SEE makes me more aware of my surroundings and of the present. I get so in a zone that I forget to notice the people I need to, the scenery going by, and the life that is whirling around me. I need to slow down, be more in the moment, and enjoy each day and all that it brings. I want to end the day with memories and no regrets – instead of not even knowing what I did all day except stay busy.

What are your three words for 2017?

My Three Words 2016

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three words 2016

For the last several years, I have followed the lead of Owner Media Group’s Chris Brogan in choosing three focus words to take me through the year instead of making New Year’s resolutions that I will just break within a few weeks. (Read about Chris’s three words here)

Most years, these words have been invaluable to my growth as a person and as a leader, including such terms as “connect,” ‘moment,” and “journey.” They have helped me build a network of trusted friends and colleagues both online and in person, and stay focused on the present rather than get so caught up in the planning and future that I miss what is happening now.

My words for 2015 were PRACTICE, PAUSE and NOURISH, and I admittedly let myself lose focus of their power, ending the year overwhelmed, distracted and exhausted. After some time to regroup, I’m ready to start 2016 with new purpose and determination to view my world through the lens of my three words, and let them help guide me so that I make more sound decisions and more productive actions.

My three words for 2016 are WHY, HERE and MARGIN.

WHY is probably the best place to start when I think about my life, dreams and expectations. Before planning or doing anything, there should be a clear reason why that action or direction is important or needed. “Because it’s always been done that way” or “just because” are not viable reasons to do anything at all, especially since we have only limited time and energy. On larger projects and decisions, it is critical to identify the “why” before moving ahead, and then to use that as a touchstone to ensure I’m staying on track.

HERE reminds me to be present in the moment, not planning ahead, reliving the past, or distracted by anything else. When I am having a conversation, I want to be focused on that person and what is being discussed. If I am planning a project, writing, or working, that should be all I am doing – not multi-tasking. To be HERE demands my full attention and focus.

MARGIN helps me think in terms of boundaries since I tend to blur the lines between work and personal life as well as rest and busyness. I need to think of the different parts of my life like the margins on a page. But more than that, I need to learn to build margin into my schedule. Rather than overbook myself, it’s important to allow time for those unexpected interruptions, tasks that take longer than anticipated, and even time after a meeting or conversation to make a few notes that allow me to remember and utilize what was discussed. Margin will be the buffer that allows me to switch gears and not be rushing around all the time.

What are your three words for 2016?

A place of peace

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Photo courtesy of Transformer18 (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Transformer18 (Creative Commons)

Peaceful. I never thought I’d say I felt that way in the midst of the busyness of December, but I found a place of peace today.

To say I found it while running 10 miles probably won’t make sense to most people (except for my runner friends who are saying YES!). In fact, it was the second day in a row I ran 10 miles (first time ever and with a better time by 8 minutes the second day).

I suited up, plugged into worship music, and took off, expecting to struggle. It was perfect running weather – temperature around 50 and cloudy, not much wind. I let my mind go, and listened to the music, prayed, and reflected on the many blessings that I have been given, instead of all the things on my list to do.

First off, I am blessed to be Running Mom to Bennett, and get to honor him every day with my miles through a program called I Run 4. I am surrounded by the love and companionship of family and friends, both in person and online. I am privileged to serve two amazing organizations: I Run 4 and GraceWorks Ministries. I don’t have a lot, but I have enough.

I realized it felt like all the worries and stresses I’ve been overwhelmed with lately just flowed off me as I ran. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have a lot to deal with, but I hope now I can come at it from a different direction – with a reliance on God and on letting Him lead me instead of me forging ahead on my own. I guess it took noticing all that He has given me to realize that He isn’t leaving me out here alone.

I hope during this season and beyond, you can find a place of peace. It may take looking in unusual places.

What gets in the way of your work?

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Photo courtesy of eltpics (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of eltpics (Creative Commons)

I’ve bumped into that question in several places lately in conversations with co-workers and in reading. What I’ve discovered for myself, is that my resistance seems to come from needing perfection. One of the voices in my head has been really loud lately insisting that my work space, lists, everything needs to be perfect before I can accomplish anything.

