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Posts tagged ‘priorities’

Cutting Through the Clutter

I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the “noise” in my life lately.  I’m signed up for a gazillion blogs/e-newsletters, I get the snail mail New York Times, Fast Company, Outside, and Real Simple, I have four email accounts, paper lists, electronic lists, and lists swimming around in my head.  I’m not sure what percentage of this is “media porn” versus substantive information, but I’m guessing the balance could be a whole lot better than it is.  This topic of noise/bombardedness seems to be in the media a lot these days as people are increasingly talking about things like intention and purpose and signal…and how we isolate those things in our information-filled lives.  For example, an author named Douglas Rushkoff recently published a book called Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, which talks about our social adaptation to a present-focused narrative, which can either be energizing or disorienting, depending on how we handle it.

This idea of noise — and how to sift through it — is most interesting to me as it relates to our health.  This was actually the foundation of wellfesto — a belief that if we all could get clearer about what matters to us, based on our individual stage in life and priorities and interests and passions — we’d be able to better focus the information and inspiration we process in order to take care of ourselves.  I love the idea of being clear about what matters to us, and then designing information flow based on that.  Technology writer Doc Searls was quoted talking about this exact thing in yesterday’s New York Times business section: “right now, fitness enthusiasts who use blood pressure monitors, calorie calculators, and movement sensors typically can’t collate the data for a unified view of their wellness…if people could easily integrate their data, they might be able to correlate weight loss to a particular workout routine or diet.”

I’m sure people are frantically scrambling to build a platform that makes sense of not just our physical health, but our overall well-being.  And overall, I think this is a good thing.  Probably a great thing…maybe even a world-changing thing.  But the value of all of this information hinges on what we actually do with it.  What signal are we looking for, why, and what decisions/behavioral changes do we make based on what we learn?  What unique blend of data matters to US?  I have a super rudimentary way of thinking about this, which is a pie graph of what I’m focusing on at any given time.  Here’s the graph I made this morning:


It shows where I’m focusing my effort right now…not necessarily my time (I probably spend more time making and eating food and using my brain than this graph shows)…but my energy.  Once I sketch out how I’m focusing my effort, I think about what I’m looking for in each category.  This usually includes one/some of the following: motivation, information, support, time, focus, inspiration, commitment.  Once I know what I’m working on and what will help propel it forward, I can make clearer use of my time and find signal in noise.  It’s imperfect, but its a good check now and again to try to focus on the things that matter most.

What tools do you use to keep track of your health?  Do they add value or noise?  Do the signals you’re looking for change over time?  If you could design one tool to keep track of your overall well-being, how would it work?  


A few years ago, I did a graduate school project focused on work/life balance, a concept I now think is much better re-framed as work/life integration.  My primary research was at a design firm, where I gave people I interviewed a stack of index cards to sort as they saw fit and then craft into a cohesive story.  The cards included words that related to the idea of work/life balance…things like: SLEEP, TIME, GROWTH, FAMILY, MONEY, CHALLENGE, CHILDCARE, SKILLS, ETC.  Everyone told a very different and equally fascinating story, but one thing really stood out in every single one: a focus on TIME.  It sounds obvious, but it’s something we don’t talk about much.  As our lives and careers evolve, the limited resource often isn’t opportunity or skill or experience or connections…it’s TIME.

The notion of time as a scarce resource comes up a lot among parents.  Actually, it comes up a lot among people.  At work, a friend recently lamented the fact that she needs to sleep for eight hours a night.  “I could get so much more done in a day if I didn’t need to sleep so much.” (WHAT?!?!) A new dad told me a few months ago, “I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to stay ahead now that I have a huge responsibility outside of work.  I used to be able to outwork people (work more/longer), and I can’t do that anymore…nor do I want to.”  Executives complain about not having enough white space to think.  And when I talk to friends about health + wellness, the response is often “I wish I had more time to cook…exercise…go on dates…etc,” but I just don’t have any TIME.

There is a lot of truth in this.  Time is a limiter (I’ve been having one of those “I HAVE NO TIME” weeks), but there are things we can do to make it feel a bit less scarce.  We can organize around impact, we can schedule in some “unmoments,” we can be proactive about spending time on the things and people that matter most to us, and we can look to others for  ideas.  I recently saw two examples of how people are scheduling their days to optimize their time, and I thought I’d share them for inspiration:

via The Daily Muse

via The Daily Muse

by amber rae, via fast company

by amber rae, via fast company

Oh yeah, and not to be underestimated…we can be easy on ourselves and simply pat ourselves on the back for what we DO get done, and not what we DON’T.

Do you feel stressed about time, or are you at peace with how much time you have to do the things you want/need to get done?  What do you do to make sure you’re spending your precious hours on things that matter to you?  

