creativity, time, to-do lists, work

Beautiful: My Stop Day Results

05037166e614dbda61527b0005c77dd9Some times the very best thing we can do for our work is to not work.

On Saturday, I took the day off in honor of a self-imposed Stop Day. I have only taken a handful of days away from anything related to work since leaving my corporate job and starting up my own business last June. I love my work. It gives me energy and inspires me. I’ve never felt the need or desire to work long hours out of guilt or a belief that working more hours will get me further ahead on some nebulous ladder to the top. I give what a job needs to be done well and starting my own requires a lot of my time to tend to clients, do the work I committed to do, pitch for new business, and research possible future pitches. (See my 3X3X3 article for my system of working.)

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about how stepping away from work helps make us more efficient and creative. Since I am an efficiency hound and constantly trying new ways to boost my creativity, I decided to give it a purposeful whirl.

It was much more difficult than I imagined. Because I do enjoy my work so much, I found myself constantly coming up with new ideas that I could do and people I should connect with. Rather than act on them, I would make a quick note of these for later and then let them go. I put aside any reading that was even remotely related to any work I do. I stayed off my social media channels (for the most part) and didn’t write anything related to assignments I currently have.

After a couple of hours, I did feel a surge of energy and did a free writing exercise whose results even surprised me. A gush of words flowed out on a subject I haven’t thought about in years. I guess they had been trying to break through the surface and saw that they finally had their chance.

By early afternoon, it was time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. I went to brunch at Lobster Joint with a dear friend and then we took a several hour walk all over lower Manhattan, reveling in the sunshine. I stopped into Crumbs, my favorite cupcake shop, to pick up some goodies for a cocktail party that another friend had spontaneously decided to throw at his apartment that night. I arrived at the party and then stayed many hours later than I had planned.

It was a truly wonderful and relaxing day. And you know what? The sky didn’t fall down and my business didn’t tank just because I took a day off. In fact, despite daylight savings time, I hopped up out of bed and was excited and inspired to get back to my work without the stress of a to-do list. My efficiency was higher. My energy was cranking even without the zip of coffee. I felt really alive.

Stop Day will make a regular appearance on my schedule going forward.

choices, dreams, priorities, time, to-do lists, work

Leap: All the Work We Need to Do

230274_480168285369181_1941994014_n We all have our lists: what to do, where to go, who to see, what to plan, what to look into when we have some spare time. I have apps on my phone where I keep lists of lists. And this is why I love this picture from Startup Lab so much.

When we really get down to what matters, what remains when every last list is either complete or discarded, this is all that counts. Did we love what we did with our time? Did we improve someone else’s life just by being who we are? Did we make ourselves useful and helpful?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then rest assured that you are on the right track to a good life. And if the answer to all of those questions is yes, then make sure to give yourself a great big hug and a hearty round of congratulations because you are living the secret of life that everyone longs to learn. It’s so simple: do what you love as often as your can, be your best, unique, beautiful self every day, and make the world a little brighter for someone else.

This is all the work we ever really need to do.

choices, friendship, time, to-do lists

Leap: “Busy” is a State You Choose

Does your calendar make you feel like this? From Pinterest.

I recently had an odd turn with a friend and her frantically busy calendar.

She wanted to introduce me to someone and thought a brunch was the best way to do it. After tentatively choosing a date to run by the person she wanted me to meet, I didn’t hear back from her for over 2 weeks so when another friend suggested getting together for that same day, I took her up on the offer. I figured something must have gone awry with the brunch. My friend constantly tells me how “busy” she is and her busy-ness must have gotten the best of her this time.

When she finally did get back to me 2 days before the brunch to say it was on, I had to tell her that I made other plans since I didn’t hear from her for 2 weeks. Her response? “I can’t believe you did that! I spent a lot of time organizing this brunch and quite frankly I could have put that time toward something more valuable. I am a very busy person and if you make plans with me you need to be mindful of that!” When I explained my thought process and apologized for not being able to make it, she blew up and several other nastygrams about how busy she is flew into my inbox. The intensity of her angry response was rather disturbing, and to be honest, weird.

That same day, my dear yogi friend Cyndie sent me this brilliant article – The Busy Trap by Tim Kreider. Sychronisity is a beautiful thing. I laughed out loud at his observations about the state of being busy, our simultaneous loathing and pursuit of it. He practically quotes word for word conversations I’ve had with friends about being busy. Tim talks about his decision to choose time over money, to decidedly be less busy for the sake of creating more space in his life. He also talks very honestly of having to give up friendships with people who just didn’t have time for friendship because they chose instead to be busy.

Leading a fulfilling life doesn’t require a calendar that’s filled to capacity. It is possible to be fulfilled without being completely full. And it is possible to be productive without being worn down. Being busy and being free are choices. We make them every day.