Let me tell you – my work space, lists, and calendar are far from perfect. The nature of my job as the manager of a thrift store inevitably means that “things” show up constantly in my office – donations my team aren’t sure how to price or deal with, papers, files, you name it, it seems to appear mysteriously on my desk.

We are in the process of expanding some of our office space too, so with the impending move, the mess has gotten worse. My time has been split between doing the things the absolutely must be done, and helping set up new offices or preparing for the moves in the current building. Layer on schedules, calls, hiring – you get the picture.

What I have found myself doing lately is quieting that voice by telling it when I get settled in the new office, I can organize and then get the work done. When I have the space to put away the clutter, then I can figure out how to improve the things I need to improve.

The problem is that that is just the latest excuse. Before that, there were others, and I’m sure after that, I will find something else. I need to accept that “perfection” is a myth and I need to just buckle down and get the work done.

Instead of waiting on the ideal time, it’s important to carve out a block, maybe an hour early in the day, and just focus on the most urgent issue or project. Getting started will likely be the hardest but most important step, and then the voice will quiet. Once that initial work is begun, then the rest will come easier.

What excuses are you letting get in your way?

Glimpses of glory

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It’s always when I least expect it. I’m having a bad day or I’m preoccupied with challenges – regardless my mind is not clear. It usually happens when I am sinking into negativity – spiraling away from anything positive or good and headed in the wrong direction.

But then I glance up and see the sliver of moon rising in the east – orange, barely visible, breathtaking. It could be a brightly colored sunset or the trees in their autumn finest.

I hear a noise and realize there’s a deer on the hill that I am running past – just watching me go by.

It might be a coyote – stepping out from the bushes near my path. He stares for a minute before trotting off into the brush.

Seeing things like this make me realize how blessed I am – how blessed we are.

In spite of whatever issues or problems or challenges I have in my life, these are reminders of God’s power and majesty – that God is in control, and He does have a plan. Observing something like this just reminds me to stop to say thank you – and to hand my worries over to Him.

Finding your sweet spot

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Photo courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Devon Christopher Adams (Creative Commons)

When I was little and my daddy taught me how to play tennis, I remember him telling me about the sweet spot on the racket – how if I was able to hit there, I would have more control over the ball, and could better direct where it went on the court.

I’m searching now to find the sweet spot in my work routine because lately it feels like I’m either swinging and missing the ball or whacking it all over the court!

The nature of my work is interruptions – retail management has that drawback. But there are some things that I do that require concentration – staff scheduling, sales reports, reviews of processing and promotions – and finding blocks of time to focus on these things can be difficult.

One way to counteract the disjointedness of my day is to get back to basics. I am starting my planning the day before – jotting down the 3-4 most critical things I need to accomplish before I leave for the day, and leaving any materials related to those projects or tasks front and center on my desk. That way, no matter what hits me as I walk in the door, I have those reminders of what I need to accomplish. That also serves to bring me back to the critical tasks when I get pulled away during the day.

The other part of the equation has been more difficult to resolve and I’m still working to find a solution. That block of uninterrupted time seems to be elusive – I’ve tried blocking time first thing in the morning, closing my door, making an appointment on my calendar, working offsite, all the things you read about in productivity books and blogs.

So far, none of those options has worked.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to jot down my list each afternoon, because at least that keeps me grounded. And I’ll keep swinging in search of that sweet spot that means productive work time!

Arrogance vs. confidence

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Photo courtesy of Pulpolux (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Pulpolux (Creative Commons)

I am currently interviewing candidates for an open position at work. It is challenging because I don’t want to mistakenly hire the wrong person and destroy the strong team dynamic that we have already built.

One of the things I have noticed though, is that some of the candidates have an arrogance about them – almost an entitlement. It’s like they are just going through the motions in the interview, and they are quite sure they are going to be hired, and basically I would be a fool not to hire them.

It’s in the way that they talk and answer my questions, the way they sit across the table from me, and the way they carry themselves. In their own minds, they are ideal and that’s that.

Wrong.

That kind of cockiness is not appealing in an employer nor in a team member. I have worked with people like that, and it causes division in the team, and resentment from other team members. I am very careful to tread lightly when I come across that kind of arrogance.