Trusting Our Guts

photo(18)This morning was one of those mornings when I felt like I’d run a marathon before I even left the house.  Jolted out of a dream at 6am by the sound of two sets of feet running full tilt into the bedroom, I went through the usual motions – brew coffee, give breakfast options, cook breakfast, start making lunches, set table, serve breakfast (my kids are still too little to make their own breakfast).  As soon as two steaming bowls of oatmeal were on the table, a three-alarm tantrum began.  “I don’t want oatmeal…I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I want eggs!  I know I didn’t say it, but I want eggs.  I WANT EGGGGSSSSS!”  This went on for twenty solid minutes, at which point my son finally bellied up to the table and said he’d finish his (then cold) oatmeal if I’d make him some eggs once his bowl was empty.  Impressed by his problem solving, I conceded, knowing that I had 25 minutes to shower, get dressed, get them dressed, finish the lunches, get my work stuff together, COOK EGGS, and get out the door.  Needless to say, I’m lucky my clothes matched.

The day progressed at a similar pace – albeit with rational grown-ups, not tantrum-y kids — until my meetings ended at 2pm.  My brain was tired from work and my heart was still unshakably heavy from the seemingly endless morning tantrum, and I knew I needed a re-set in order to make the rest of the day productive.  So I gave myself one.  I laced up my running shoes and headed out of the office for a 40-minute loop in the sunshine.  Transported by Pandora’s “Dance Cardio” station, my frustration quickly faded away, opening up space for new energy and fresh thinking.  After just a few minutes of running, I was able to focus on what I needed to do in the afternoon.  As my stride evened out, my perspective shifted, and I returned back to my afternoon workload in a much brighter place.

I bring this up because although I write a lot about (and wholeheartedly believe in) planning and thinking ahead and optimizing and being proactive, the reality of life is that gut feelings…reactions…instincts often trump all of those things.  Structure and guardrails and commitments are there to guide us and remind us of what matters most and how we want to live.  They’re there to push us to do things like wake up in the dark to squeeze in a workout or clean our veggies on Sunday so we don’t eat cheese and crackers for dinner every night.  But life doesn’t always go according to plan, and spontaneous decisions are sometimes the best way to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves in the moment.

Today trusting my gut meant taking a run in the middle of a busy workday when the rational side of me would have said “you don’t have time.”  Other days it means ordering take-out because I would rather spend time with my kids than cook.  And sometimes it means letting my kids play on their own because I need to talk to my best friend on the phone.  Being able to trust our guts and act on what they’re telling us takes practice and a few “wins” to show us that it paid off.  Today’s run was one of my wins.

How do you make in-the-moment trade-offs that help you take care of yourself?  When have you succeeded?  Have these trade-offs ever backfired?

Cheering Us On

daddy sign

Girls don’t do those long races…just boys do,” my 4-yr-old son informed me knowingly as we drove out to watch my husband’s 50-mile trail (running) race this past weekend.  I asked him why he thought that, and he replied, “if girls did them, you’d be running today too, mom!

Flattered that he thought I might be an aspiring ultra-marathoner (which in case you’re wondering, I’m not) and relived that he’s not sexist, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond.  “Your dad’s insane…I’m not” didn’t feel quite right.  “I don’t want to be arthritic when I’m 45” is probably a bit over his head, I thought.  And “believe me, I’d much rather be on a trail than sitting in this car” sounded spiteful.  So I settled on the truth.  “Daddy loves these races, but I love other things.  We both spend our time doing things we love…just because we choose different things doesn’t mean they’re only for boys or only for girls.”  And on we went to the race, where we all cheered for every single “boy” and every single “girl” who came through the aid station.

My son’s question was important, both because of what he asked and what he didn’t ask.  I’ve never heard him say anything like “why is daddy spending the whole day running?  Why isn’t he with me?”  He’s never upset when I head out for a bike ride or a yoga class…in fact, I often find my kids with yoga mats outstretched — practicing their own downward dogs — when I get home from yoga.  Just as parents want their kids to be happy and free, I think kids…even little ones…want their parents to be the same.  And even more, they are watching our every move.  If we think running is cool, so do they.  If we eat asparagus, the odds go up that they’ll give it a try too.  If we play board games, they might opt for UNO over iPad.

This brings me to the next chapter of this blog.  I’m going to start focusing content more narrowly on parents, and what they can do to hack their health and design the lives they want to lead amidst the emotional and structural challenges of raising kids.  This is not turning into a parenting blog.  It’s not turning into a family blog.  It is a blog for the GROWN-UPS.  There are a ton of amazing resources out there focused on taking care of your kids and families (and I’m not trying to undermine the importance of that in any way)…but this one is about taking care of YOU.  It’s about staying connected with who you are at the core and what you care about most and what you’re working on in your life.  It’s about the constant shifting of priorities that mark these years.  It’s about the focus that brings peace, and the experiences that connect us.

