Procrastinate Much? 3 Steps to Getting Sh*t Done (even the tedious stuff)

The holiday season has arrived! And with it, all the glorious year-end activities that can turn life into a whirlwind.
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I don’t know about you, but I am a total Rock Star at procrastination. And I routinely reinforce this unfortunate talent by getting a lot more done when I’m under time pressure.  A teacher in high school once hypothesized that I liked producing results “in a blaze of glory.”  That’s not quite how I experience it, but I do know that my efficiency increases dramatically when I’m up against some kind of deadline. Knowing this about myself, I actually factor procrastination into my plans. That may sound counterintuitive, but here’s how it can work.
You see, it’s all in how you plan things. I use a three-step strategy.

Step 1. Make a Master List with Two Columns: Must Do’s and Would Like To Do’s

This is important. We often conflate these two categories, and most of us are particularly skilled at putting lots of things we think we “should” do into the same list as the things we know we actually need to do. They are not the same things! And they don’t belong on the same list.

You can also include less pressing items or those that will need to be done at some time in the future in that second column. This way you have them noted and can move them into the Must Do column when it comes time to deliver on them.

You will benefit most from creating your Master List with the Must Do’s listed out in the form of baby steps (see Step 2). Otherwise, you will end up having to write yet another list of actionable tasks. Depending on how many time-intensive items are on your plate, this may be appropriate. If so, I strongly recommend using a notepad to which all your lists are attached. In my experience, multiple loose lists tend to behave a little too much like socks in the dryer….

Step 2. Breaking tasks down into baby steps.

When I say baby steps, I mean really tiny, bite-sized, easy-to-do baby steps.

For instance, say there is a lengthy report I need to write and I’m dreading it.  Stated as one huge task it can sound overwhelming, but I am going to break it down into itty bitty little tasks, such as: 1. Pull together all my notes on the subject. 2. Organize my notes chronologically. 3. Review my notes with a highlighter in hand. 4. Make a list of items to include in the report. 5. Open the report template, title it, and save it as a new document.  6. Perhaps I will also locate a similar completed report to review. 7. Skim this other report.  8. Write a paragraph for one section of the new report. And so on.

Need to do your Holiday shopping? That is not a bite-sized task. Instead, you can list the actions you need to take in order to make progress, e.g., text sibs for ideas about gifts for mom; request wishlists from sister’s kids; schedule time for shopping; etc.

Sometimes you can also use this strategy with yourself in the moment. Say you’re planning to go to the gym after work, but you get home at 6:45 and you’re exhausted. All you want to do is flop out on the couch and watch TV, even though you know you’ll feel better and more energized if you go to the gym.

So you tell yourself, just get dressed for the gym. You can do that, right? Okay. You’re dressed. Now, you tell yourself, all you have to do is drive to the gym. You don’t even have to get out of the car. Just get yourself there. Great, that seems doable. There you are. You’ve arrived at the gym. Now, all you have to do is go into the gym. Walk inside, and take your water bottle with you. Once you’re inside, give yourself permission to work out for just 10 minutes, and if you’re still dying to get home to the couch, you can go. Get moving for 10 minutes. Chances are, you will stay and work out a little longer now that you’ve made it that far.

 

Step 3. Each morning, Identify the Day’s Non-negotiables

Hopefully, you have blocked time on your calendar many days in advance in order to have time set aside to work on performing your most critical responsibilities within the necessary timeframes. If not, let’s just call that Step 1a.

For Step 3, you will look at that list of baby steps for the things that are required of you, and you will mark those items that you will complete TODAY.  I use asterisks. I recommend selecting at least 5-10 items each morning. They should be in small enough bites that this number feels doable within your day.

If you don’t have a deadline bearing down on you, you can select tasks based on what you are “in the mood for” that day.  For instance, being somewhat introverted, there are days when I am in the phone zone, and days that I am not. Obviously I can always push myself to make calls as needed, but if I find myself in that zone on a given day, I am absolutely going to take advantage of it and knock out a bunch of calls, knowing that I may be more reluctant to make them on another day.

