Five Questions for New Year's Reflection

5 Questions for New Year's Reflection
5 Questions for New Year's Reflection

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!

How to Take a Proper Lunch Break

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:

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?

Connect, Then Ask Without Shame

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.


"Coaching helped me find the way back to myself"

Friday gratitude time - I received this awesome feedback from a coaching client: [box] "Coaching brought me back to my values and helped me find the way back to myself: a person who loves working and engaging with employers and colleagues, a person who is enthusiastic and proud of the work I do."[/box] This speaks so directly to the purpose of Do Your Best Work. And it's exciting to think about the positive change this client will go on to create in the world."

If you need to reconnect with what it feels like to do your best work - let's talk. We can get you there!

The Daily Coffee Check-In

'I'm too busy to plan' is one of the most unhelpful things we tell ourselves when we're overwhelmed with work. By buying into this mistaken belief we deny ourselves what we most need when we're buried in work: a little space to gain some control, perspective, and relief. It can take as little as 15 minutes to rise above the chaos and map out your day, and you don't need to lock yourself in a room with a whiteboard to make it happen.  I've written before about the morning meeting with yourself, which involves taking the first few minutes at your desk to get a handle on what's ahead.

Starting even earlier in her day, a client of mine does her daily planning ritual each morning during her subway commute. She calls it The Daily Coffee Check-In.  A parent who directs a national program on 3-day-a-week work schedule, she has to be strategic with her time in order to accomplish her work without it spilling over into her non-work days.  So, every workday, as she juggles her coffee on the train, she fills out this checklist:

The Daily Coffee Check-In:

1) What’s lingering in my mind?

2) What do I need for meetings today?

3) What must I accomplish that can’t wait until the next day in the office?

4) When can I devote time to this? Should I reschedule anything?

5) When do I need to leave today? What time may I have tonight/tomorrow if absolutely necessary?

With these five questions, she enters her day with clear intention, a sense of her bigger picture, and a plan for getting her work done.

Inspired by my client, I set out to design my own Coffee Check-In.  I came up with this:

Sarah's Coffee Check-In:

1) What's on my schedule today?  How do I need to prepare for each appointment?

2) Which non-urgent project(s) do I want to make some progress on today?

3) What must I do today in order to feel today was a success?

4) When will I take a lunch break?  When will I complete my work for the day?

5) What one thing have I been putting off that I will finally address today?

What questions would be on your morning coffee check-in list?

10 Things You Can Start Doing TODAY to Feel Less Overwhelmed

Best practices gleaned from Getting Things DoneThe Power of Full Engagement, 7 HabitsThe Fire Starter Sessions, and my brilliant clients. 1.  Identify & make space for your top priorities first. Identify your major priorities and make time for them in your schedule first. Then, make your lower priorities fit in around the big stuff. If you fill up your time with the little things, it becomes impossible to fit in the big things later.

2. Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system. As David Allen says, “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Get every nagging thought about something you have to do out of your head and onto a list or calendar.

3. If a task takes less than 2 minutes, do it now. Don’t put off a small task for later if you could get it done now in 2 minutes or less.

4. Keep a list of next actions & start every next action with a verb. Keep a list of the very next things you need to do. Each item should be as specific as possible and start with a verb. You are more likely to take action when you see “ask David about timeline for final report,” on your list than when you see something like “final report.”

5. Have a daily meeting with yourself. Once a day (preferably at the start of your day), take 15 – 20 minutes to check in with your top priorities next actions list and calendar. Identify the 3-5 things you must do today to make the day a success.

6. Review everything on your plate weekly. Take 60 - 90 minutes a week to review all of your commitments, assess the past week, and look ahead to the coming weeks. You will catch things that would otherwise slip through the cracks.

7. Use your “power hours” for your most brain-intensive work. Figure out what time of day you are most alert, sharp and energetic. Do your hardest work then & save the mindless tasks for when you’re spent.

8. Charge your electronic devices outside of the bedroom. Get your inbox out of your bed! Purchase an alarm clock if you’ve been using your phone & put your devices in the other room when you turn in for the night.

9. Create intentional time and space away from technology. This can look like: blocking your internet access when you are writing, unplugging from all technology for 24 hours once a month, not looking at your phone between work and when the kids go to sleep, or sitting and focusing on your breath for 5 minutes a day.

10. Do what you say you’re going to do. You’ll gain the trust, respect, and admiration of others – and yourself.

Drawing Digital Boundaries in an Always-On World

If you’re like most people, you’ve responded to work email while on the grocery check-out line, on vacation, and in bed. Increasingly we are always at work unless we make a conscious decision not to be. As a workflow coach to busy professionals, I get to see both the benefits and challenges of our ever-shrinking, instantly-syncing and always-buzzing technology.  The plus is that we can work from anywhere, anytime; the drawback comes when we are working everywhere, all the time.

The truth is that your inbox will still be accepting emails when you die. Will you choose to live in your inbox 24/7, or will you step away from time to time and be present in the messy, physical, relational world?

We have to get really good at choosing when we’re working and when we’re not. The radical act of unplugging – of intentionally turning off our devices for a few hours, days or even weeks – can have profound effects:

  • Coworkers will see that you place boundaries on your time and adjust accordingly.  By not responding to work emails after a certain time of night, on the weekends, or on vacation, you signal that you respect your own time and that of your colleagues.
  • Loved ones will appreciate your undivided attention. A dinner without text messaging and a day outside without email will not go unnoticed.
  • You will grow to enjoy the alertness, calm, and productivity that comes from focusing on the present moment without attending to a blinking device.