I firmly believe that we can only help our kids become the best version of themselves if we are the best versions of ourselves.  And when we’re doing those things, our kids will be there to cheer us on…just as we are for them.  As I’ve said before, the kids will be alright.

P.S. If you’re not a parent, it’s my hope that you’ll still find lots of interesting ideas on this blog.  Again, it’s a blog for the grown-ups, so if your “baby” is a company or a hobby or a sport or a book or a band, I encourage you to stay tuned!

Orienting (Your To-Do List and Your Life) Around Impact

photo by rebecca siegel, via flickr creative commons

photo by rebecca siegel, via flickr creative commons

I have extraordinarily clear memories of the first few months in my first job out of college.  Lots of things stick out; to name a few: eating oatmeal and drinking a cup of watery Keurig coffee every single morning because it was free at the office…my first-ever office holiday party (James Bond themed with casino tables and everything)…recording my voicemail message like 15 times until I thought it sounded even remotely professional.

But one of things I remember most was my dysfunctional relationship with my to-do list.  I was terrified to leave work without checking everything off.  I can picture the list now…three things left on it…staring at me at 6pm when all I wanted to do was go to boxing class.  Inevitably, I’d either stay to finish them or show up super early the next morning to have them done before the day started.  The feeling of being productive didn’t outweigh the constant nagging that I wasn’t getting to do the things outside of work that I wanted to do.

At some point, however, I realized that I didn’t need to finish everything on the list every day.  It was OK to start the day with a dirty slate; the real challenge was in choosing the right things to knock off the list every day.  Thank goodness I (sort of) figured out what I could leave unfinished versus what I couldn’t before life became complicated (and beautified) by hobbies and new friends and a husband and children.  Figuring this out is an art, not a science; and I’ve played around with a few different ways to manage my to-do list: doing the hardest things first thing, doing the things I love before everything else, organizing by deadline, and organizing by impact.  My most recent lens has been impact.  I think it’s something people should talk more about, and I wish it’s something I would have thought about earlier in life.


Why impact?  Here are five reasons:

  1. Impact requires us to think about the broader context in which we’re living/working.  It requires some level of connection to the people, places and things around us.  It forces us to think beyond what makes us happy and dig into what gives us meaning.
  2. Impact doesn’t need to be tied to hours.  Sometimes it is, but it’s possible to make a huge impact in a very short amount of time.  I’d love to see more companies orient around impact versus time.
  3. Impact makes trade-offs easier.  It’s easier to give something up in service of getting something done if you have a good understanding of the scope of the outcome.
  4. Impact gets noticed.  Yes, it’s critical to praise the process (especially with kids), but at the end of the day, people impact does matter.
  5. Impact feels good.  It’s bigger than just you.  It can change a mindset.  It can change a life.  It can even change the world.

So how does this work?  Well, here’s how it works for me:

  • I’m clear about the things I want to impact in my life.  For me, some of these include my family’s happiness, my children’s sense of self, people’s overall well-being, the way organizations support personal growth and work/life integration, what the future of work might look like.
  • Every week, I think about what I’m going to focus on most.  I then ask myself why each of those areas/items matters, and based on those responses, I prioritize my list and my time.
  • I then think about what I need to do to make those things happen (i.e., Do I need workouts to give me energy?  Do I have little mundane tasks that are distracting me enough that I should knock them off too?), and i add those to the list.
  • I make a list of “must do” items and keep my list of “would be great to get these things done” items.  I try hard to not touch the second list until I finish what’s on the first.

Orienting around impact isn’t easy.  It’s muddy and imperfect, and it can sometimes create meaning/fulfillment but not necessarily in-the-moment happiness.  But it’s one of the many tools we have in our toolkit as we move through life.  And it’s one that is helping me navigate the trade-offs I make every day and every week.

What works best for you?  How do you organize the things you need to get done (and are lucky enough to have any choice about) every day?

Having MY All

I read a Pando Daily blog post a few weeks ago that really resonated.  It was about one of the media’s favorite topics these days – Sheryl Sandberg’s release of Lean In and launch of (don’t worry, this isn’t about the raging debate about women in the workplace, I promise).  Among other great arguments, in a funny and direct and real way, author and entrepreneur Sarah Lacy doles out her own advice to young women trying to figure it all out: “don’t listen too much to any advice.”  She makes the refreshing point that each of us has a different life.  Our VERY OWN TOTALLY UNIQUE life.  We have different skills and different financial situations and different partners and different children and different challenges and different successes and different needs and different priorities.  “Having it all” does not mean the same thing to every woman (how could it? we’re not robots), so maybe the most important question to focus on is what it means for each of us to “have it all,” and what we need to do to make that happen. Read more

Living Life on Purpose

purposePeople are talking about purpose a lot these days, as bloggers and academics and coaches debate whether it’s better to actively “find your purpose” versus do things that “help your purpose find you.”  A quick web search for the term “purpose” returns an endless stream of results, including one website where I can apparently find out “how to discover my life’s purpose in about 20 minutes.”