Once those non-negotiables are completed, you have choices! You can decide to take care of a few more items, you can call it for the day, or you can move on and take steps towards some of your “Would Like to Do’s.” Once those are separated out, however, you may find yourself realizing that they are not necessary or practical to expect of yourself, and either outsource them or cross them off the list altogether. Now that feels good!

Do you have a system you like to use to side-step your tendency for procrastination? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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Shoring Up Resilience Amidst the Torrent of Tragedies

There are moments in which it feels overwhelming. Hurricanes. Flooding. Earthquakes. More hurricanes. Gun violence. So much gun violence.milada-vigerova-7276

The devastation is devastating. There are people in need everywhere we look. Including ourselves. We need to make sense of it all, but we can’t. And in the meantime, we have to keep working, maintaining our households, caring for family, tackling the never-ending To Do list. It’s exhausting.

The future is uncertain. The present is troubling. So how do we cope?

We take a moment, whenever we can, to breathe. Deeply. We recognize our many feelings about what is happening in our lives and around us, and we take some time to let ourselves feel them (lest they sneak their way out inappropriately). We make sure our basic needs are being met, lean on one another for comfort and support, and rely on routine and ritual to anchor us to daily life. If possible, we spend a little time out in nature – even brief exposure to nature can make us less aggressive, more creative, and more civic minded! We count our blessings and cultivate gratefulness for all that is good in life.

We engage in empathy towards ourselves for not always being at our best, even in times of difficulty. We also benefit from practicing compassion for so many others who are in pain – all different kinds of pain, not simply the pain we can most easily relate to. We must accept that we will not understand it all, and yet recognize that it is real.

And then…

We consider what is within our power to change. Perhaps we make a donation to the cause we find most distressing. We take the steps we can reasonably take to manage that which feels most important to us, both personally and as members of a community. Breaking things down into the smallest of steps can help generate momentum when we feel paralyzed with overwhelm. Creating order can feel calming. And taking action gives us a sense of agency. We are not powerless. We are strong.

And we are, in fact, stronger together. Being in community with those we trust and appreciate is both powerful and healing. Find or create opportunities to embrace this. You are not expected to do this complicated thing called life in isolation. Be with your people. Generate love.

We will get through these times one way or another; that is simply how life works. So why not make the journey with thoughtful intention? I can guarantee your heart will thank you.

What works for you? I invite you to share your practices in the comments; I’d love to hear what you find effective.

 

 

Who Do You Think You Are?

hope-house-press-127597No, really, who DO you think you are? I try to ask myself this question on a fairly regular basis these days.
Perhaps it’s middle age making me more contemplative, and for sure it’s the kind of work I’ve been doing these past few years – both professionally and for my own personal growth – that has led me to be more self-reflective.
So who do I think I am? I find that the answer varies. And, frankly, it can’t be summed up in a bio. Am I made up of qualities and characteristics? Skills and experiences? Ambitions and ideals? Yes. Am I also defined by my relationships? My work? My personality? Yes, to some extent. They are all expressions of who I am today, whether they represent my true self, or instead represent a habit of molding myself to others’ perceptions of who I “should” be. Self-awareness helps me recognize which expressions are authentic representations of my Self, and which are distorted because of some idea that I ought to show up differently.
Sometimes people find this confusing, because shouldn’t we all try to behave morally and be kind to others, even if it doesn’t feel ‘authentic’ in the moment? Well, certainly, in general, that’s a good rule of thumb. But there’s a bit more to it.
For me, it’s about wanting to be my best self. When I find myself reacting in a way that may cause some form of pain to someone or something, it’s usually because I feel hurt or anxious or self-conscious, and am engaging in a form of self-protection ~ one that doesn’t typically result in a positive outcome. To really be true to myself, I would actually allow the vulnerability to show, or at least attend to it internally so that I could respond more thoughtfully instead of reacting impulsively and/or ineffectively. (note: this takes practice!)
I also find it’s important, and sometimes difficult, to notice the difference between my personal efforts to show up as my “best self,” and those designed to please some external idea of what is “good” or socially desirable, whether it be in the context of a relationship, a given setting, or greater cultural norms. These are less about basic morality, and more about personal preferences and the corresponding critical judgments that may arise. Early socialization plays a big role in this. Sometimes we have to undo old habits that no longer serve us.
My last post was about why it’s important to connect to yourself. In the journey toward self-mastery, we have a multitude of tools and resources at our disposal. We can map out a path and put support mechanisms in place. As we move in the direction we desire, we get clearer about who we are, and more skillful at recognizing what feels authentic vs. what feels prescribed by external forces.
Doing away with the expressions of who I thought I “should” be and embracing more of my natural ways of being in daily life has not been without its challenges. Change can be disorienting. When you’ve spent years being something of a people pleaser, your authentic self can come as a surprise to others. You may find that some of the people in your life don’t know certain aspects of the real you, and they may prefer you to continue being who they thought you were.
And yet, I believe it’s worth it in the long run. When I can be my true, best self, my energy and focus increases, as does my enjoyment of life, because I am more at ease. The relationships we have that are based in mutual acceptance of both parties’ authentic selves will be the strongest and most resilient over time.
This is a path I will likely remain on for a lifetime. Would you like to join me for a few miles?

