My Three Words for 2017



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


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?

Finding your balance


Photo courtesy of Cheryl (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Cheryl (Creative Commons)

It’s so easy to lose your sense of balance in life and work. Your projects and tasks become so overwhelming that you can’t see the end of your list. You feel like you are spinning your wheels or continually adding things you need to do instead of finishing and marking anything off.

It can feel like you have to completely focus on the work to the exclusion of everything else. Head down, tune out the world, just get things done.

But that is probably the last thing you need to do!

One of my three words for this year has been PAUSE (read more here). I realize that I have not kept my emphasis on my three words like I should have this year, and by letting that slide, I have allowed myself to get off course and out of balance.

Pausing can be taking a break to walk around the building and clear your head after an hour of intense work. It can be going out with friends after work to have dinner or see a movie, or maybe going to a game on the weekend to completely unhook. Maybe for you it’s heading to the gym or for a run after work to burn off some steam, or just spending a quiet evening at home with your spouse and kids.

Whatever it is that breaks the cycle of all work will help you clear your brain and allow you to be even more effective when you do get back to that project. Plus, it helps you maintain those other important parts of your life, like relationships and health. After all, life isn’t all work.

What do you need to do to PAUSE and find your balance?

Remembering to pause



Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan (Creative Commons)

Photo courtesy of Brett Jordan (Creative Commons)

Running headlong into my day seems to be the norm lately. There’s so much on my plate that it feels there is hardly a moment to waste – the list feels like it goes on forever, the interruptions disrupt my train of thought. There’s always something else – a new challenge, a new task, a new responsibility.

Even if I had 48 hours in a day, I wonder if I could ever catch up. But that’s when it’s most important to take a step back. To stop blindly stumbling forward. To pause.

One of my three focus words for this year is PAUSE (read more here), and it seems to be the one I’m having the most trouble remembering. Living in such a busy world, it’s hard to justify slowing down – or stopping.

And yet, pausing might be the single most effective way to deal with all the busyness.

How much more could I accomplish if I just pause first thing in the morning to plan out my day? Create a list and plan for what needs to be done, leaving time in the day for the interruptions and emergency situations that always seem to pop up.

Leaving a few minutes at the end of the day to re-evaluate and set myself up for success the next day would help me too, especially since the activities of the day would still be fresh in my mind.

One of the most important things I need to do, though, is to pause to rest. Instead of moving directly from thing to thing to thing – I need to take a break – even just a few minutes, to redirect my attention and my energy. That might be a chat with a friend, or a walk around the block, or even just a few minutes of reading or just sitting on the porch. On weekends, I need to unhook even more, and not try to cram as much as possible into the time but to recognize that rest heals my body and spirit.

How much more effective could you be if you learned to pause?

What makes you smile?


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?

Count it down to a break


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?

Do you pause?


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?

Slow down and check once more


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


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?

How do you make time to read?


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?