My friend relishes her packed calendar and she wants everyone to know it. It increases her self-worth to be constantly busy and rarely available, and that’s okay. It’s just not the way I wish to live, and like Tim, this is not the kind of thinking I value in others. So she went on her (busy) way, and I went mine. And I gained a valuable insight in the process: I’d rather have a life that’s rich with people I love and the time to see them rather than one overrun by to-do lists and back-to-back-to-back appointments. Time to make some room for, well, nothing in particular.

dogs, Life, time, to-do lists, work, writing, yoga

Beginning: How I Find the Time

“You have to live your life spherically, in many directions.” ~ Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun

A lot of people ask me how I can live such a varied life with so many interests that don’t necessarily fit together in a logical way. I like being a Renaissance woman; I love figuring just how all the pieces come together, even if on the surface they seem to have nothing to do with each other. I am a firm believer in connections and relationships.

I’ve struggled a bit to come up with a good answer for people who truly want to know how I fit it all in, how all these subjects and activities can live side-by-side in my brain. Part of it is my training – I’ve been on a vertical learning curve all my life, so much so that it’s where I’m most comfortable and engaged. I like having a challenge nip at me until I crack the code. For me, that’s play.

But people don’t like that answer. It’s not enough of a silver bullet. And then it dawned on me (in the lady’s room, if you must know!): most people don’t give a hoot how I fit it all in and maintain so many simultaneous interests. They want to know how THEY can do that. They want “the how” that they can replicate. Now I’ve got a bit of a better answer to their question.

Generally, this is how time works in my brain:
In the morning, I am in list mode. I jot down everything I need to do for the day, in no particular order. I add to it throughout the day, though most of my to-do’s strike right when I wake up.

Some time between 5:30am and 6:30am I head out for a walk with my pup, Phineas. You might think this is a time suck because I walk him for a full hour and I don’t multi-task when I walk him. Trust me, I need it as much as he does. It clears my head to walk Phin and I find that the whole rest of my day is much more productive after I get some exercise with him. I often return with a mental list full of writing ideas and people I need to contact later on.

After my favorite meal, breakfast (another time when I don’t multi-task – I just focus on chewing), I plow through as much individual work (at home or at the office) as I can before noon because I’m a morning person and a late night person. I’m not so much of an afternoon person. (I blame my European roots for this!) If I’m commuting to work, I use the subway ride to flip through emails and read the top news stories, again making notes in my to-do list as they arise from my reading.

Then lunch rolls around and I usually read through lunch. Again, I check the news, get through some of my to-do list, and invariably add more to my to-do list. (I’ve noticed recently that I have a tendency to mindless gulp my lunch – I need to focus a bit more on my chewing this meal.)

Afternoons are for listening and gathering information. I try to have all of my meetings and phone calls in the afternoon. I’m sure there’s a brain study here, just waiting to happen. (Now adding this research to my to-do list!)

Most of the time I have plans after work, whether I’m teaching a class, taking a class, or seeing friends. That’s down time for me and recharges me for the evening. If I don’t have plans, then I take the time for myself at home.

When I arrive home, I play with Phin for a bit and read the note from his dog walker to see how he did in the afternoon. Sometimes we take a little jaunt around the block, depending upon how we’re both feeling.

I do some yoga and an 18-minute meditation every night. No matter what. I set get out my mat and bolster, set my timer, and get it done. No compromises.

Then I write, usually with Phineas sitting next to me. The writing part of my brain kicks in when the sun goes down. I’m not sure why – perhaps because the distractions of the day have fallen away by then. I feel like way up on the 17th floor, I can be alone with my thoughts when it’s dark outside. All the listening and gathering I’ve done throughout the day has had time to gel.

Yoga, meditation, and all of the personal work I’ve done over the last two years have paid off by banishing my lifetime of insomnia. Occasionally I toss and turn, though most of the time sleep finds me pretty easily. I take Phin out for a last quick minute (literally) and then I try to shut off the lights just after I catch the top stories of the 11pm news.

That’s an average work day for me. So far, it’s working though I’m always open to changing it up as needed. How does your day map out? How do you get it all done?

routine, time, to-do lists, work

Step 336: Balance Over Time

In business school a friend of mine famously said, “I think you can have it all, you just can’t have it all, all the time.” We beat the heck out of ourselves when it comes to work life balance. We make ourselves crazy by wanting balance every day, at every moment, and if we can’t get ourselves there we assume there’s something wrong with us, that we are somehow inept. The General Counsel of my company talked at a recent lunch about the idea of attaining balance over time, not balance all the time.

Some days, some week are just going to be packed to the gills. That’s life. Projects ramp up, the holidays come around, guests are in town. Certain times in our lives can just be crazy. Crazy fun or crazy not-so-fun. If that crazy happens over a long, sustained period of time, then yes, we do have a problem that we need to quickly remedy. But just because life is not as balance as we’d like it to be for a few days doesn’t mean we’ve failed. It just means we’ve got active lives.