Why It’s Important to Connect with Yourself

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Does that sound too woo-woo for you? What does it mean to “connect with yourself” anyway?

To me, connecting with yourself is about getting still and thoughtful enough to sit quietly and simply be. To feel your breath and your body. To notice your emotions. And to reflect on who you are, and how you are showing up in the world. Kindly. Without judgment.

For me, it also means recognizing that we are connected to something greater than ourselves. That we are soulful beings in a vast universe, and that our very existence in this system means that we are in some way connected to everything and everyone else in it.  I find this helps me put life’s challenges in perspective and feels comforting.

Hearing about people’s experiences of the recent nationwide solar eclipse highlighted how this can sometimes happen spontaneously, and widely, in the case of a natural phenomenon. People across the nation simultaneously experienced the resonance of science and spirituality, connection and universality, nature and humanity. I was moved by many accounts of this shared experience.

While it does sometimes happen spontaneously, deliberately making self-connection a regular practice takes patience, and an ability to tolerate some of the yucky feelings that will also inevitably arise at times. For many of us, it is not easy. It sounds simple enough, but that doesn’t make it easy. Trust me. I’m no yogi. But I do try to cultivate this connection with self on a fairly regular basis (with plenty of room for improvement). When I am successful at making the connection, I feel more calm. More thoughtful about how I spend my time and how I treat myself and others. More open to others in general.

When you are more connected to yourself, you can recognize what you need and take better care of yourself. This then allows you to be more present with others when they are experiencing life’s ups and downs (notice I said ups and downs ~ this grounded clarity makes sharing the good times feel more joyful, too).

Connecting to yourself allows you to know yourself better, and this makes it more possible to create a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. This is your journey. Don’t lose yourself in the chaos along the way. Come back to yourself and connect, and be with what is. Even if it’s hard. The only way out of difficulty is through, and you don’t get through it by distracting yourself from it. It will still be there when you return. (Trust me ~ I have tested this theory too many times not to believe it! )

Like any relationship, the one we have with ourselves requires time and commitment to build a deep and solid foundation.

