If you're planning a team retreat, you may be weighing whether or not it is worth the trouble and expense of holding it offsite. But after facilitating countless team retreats over the last decade, I can tell you that it is pretty much always worth the extra cost (financial and otherwise) to take the team out of the office. At its best, the effect of being on retreat is almost magical.
Have you caught your breath yet?
I know this week's election knocked the wind right out of me.
You may still be reeling, or maybe you have already begun to resist. Or maybe you are reeling and resisting at the same time.
The first thing that I want to say to you is that you matter to me and I see you. You may be scared, despondent or angry, but you are not alone.
The second thing that I want to say to you is to take care of yourself. Self-care is not a luxury at a time like this. As Audre Lorde said,
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation,
and that is an act of political warfare.”
So in the coming days, I encourage you to:
- Get some sleep
- Drink more water than usual
- Love up the people you love
- Unplug from the news for a little while- it will still be there when you get back
- Charge your phone away from your bedside so that you do not look at it last thing, first thing, or in the middle of the night
- Eat foods that nourish you
- Connect with people OFF of Facebook (or whatever your social media hole is)
- Call upon ancestors who walked before you as a source of strength
- Take a walk in nature, without your phone
- Talk about your feelings, your fears, and your plans with other human beings, in person
- Find a way to nourish your spirit - in community, in silence, whatever will connect you to your soul
This is the list of self care strategies that I am working from - and wow is it hard to prioritize these things right now. But I feel we must try.
Thank you for all that you do. Your work is more important than ever.
Our attention may be the most valuable currency we have - and the one we give away most freely.
As Merlin Mann says, "Although your time and attention are finite, the demands on your time and attention are infinite."
If you feel that you can't manage this finite / infinite balance, you're not alone and you're not a defective human being. You are also not powerless. I came across two recent pieces in the media that helped expand my thinking about attention management and wanted to share them:
You've probably known for some time that your phone and all its apps are made to capture your time and attention (and thus your money) -- but this piece in The Atlantic explains exactly how. It focuses on a renegade in the field who is trying to get tech companies to reckon with the effects of the ongoing war for our limited attention, and offer more humane alternatives.
And in this interview, author Cal Newport talks about the difference between "deep work" and "shallow work" and how to allocate our time between the two. This is a framework that I think will resonate with a lot of my clients.
How do you manage relentless demands on your attention?
This week I'm packing up my belongings and preparing to leave the city where I’ve lived for the last 13 years for a new home in NY’s Hudson Valley. Not surprisingly, this has me reflecting a lot on transitions and change.
One of my favorite writers on this topic is William Bridges. His contribution is to recognize that while we would love to think that transitions are all about fresh starts, in fact the fresh start is the last part of the process.
The first stage of transition is an ending — a letting go of what is past & will never be the same again. The second stage is an uncomfortable neutral zone, when we are adjusting to our new reality. Only after we’ve experienced the endings and the neutral zone do we truly get our new beginning.
Who are the writers, teachers, and thinkers who help you navigate change and transition? I’d love to know.
As I looked toward 2015, I approached my annual New Year's reflection with an eye toward engaging in the world. Here are some of the questions that are helping me think about the coming year:
My coaching practice is full for the first few months of 2015, but I will have a handful of spaces opening up in April. Could you benefit from coaching this spring? Now's the time to get in touch and reserve your spot. Learn more about coaching here.
Standing strong in your leadership can be scary.
Wielding power responsibly -- with all the messiness that this entails -- can shake the most confident amongst us.
I have the enormous privilege of working with some pretty fierce leaders in my coaching & consulting practice. Let me tell you a common topic of conversation: facing fear.
When we fear the responsibilities of leadership, our inner dialogue can go something like this:
Me? I'm responsible for all this? I have to raise this budget? I have to fire this person? I have to figure out a way through this intractable morass? I have to recreate this astounding success next year? Little old me?
Yes, you. But here's what I've learned from talking to many, many leaders -- and what I want you to remember:
You are not alone.
You are not the only leader who is daunted by the awesome responsibility you hold for other people's livelihoods, by the ambitious vision you've laid out for your organization, or by the budget you have to raise. Most leaders are humbled by these undertakings. And yet. They get up and do the work, make change, and build the leadership of others along the way. And so will you.
You can welcome the fear.
Fear is not something we need to push away, to resist with force (that never works that well anyway). Believe it or not, we can welcome our fear. That's right, I said WELCOME it. Hang in with me here.
Welcoming the fear lets us soften to it rather than freeze up. It lets us check out the fear, to dialogue with it:
Hey fear, what are you really about? Are you telling me something useful? Or are you a message from the past, not so helpful now? Not so helpful? Great -- I'll keep on my merry way then, and do what I need to do. Just part of my process? Fantastic, thanks for showing up. I'll be moving forward, and you'll be going soon.
I've been practicing this welcoming approach with big decisions, big events and difficult conversations -- things that have historically made me lose some sleep. Here's what I've found: the fear doesn't go away, but when I welcome it I can live with it and learn from it.
Try it. You may learn that you have nothing to fear at all.
"What programs & apps do YOU use to stay on top of it all?"
I get this question all the time.