This idea calmed me down, and it was a message I needed this week. Work has consumed more of my time than it usually does and I was cursing it a bit. Reflecting on the idea of balance over time reminded me to be grateful. I’m ridiculously lucky to have a job that interesting most of the time, that pays well, and doesn’t consume much of my time after 5:30. This week I’ve had a few late nights. I’m getting some new projects up on their feet and it’s taking more time than the typical 9-5 day allows. Thanks to the idea of balance over time, I took the extra time crunch in stride. And when the lull hits, which will inevitably happen, I’ll remember to offer my thanks for peace and quiet.

time, to-do lists, work

Step 226: More Free Time This Fall

My summer was not the relaxing break I hoped for a few months ago. Trips that didn’t go the way I planned, travel delays and cancellations for a variety of scary reasons, and work that took a turn for the insane. In general I felt off. About a week ago, I saw some of the fog start to lift, and then it plunged right back down for another round of crazy. I was feeling worn out, but still laughing, which is always a good sign.

Last weekend I took a hard look at my Fall schedule and saw the work mounting. I made some tough decisions about which pieces had to take a backseat for the time being. This afternoon I got an email from LIM College saying my social media class couldn’t be offered this Fall. I was disappointed to say the least, but nothing is as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. To their credit, LIM offered me the opportunity to teach several other classes this Fall that are more central to their curriculum (mine was very much an elective) but either the schedule didn’t fit with mine or the topic wasn’t my area of expertise.

The unfortunate aspects of not teaching at LIM College this Fall:

1.) I spent a lot of time and effort on the class building it from scratch

2.) I was looking forward to getting into college-level teaching much earlier in my career than I anticipated

3.) Missed income since I now won’t be paid this Fall for class or the work I’ve put into it to-date

And the upside:
1.) If the scheduling works out, mine and LIM’s, there is the possibility that I could teach the class at LIM in the Spring which would mean that the work I did would not go to waste

2.) I met Dudley Blossom, the Chair of the Marketing Department, at LIM. He is even more disappointed than I am that the class won’t be offered. His guidance as I built the curriculum was an incredible experience for me and I am confident that we will do some work together somewhere down the line

3.) I now have time for some of the projects that I put off in order to teach at LIM:
– Working on Innovation Station and a variety of other public education projects
– Spending more time on my yoga teaching through Compass Yoga
– Taking additional freelance writing assignments
– Working on my book idea that uses yoga principles as the basis for personal financial management
– Getting and training a dog
– Spending more time at the gym

4.) Now that I do have a curriculum created and I fully own it, I can shop it around to other schools who may be interested

5.) I learned a very valuable lesson – I will never again do freelance work for anyone without a contract

6.) I can take a couple of weekend trips I had originally decided to cancel this Fall

7.) My normal working hours won’t be divided between this class and my job, meaning that I won’t need to take up any of my personal free time to attend to work duties

8.) Fall is my favorite time of year, and honestly it’s always a better set of months for me than summer. Now I will get to enjoy more of it outside

9.) Having this class on my schedule made me re-sign my lease on my current apartment and not have to worry about moving; for that I’m very grateful

3 negatives, 9 positives. By sheer number, that’s about as much lemonade as I can make. The real bonus for me comes from knowing that all these types of things happen for a reason. There must be something else this Fall that really needs my attention, and now whatever that thing is, I’ll have more time for it. The unexpected can set us back a bit, but it brings with it a lot of excitement, too. I wonder what’s around the bend…

productivity, time, to-do lists, work

In Praise of Emptiness

I’m looking at my to-do lists for the weekend. 23 items, some of them time consuming. And this is just a typical low-key weekend for me. No traveling, I’m not hosting any event, none of the tasks require advanced preparation. 23 items – exactly who do I think I am that I can finish a first week of a job, jam pack my weekend, and be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Monday morning?

This week in the New York Times, there was an article entitled “A Place and an Era in Which Time Could Stand Still. It discusses the need to let kids have some time with nothing to do during summer camp rather than cramming activity after activity into their days. And this consideration is worth a look for adults, too, especially those engaged in creative pursuits. We need time to let our task-master minds unwind if we are to get at our best creative thinking. It’s buried beneath all of our to-do lists and action items.     

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? Why are we obsessed with the need to be productive at every moment. Our European neighbors have a way of looking at life that is practically the antithesis of the American view – they enjoy life and the people around them. They savor the experience of life and the simple happiness that comes from lingering over a cup of coffee and a good book in an outdoor cafe. We chug the coffee and speed read the book in a packed subway car. Is it any wonder that we are dealing with so many health issues and a general lack of enjoyment in this country?

Recognizing this need to unwind, the editors at Real Simple Magazine put together a 14-day stress detox program. I looked for an on-line link but the list is only available in print and includes things like taking time to be grateful and investing a little time in gardening of any kind, even if it’s just a windowsill house plant. It’s well worth the look with one caveat – I would recommend stretching out the changes and enjoying them, reflecting on them, and fully ingesting their meaning and power. The last thing we need is another deadline and a another item on a rushed to-do list.