Only you know what steps help you the most. And if you don’t, here are some ideas you can try out:

  • Go tech-free for a day and see what emerges
  • Take yourself on a date and savor the experience
  • Journal – free write daily for 10 minutes – mornings or bedtimes are great for this
  • Get out in nature – really soak it in and feel the awe
  • Meditate – just sit silently for 10 mins, don’t try to empty your mind, just notice thoughts; try focusing on breathing from your belly, or feeling your feet on the ground and noticing the sensations you are experiencing
  • Notice the variety of feelings you are experiencing in a moment and name them
  • Develop a morning ritual – a solo activity, done with intentional focus, not rushed
  • Say kind things to yourself – e.g. “you are loved” or “you are a caring person”
  • Take a class in Gentle or Flow Yoga

We spend so much time in busy-ness, and in distraction, and in thought loops, thinking about the past or the future, or simply engaging in any number of escapist activities. Without making a conscious effort, it can be easy to lose contact with our essential selves. These activities (and you can certainly come up with others) are designed to help you remember that you can be here for yourself, you can simply be with yourself, and that you are simultaneously connected to the universe that surrounds you. Which means that you and I are connected as well.

I would love to hear what practices you use to connect with yourself and remember your essential connection with the universe.

……………….Namaste.

Is Your Life Begging for a Re-design?

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I remember that feeling: of a life so heavy with responsibilities and commitments that I didn’t have the time or energy to engage in sorely needed self-care, much less figure out how to make a lasting shift.  That was overwhelm.

I also remember the feeling of my subsequent phase, wondering if I was making the right move and trying to forge a new path, as I transitioned away from my corporate job and into the unknown of full-time self-employment, free of defined structure and a stable income. For a while I was feeling a little lost.

These memories all came tumbling back when I recently attended a weekend workshop called Designing Your Life for Women, facilitated by Stanford instructors Kathy Davies and Susan Burnett in Asilomar.  Can I first just say how great it was?! We were 47 women in a beautiful setting on the California Coast learning about radical collaboration with one another as we applied design thinking to our lives. I went to learn a new framework and tools to use with my coaching clients, and came away with a whole lot more.

There was the What:  we assessed what energizes us, looked at the balance between work, play, love and health, and learned how to reframe a problem into a solvable question. We ‘prototyped’ three possible lives, identified themes, and decided where to begin experimenting. We applied mindfulness techniques to help us connect to what felt most meaningful and allow our creativity to emerge. The skills were useful. The process was robust.

Then there was the How: the element of creating and engaging in supportive community was FANTASTIC.

I was reminded, yet again, of the power of connecting with others in ways that get beyond small talk and business issues. How making ourselves vulnerable can leave us open to deeper meaning and insights, and to new possibilities. The way asking for help opens up others to giving, and ourselves to receiving support. Collaborating and engaging with community strengthens us. It empowers us to do more. To be more.

I was also reminded that our lives are always in flux, and that there are a multitude of possibilities to consider as we dig a little deeper into our creativity and infuse our thinking with input from others. Introverts and extroverts alike benefit from a conducive environment in which to learn and grow and think outside the box. One simply has to create a welcoming space and watch the magic happen.

Did you know that around 80% of us don’t even have one thing we are passionate about ~ most people are passionate about many different things. Designing a life you love means incorporating the interests that resonate most deeply for you into a lifestyle that enables you to feel energized, purposeful, and fulfilled. And you get to do some experimentation along the way to find out what works best for you. It’s a journey of exploration into what you love most ~ what could be better than that?

Yes, you will stretch a little out of your comfort zone, but you will be supported and deepen key relationships along the way. That’s the beauty of community and collaboration. It helps us learn and grow and evolve. We connect with what matters most. We discover that life can be delightful if we do the work and embrace the challenges along the way. We keep trying and tweaking until we get it right, and then we modify again when something changes. Life is a dynamic process, and you can design yours to be one that brings you joy and contentment.

I feel fortunate to be in the Bay Area where this course is being taught, and to have met a cohort of local women who plan to continue meeting as we work through our respective life transitions. The experience has inspired me to expand the scope of my work to include design thinking. I’m excited to be adding this framework and set of tools to my repertoire!

Starting in mid-September, I will be facilitating (via video conference) a women’s Book Study Group for Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans of Stanford University. We’ll build community and grow together. To augment the text, I will incorporate Integral coaching principles into the process to address the whole person and their social context, and offer a private coaching session to each participant for additional support. You can find more information here.