For me to really adopt a new technology as a favorite and trusted part of my routine, it has to do three things:
- It has to increase my sense of Peace about my work, by helping me reduce worry or stress.
- It has to help me stay Productive by encouraging me to focus on the most important stuff.
- It has to help me Perform at my best -- it can't be so complex it slows me down.
Here are the 6 programs and apps I use daily to keep things running:
- Trello (Task and Project Management). Trello is an elegant and visual platform for task, project and list management. I like it because at its simplest, it is like an electronic version of a white board, or of stickies on a wall. But it has much, much more to offer -- sharing, tagging, checklists, attachments... it is remarkably robust.
- Self Control (Distraction Blocker). Self Control is software for Mac that allows you to assign certain websites to a personal blacklist and then block your own access to them for a particular period of time. I use it for blocking Facebook and Twitter when I need to concentrate - whether for 20 minutes or 8 hours.
- Coffitivity (Focus Enhancer). If you, like me, find you are incredibly productive in the noisy din of a coffee shop, Coffitivity may revolutionize your experience of work at your desk. Visit the website or start up the app and you will be treated to the familiar background noise of a coffee shop -- soft conversations, clatter of dishes, espresso machine, laughter. I've been known to use it in coffee shops when nearby patrons are too loud for my liking.
- Evernote (Digital Capture & Organization Tool). Evernote has a million and one uses, but I use it as a digital filing cabinet. Into Evernote I throw articles, recipes, business brainstorms, books I want to read, vacation ideas, and a million other things. When I need to find something, the easy tagging system and the powerful search make it a piece of cake.
- Streak (Gmail enhancer). Streak's main selling point is that it provides CRM (customer relationship management) within Gmail. But I use it for two of its additional features: 1) I can write an email now and schedule it to send later and 2) I can save "snippets" of canned text to insert into emails rather than retyping the same info over and over (for example, I've created a snippet containing my conference call number, so I don't have to go searching for that every time I want to include it in a message to someone).
- TripIt (Travel Organizer). I'm increasingly on the road and travel documents can be hard to keep at hand. TripIt organizes all of my reservation info (flights, hotel, car rental) and anything else I want on my itinerary in one place. To add something, I simply forward the reservation email to firstname.lastname@example.org and it shows up in my itinerary. I can also easily share itineraries with loved ones.
What are your favorite programs & apps for maintaining your productivity, performance and peace of mind?
I recently guest-blogged for 1 Million for Work Flexibility about how flexible work can serve as part of a leader's toolkit. Here's what I wrote:
In my role as a leadership coach to nonprofit professionals, there is one challenge I hear from my clients over and over, and it goes something like this: “I am so busy putting out fires that I don’t have time to focus on the really important stuff—planning, big picture thinking and developing new ideas.” For leaders, having the time and space to connect the dots and think big is not just a luxury—it’s crucial to personal and organizational success.
So how can leaders create this much-needed spaciousness?
photo credit: thinkstockphotos.com
If you could improve your leadership in just three minutes a day, would you make the time to do it? What if this magic 3 minutes consisted of doing... pretty much nothing at all? Sound too good to be true? In leadership, our ability to connect with people and align them towards common goals is a function, in large part, of our leadership presence.
Presence is how we show up. It's the quality of our be-ing (as opposed to the content of our "do-ing"). In any given moment, our presence may be grounded and focused -- or checked-out and scattered.
When the quality of our presence is high, we are more inspiring to others, more connected to ourselves and more effective in our leadership.
But back to those 3 minutes. It is impossible to cultivate presence if we never pause -- if we're always rushing from meeting to meeting, tied to our smart phones, and feeling forever behind.
The simple act of sitting in silence with our breath, when practiced over time, can radically shift our presence -- even if we do it for only 3 minutes a day. The act of sitting is simple (but not always easy):
- Find a seat on the floor or in a chair where you can sit comfortably but remain upright and alert.
- Close your eyes and start to notice your body, in particular the places where it connects with the floor and/or the chair.
- Tune into your breath, following each inhale and exhale.
- Whenever your mind wanders, gently direct your attention back to your breath. (This will happen many times. Returning your attention to your breath is what you are practicing here, over and over.)
- Continue this for 3 minutes or more (you may want to set a timer before you start).
- When time is up, slowly open your eyes, start to move your body, and return to your surroundings.
Immediately after sitting you may find that you feel calmer, more grounded, and less frazzled. Over time, your attention, patience, and ability to empathize may significantly shift for the better. (I know I've seen these effects, and science agrees.)
If you could make time to sit like this daily, how would it impact your leadership presence? Give it a try, and let me know.
Want to do some New Year's reflection but not sure where to start? Here are 5 sets of powerful questions to get you going. You can sit with these in silence, write or draw about them in your journal, mull them over on a long walk, or share answers in conversation with a partner or friend.
Looking back over the past year, when were you at your best? Think about moments when you felt most alive and engaged, perhaps joyful or particularly purposeful. What threads of similarity connect these moments?
What has changed within you this past year? What is just beginning to change within in you now?
As you end this year, what's weighing you down? How can you shift your experience or perception of that which is weighing you down?