Although it would be awesome if the purpose question could be answered in 20 short minutes on the Internet, I actually think that figuring this out – what your purpose is, what to do to find it/let it find you, and how it should and can realistically direct your life – is extraordinarily difficult and requires time and effort (I wrote a post about the early stages of my personal purpose journey a few months ago).  But there is something I think is related, yet much easier to wrap your head around and practice: living life on purpose.

In my mind, there is a significant difference between living a purpose-driven life and living life on purpose.  The former comes from a very deep place that touches the core of our being; this is my deep, deep aspiration and my individual journey, but not yet my current reality.  The latter, however, relates to things that are easier to grasp – things like reason and deliberation and goal-directedness and the ability to hold both the near-term and the long-term at the same time.  This definitely isn’t easy, but to me, it seems doable.

For me, living life on purpose is about being intentional about my actions and decisions (I’ve heard this described as disambiguation, which sounds robotic, but makes good sense to me).  Living with intention involves things like actively making trade-offs, aiming to always understand how your time is being spent and why, and putting guardrails in place to ensure you stay on track.  For example, in my wellfesto, I’ve made commitments like “I exercise as much as my time and body allow because it gives me energy and de-clutters my mind and helps me stay in the present and helps me feel like myself;” and “I prioritize my relationships with my husband, kids, family, and friends even when it means sacrifice in other areas of my life.”  These statements have very little to do with my deep, core purpose in life….but they have everything to do with living life on purpose.

I had a professor in graduate school who shared a story about how she and her partner sat down every January 1 and talked about various aspects of their lives that were going well versus not.  Something she said really stuck with me (paraphrasing here): “We know it’s impossible to optimize for everything we’d like in our lives, so we work to find a comfortable balance between things that are great and things that aren’t.  For example, we’d like to live in a warmer climate, but we love our jobs…so living in Chicago trumps moving to a warmer place.  We’d like to make more money, but we value autonomy, so we’re OK with a simpler lifestyle.”  She had incredible clarity about the trade-offs she was making and why. She was (and still is, I hope) living life on purpose.

Different people likely thrive with varying levels of intentionality about the way they live their lives.  Some may float through life happily, letting things come into and go out of their lives with little though…and that’s fine.  But others may benefit from greater attention and intention, in everyday moments, phases of their life (i.e., the roaring 20s or the mid-thirties parenting fog), or their whole life.  If you’re interested in applying the idea of intention, here are a few strategies that have worked for me:

  • Be clear about what matters most to you: Be honest with yourself and the people around you about what’s most important to you….and then design your life to maximize time around those things.
  • Actively make trade-offs: Take stock now and again of what’s going on in your life and why.  If there are things that aren’t ideal, think about them in the context of everything else.  Can you make peace with renting instead of buying a house because you don’t have the risk profile to carry a huge mortgage?  Can you live with a career plateau so you can see your kids grow up?  Or are you OK with finding someone amazing to take care of your kids so you can make a meaningful impact in your work?
  • Focus on the present: I posted earlier this week that “the way we spend our days is the way we spend our life.”  Think about where your time is going every day, and work toward a place where the way you spend most of your days reflects the way you see yourself spending your life.  I think there is a lot of value in the saying “we become what we do all day long.”
  • Ask for feedback: Talk to good friends and family now and again about whether they believe you’re walking the walk and not just talking the talk about what matters most.  Our best friends are often our most honest mirrors.
  • Be thankful.  Being able to live life on purpose is easier for some people than it is for others.  If you’re lucky enough to have the structural support, time and autonomy to be intentional about your minutes and hours and days and years, don’t lose sight of what a luxury that is.  A simple gratitude practice may push you one step further…

With or without an omnipresent purpose, not everything in life can be bright and shiny all the time.  But it’s a lot easier to accept the things that aren’t when they have been actively chosen versus decided for us.  To me, this peace of mind and clarity of thought is the greatest value of living life on purpose.

How do you feel about living your life on purpose?  Does it matter to you, or does it feel constraining?  If intention is important to you, what do you do to make sure you’re living the way you want to be living?    

Keep, Drop, Create

PDCWhen I’m working with companies to re-design their programs or teams, one of the tools I like to use is super simple.  I work with a small group to brainstorm all of the things about the current situation that are important to KEEP, what should be DROPPPED, and based on those two lists, what needs to be CREATED.  This exercise is a really easy way to get clarity about what the re-designed solution might look like. Read more

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