Bio

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As a Career and Life Design Coach, my mission in life is to help other professional women discover the power of cultivating more balanced and meaningful lives. I’ve made the journey myself, and now I want to help you step into your own, whatever that looks like for you! Our work together will always be highly customized and may involve helping you improve skills in areas such as self-mastery, prioritizing responsibilities, setting clear boundaries, and taming your inner critic. I am a certified Integral Coach® with deep HR expertise, offering both a business perspective and a holistic approach that supports your development in ways that will serve you for the long-term. Explore the possibilities by booking a free 30-minute Consultation!

You can check out my story and learn more about my background here.

 

Is Happiness Overrated?

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Achieving happiness is the goal of many Americans, perhaps more than any other country. Our Declaration of Independence cites “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” as one of our rights as citizens. Personally, I don’t think it’s a very useful pursuit, although there is certainly an entire self-help industry built around it. Don’t get me wrong – I like feeling happy as much as the next person. I’m not knocking it, but I’m not chasing it, either.

 

Why? Because I think it’s misleading. Being happy is not the be-all, end-all of experiences. As my nephew said when his grandmother died, the fact that he felt sad was a sign that he had lost someone he loved – because there were good things to miss.  And I’ve certainly experienced fear at times when it was appropriate and helped keep me safe. After that, I am all the more grateful for my well-being, and can appreciate the sweetness of safety rather than take it for granted. As these two examples illustrate, contrasting experience can illuminate joys that you may not have otherwise noticed.

 

And this is why I’d rather cultivate a broad range of emotional experiences…..unexpected bursts of joy, a deep sense of satisfaction, moments of contentment, feelings of empathy, the ability to be touched by something poignant, excitement about what’s possible, hope for the future….. You get the idea. Some of these may be considered elements of happiness, and perhaps it’s not fair to oversimplify what is meant by the word “happiness.”

 

According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, here is the definition of happiness: a state of well-being and contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience.

 

That sounds lovely! I am not saying I find happiness undesirable. However, in order to deeply experience that end of the spectrum, one must also be able to experience the other. It is natural in life to feel sadness, anger, grief, and all the variations on those emotions. That is perhaps the essence of humanity. I believe there is something highly valuable to gain from our less pleasant emotions, in a way that doesn’t come about with ‘positive’ emotions. Because when you’re “happy,” there is no reason to change the status quo. You’re where you want to be, emotionally, so why change a thing? And if you’re not happy? Simply choosing to be happy won’t address whatever it is causing other feelings to arise. They are likely there for a reason, and in understanding that reason, we cultivate more capacity to connect deeply to ourselves and to others.

 

I’m not advocating a static or persistent existence in struggle, either. I like the concept of recognizing that I am not my emotions, that they are temporary states of being; I can even have conflicting ones at the same time (in fact, if I look inside, I usually do). I find it helpful to use mindfulness techniques to observe my emotions and notice them without getting overly attached or entrenched in a particular experience.

 

At the same time, allowing myself to feel sad or angry and to explore those feelings consciously often leads to new insights. Sometimes my emotions or new insights compel me to take useful action I might not otherwise have taken. Difficult emotional experiences can help me think more creatively about how I want to live. They prompt me to continue learning and growing and expanding my perspective in a multitude of ways. If I spend my life in pursuit of happiness, without exploring my darker emotions, I strip away some of the richness that a full range of feelings offers. Not only that, but I may fall into the trap of believing that anything other than happiness is ‘substandard’, or worse, and beat myself up or become anxious about not being “happy enough.” That doesn’t sound healthy.

 

Then there’s the concept of “no pain, no gain.” Doing the hard work to achieve a positive experience offers its own deep sense of satisfaction, and reliably feels all the more gratifying and rewarding than consistently living in a happy haze.

 

No, I don’t believe in being perpetually happy as a life goal. I want to view my emotional well-being as a satisfying spectrum of experiences, one that takes into account the realities of life’s ups and downs, and accepts that it is both human and useful to feel all kinds of ways as we go about our days. That, for me, feels more satisfying.