Imagine that it is twelve months from now, and you've had a fantastic, fulfilling year. What does that look like? What did you do -- and how did you have to be -- to get to this result?
In the coming year, what are the critical areas for your learning and growth? What are your first steps for attending to these areas?
Are there other questions that help you to reflect at this time of year? Share them in the comments below.
Wishing you peace and joy in the new year!
You've go deadlines looming, events approaching, and new opportunities popping up at every corner. Can a crisis or two be far behind?
When you're buried in work it can be hard to see a way out. Here are 4 shovels you can use to dig yourself out of overload:
What can you get off your plate by delegating it to someone else? Think not only about the big projects that are taking up most of your time, but of the smaller routine maintenance tasks that eat away around the edges of your day.
What can you put off by a week, a month, or a quarter? Here is where you need to test some assumptions. Just because you've been proceeding on the notion that you need to launch the rebranding effort in 2013 doesn't mean it has to be so. Could it be launched in early 2014? Can this week's brainstorming session be put off until next month, when 8 out of 10 deadlines have passed?
Delay is the less-proactive version of defer. When you delay, you say (to yourself) -- I will get to this, but I will do it on my timeframe because I've got more pressing matters to deal with. You say (to others) -- I am happy to help with this, and I will get back to you next week. Delaying is an effective tactic for dealing with demanding external partners who want things from you that aren't central to your primary work. You don't have to be a jerk about it -- but you also don't have to stop what you're doing to attend to other people's requests.
What can you get rid of all together? Look: you only have so many hours in the day, so many team members on your staff, so much funding and so much work you can do before your personal relationships, sleep and morale begin to suffer. What is off-mission, a time suck, not worth the time it takes do? Who would you need to engage in conversation to be able to let go of one or more projects on your plate?
Your 4 shovels:
And don't forget to breathe.
What are your tried-and-true methods for negotiating a heavy volume of work? How do you dig out?
Provocative question: are you inviting office politics into bed with you?
You are if you are sleeping with your smartphone next to your head.
Read my contribution to the New Organizing Institute's Tip of The Day: Put your phone to bed (just not with you).
Share it if it resonates. And get some sleep already!
You will never get it all done. Let's start there.
When is the last time you took a proper lunch break during the work day? By proper, I mean:
- You left your office building
- It was approximately the middle of your workday
- You ate something
- You did not return for at least 30 minutes
The following do not count as a proper lunch break:
- Scavenging leftover breakfast pastries from another group's meeting in the conference room
- Eating in front of your work computer while doing non-work things (kitten videos, personal email, etc.)
- Forgetting/neglecting to eat lunch and then going to Starbucks at 4pm
Reader, when I worked in an office I regularly did all of the above. Many of my clients - be they administrative assistants or executive directors - are also challenged by the seemingly simple goal of taking a proper lunch break.
Why on earth would you want to take a proper lunch break? Three reasons:
- Taking regular breaks improves productivity and focus.
- Turns out that sitting for too long every day is risky to your health and longevity.
- Research shows that distracted eating leads to overeating.
Enough convincing - here are some strategies for taking a proper lunch:
Start with once a week. Commit to getting out of the office for 30 minutes one day a week. Work up from there.
Make it a date with yourself. Plan ahead of time to do something nice for yourself. Put it on your calendar, go somewhere you enjoy being, and don't stand yourself up.
Make a date with someone else. Plan to leave the office with a buddy - or meet up with a friend who works nearby - and it will be much harder to flake out at the last minute.
Leave your phone behind. Bring a book, a magazine, or maybe something from your "to read" pile, but give yourself a chance to unplug, get some fresh air, and disengage from your inbox while you eat.
Attach lunch to other outings. Need to be out of the office for a morning meeting? Tack 30 minutes onto the entry in your calendar and have a proper lunch on your way back. Afternoon external meeting? Leave 30 minutes early and arrive relaxed & fed.
Reframe lunch as increasing, not taking away from your time at work. Nothing helps a productive morning become a productive afternoon like a break in the middle (see research above). And, much like when you get those great ideas in the shower, an unstructured and relaxed lunch can pay off in a creativity boost.
Start a lunch club. Over at the National Organizing Institute blog, they have a great how-to on starting a lunch club, providing peer support and interesting meals, 5 days a week.
What are your strategies for taking lunch? What difference does lunch make in your day?
Nonprofits must always be asking for support. The majority that fundraise for their budgets craft compelling proposals to foundations, generous individuals, and government funders. Those that advocate for change ask for our attention and our actions. From my very first months in my first nonprofit job, where I was involved in fundraising, I learned from my mentors the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) practice of relationship cultivation leading up to "the ask."
Here is a wholly fresh take on the art of asking, in the form of a phenomenal TED talk by the musician Amanda Palmer. She's talking to her fellow artists, but I think her insights fall into the "general instructions for enlightened living" category and certainly have relevance to nonprofiteers.
She says: Connect. Then ask without shame.
Connect. Then give people the opportunity to support your work.
Connect. There are people who will gladly underwrite what you are doing - and who will be grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Asking isn't always easy, but there is a way for it to feel fair, meaningful, and connected on both sides of the table.