What I like to see is a quiet confidence. Tell me about your experience and accomplishments, assure me of your skills and talents, but do it without that haughtiness. It’s one thing to be self-assured that you can do the job, but don’t assume you already have the job.

Someone who is confident will meld with the team well. They will not come in demanding or wanting to do everything their way, but will respect the process and the other team members and learn how things are done. Later on, they may make suggestions on better ways, which is always encouraged, but not until they understand the “why’s” and the “how’s” already in place.

What experience do you have with an arrogance vs. a confident team member?

Pausing to check

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks (Creative Commons)

I do volunteer work with a group called I Run 4 (read more here), which pairs runners with special needs adults and child buddies. Since I do the matches, I get emails from both buddies and runners asking all sorts of questions.

Most of the emails are polite and cordial, but the other day, I got one that said, “”Hi I signed up more than a year ago. Could you please tell me what happened?”

I was a little taken aback at the abrupt and accusatory tone, and when I checked, I did not see this person on any list or find any sign that they had done anything other than join the closed Facebook group, which meant they did not follow the directions on how to sign up. As the exchange continued, the tone got more abrupt and rude, which I have to admit, made it difficult for me to continue.

Conversations like that remind me how important it is to pay attention to my tone with others, no matter what else is going on in my life. It’s important to stay positive and upbeat, and not get upset or negative whether I’m in a store, talking with a co-worker, or answering the phone. Getting loud or upset never helps and usually puts people off. It is much easier to get answers and solutions when you are working “with” people instead of working against them.

Sometimes I find I need to pause before I speak – or hit send – and make sure that my tone is pleasant.

How do you make sure you are approaching an interaction with the right frame of mind?

Planning in pencil

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Photo courtesy of OFour (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of OFour (Creative Commons)

I am a planner. I like to know what I’m doing when, what the next steps are, and what the final outcome will look like.

But lately, especially at work, my priorities seem to be very fluid. I can start my day with a solid plan and by lunchtime, it’s already changed drastically, and by the end of the day, I’m not even sure what I’ve done all day!

I’ve been reading a book called, “What You Can, When You Can,” by Carla Birnberg and Roni Noone, and in it is the suggestion to plan in pencil. That really hit home for me because there is still value in setting the expectations of what to accomplish and how, but if you plan in pencil, then you can easily adjust along the way.

How freeing to know that I’ve crafted a strategy to get something accomplished, but that I can be creative enough to react as things change throughout the process.

In what ways could you be more productive by planning in pencil?

How do you show your gratitude?

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Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Kate Ware (Creative Commons)

Gratitude really does make a difference.

Our message at church this week was about gratitude (thank you Pastor Chris!), and it made me start thinking about the two ways to be grateful – being grateful for the blessings that I have, and also extending gratitude to those around me who are making a difference.

I am constantly grateful for simple things like a beautiful sunrise, praise music while I run, and the love of good friends and family. I’m not as good about telling those around me thank you for what they are doing.

I do a lot of volunteer work with an organization called I Run 4 (read more here), which pairs runners with buddies who have special needs and challenges from Down syndrome to autism and everything in between. We run in honor of our buddies and dedicate our miles to them.

My work as connection coordinator involves a lot of emails and communications with both runners and buddies/parents as I coordinate the matches. Sometimes, members of the group will thank me for the time and effort I put into it, and it always gives me pause. I do it because I love seeing the impact on these lives and not for any glory or pats on the back. But it does make me feel good when someone notices and says a simple thank you for the work I put in.

With that in mind, the other day I made a special point to say thank you to one of my team members at work who had been working extra hard and doing a terrific job. I was amazed at the look on his face, and the way he kind of stood up straighter. It really mattered that I had noticed and acknowledged his contributions.

I don’t do that enough. I need to look for opportunities to say thank you – constantly. Not in an insincere way, but by honestly noticing how others make a difference and then saying so.

I also need to be more aware of the many blessings that I have instead of obsessing over how much work I have or how irritated I am that something isn’t going right. Even in the challenges, there are blessings, and sometimes they are more impactful than when things are rolling along smoothly. I need to be grateful for it all.

How do you show your gratitude?