 

What about you?

Overcommitted? Learn to Set Clearer Boundaries and Enjoy More Freedom!

 

 

Your friend asks you to make her favorite dish for a pot luck she’s throwing to celebrate buying her first house. You are already feeling squeezed for time and wishing her event wasn’t coming up that weekend.  But before you know it, you’re replying, “Sure!” Almost immediately you feel the weight of it. Ugh. One more thing to do. 

Do you ever find yourself saying yes to something because you think you “should,” even if it’s not your responsibility and you don’t really have time for it? Do you say yes to avoid feeling guilty? Do you worry about upsetting someone or being judged negatively if you don’t say yes?  Do you sometimes say yes while already anticipating that your decision might leave you feeling grumpy because you’re short-changing yourself?

These experiences are all too common for most of us in this ‘do everything, be everything’ culture of ours. You’re just trying to do the right thing and be a good person, though, right?

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In reality, these reactions to saying “yes” are all signs that you are trying to take care of someone else’s feelings instead of taking full responsibility for your own.  You are actually the only one in control of your choices, so how you feel about them is yours to manage. If that sounds challenging, consider the corollary: others are solely responsible for getting their own needs met, and thus they are also responsible for managing their own anger or disappointment if you don’t fulfill those needs.

You may already understand this intellectually, but that doesn’t make it easy to break the habit. Women, in particular, have been conditioned to please others and put themselves second (or third or fourth…). And it does not serve us well. Even if it keeps others from getting upset with us, it doesn’t keep us from getting upset with ourselves for overcommitting, nor does it keep us from becoming frustrated with them for asking more of us than we really have to give if we’re going to be at our best.

It takes increased awareness and repeated practice to break these patterns. But once you do, you will experience a wealth of benefits. Besides simply having more time to take better care of yourself, you will be more present and effective for the things you do say yes to. You may find that others develop a newfound respect for you. In fact, you will likely discover that your self-respect also increases. Perhaps more importantly, the resentment that quietly builds when we repeatedly do things to please others will begin to dissipate.  For most people, it takes some work to recognize the difference between personal interest and people-pleasing, so it can be useful to have outside help in assessing your semi-conscious motivations.

 

To begin working on boundary-setting, try getting some practice saying “no” in the context of loving, trusting relationships. Decline an invitation if it’s not really what you want to do. Say no to a request to do someone else’s task if it isn’t something you already wanted to offer to help with. Let someone know if their actions are taking a toll on you, and ask them to stop or inform them you are going to remove yourself from the situation. Note: I strongly recommend explaining in advance that you are trying to work on this skill, because it probably won’t come out gracefully on your first several attempts.

The simplest place to practice setting boundaries may be with social invitations. Frequently, they are offered spontaneously and can feel hard to decline in the moment. Fortunately, you can prepare to do so with a fairly basic response. Acknowledging the invite and offering a simple explanation along with a clear “no” is typically effective without cramping anybody’s style. “Hey, thanks for the invitation, I really appreciate you thinking of me! To be honest, my free time is extremely limited this week so I’m going to have to decline. Maybe some other time?” 

For additional insight and expert guidance on the topic of establishing and maintaining personal boundaries, I can recommend numerous resources. Here are two that I find extremely helpful and relatable. And if you need help integrating this and putting it into practice IRL, you know where to find me. 🙂

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, by Patterson, et al. – this highly accessible book provides research and guidance on effectively managing conversations that could prove sticky, such as challenging the status quo by changing your M.O.  It’s a skill set you can apply to communicating your needs and limits to others.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, by Cloud & Townsend – note: this book is written from a Christian perspective, but is well established as a mainstream classic on this topic. If you’re not religious, it’s easy to skip through the many scripture references.

 

If you liked this, please feel free to check out my earlier blog posts on WordPress, here.  You might also enjoy following me on Facebook and Instagram for additional inspiration, or you can read more about my coaching biz and book a Free 30-minute Consultation from my website.