If turning off your devices for even an hour seems like an impossible feat, here are some questions to get you thinking:

  • What parts of your life could you experience more fully if you were to unplug?  What are the consequences if you don’t unplug?
  • What one technology habit, if you changed it, would make the biggest positive impact on your life?
  • Where in your day, week, or year, is it most important to you to you carve out time to disconnect from technology?

No one else will draw these boundaries for you.  The only person who can stop you from answering email 24/7 is you.  So, where will you draw the line?

From the Vault: Pondering Purpose in the (Jewish) New Year


For those who celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, now is a time of reflection, of returning to that which we value most, and of reconciling our best intentions with our actions. 

In the spirit of the holiday, I offer this post from the vault: Pondering Purpose in the New Year.  Whether or not you are celebrating the birth of a new year this week, I invite you to take a moment to step back and reflect with this exercise.  

How can you call upon your purpose to do your best work in the year to come?


Today I've been revisiting some of my favorite perspectives on the concept of purpose.  I am particularly moved by these words by choreographer Martha Graham:

[quote] There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action.  And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares to other expressions.  It is simply your business to keep the channel open.[/quote]

Reflecting upon these words, what resonates?

  • What is the unique energy or action you will contribute to the world?
  • How can you more fully express it in the year to come?
  • How have you blocked its expression in the past?
  • How will you remove these blocks this year?
  • What's the possibility you create when you "keep the channel open"?

Happy New Year.

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Photo credit: loop_oh on Flickr.

Jim Henson's Kooky Take on Time

Last week I went on a Freelancer Field Trip to check out the Jim Henson exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.  While there was plenty of Henson's inspiring puppetry (to say nothing of the myriad other attractions at this fantastic museum), the thing that stood out for me was Henson's 1965 experimental short film, Time Piece. In 9 frenetic minutes, this The Academy Award-nominated short tells the story of the everyman who juggles work and family, bounds between sickness and health, and wrestles with desire and obligation.  All the while, clocks tick and a relentless staccato beat marks the passage of time.  Our protagonist is constantly on the run, but never seems to get anywhere.

I couldn't help but think of this as a slightly kooky window into the work that I do with busy professionals who are trying to lead, love and live the best they can with the time they are given.  There is something timeless about this struggle.

For your amusement, and without further adieu, I give you Jim Henson's 1965 Time Piece:

(Note:  I would rate this film about a PG-13 for some tame-ish burlesque dancing... so keep that in mind if you are watching this in a shared office space.)

Can't see the video above?  Watch it here.

3 Super Online Tools for Writing and Reflection

One of my personal goals for this fall is to take more time for regular writing and reflection.  To get back in the groove, I've turned to some of my favorite free online writing tools.  Each of them make getting the words out fun, simple, and relatively painless. Write long:  750 On the face of it, this site is simple: log in daily, start writing, and don't stop until the auto word-counter tells you you've hit 750 words (approximately 3 pages longhand).  Once you've accumulate several days worth of input, the site's algorithms kick in and you can take advantage some very cool bells and whistles.  Based on your writing, the site offers you data on everything from your typing speed to your mood and mindset; you can even earn badges for consecutive days of writing.

Write quick: Ohlife is founded on the simple premise that keeping a journal doesn't have to be a time-consuming endeavor.  Once you sign up on the site, you will receive an email each day that asks you simply, "How'd your day go?"  Reply to that email with whatever you want to write about your day, and the site will archive your responses (which you can access on the site at any time).  Collectively, your answers to this one question constitute a record of your days.

Write deep: 10Q is an annual online reflection event that takes place during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- but you don't have to be Jewish to participate or to benefit.  Sign up and starting on September 28th, you will be sent one question a day to answer about your life, looking back and looking ahead.  (Sample question: "Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?") Your answers are "sealed in the vault" at the end of the 10 days and - here's where it really gets cool - only become available to you one year later (time capsule-style).  I'm going into my 3rd year of doing 10Q and can't wait to look back on my answers from 2010 and 2009.

BONUS - Write old school: (Non-virtual) Journal Online tools are great, but sometimes I just want to put pen to paper.  My go-to sources for journals are Moleskine (when I'm feeling spendy) and Muji (where my favorite journal costs $1.50).  Nothing beats a good old-fashioned blank page.

What are your favorite tools or prompts for writing and reflection?

Snow Day! (Or, How to Use "Found Time")

With a foot of snow outside my window right now, it seemed like a good time to revisit a favorite post from last year: how to use a snow day. Whether you are snowed in today or not, check out these ideas for how to use the gift of extra unscheduled time.

8 Great Uses of a Snow Day (or Other "Found Time") originally posted on February 10, 2010

My former boss used to talk about the wonderful feeling brought about by “found time.”  Found time is when you unexpectedly gain free time — because of a cancelled meeting or a postponed lunch date — and get to decide how to use it.   As over-scheduled as most of us are, a few hours of found time can feel pretty luxurious.

Many on the East Coast are getting some found time today in the form of a snow day.  Why not make the most of it? While I wouldn’t suggest doing ALL of these things in one day — after all, you should relax — I guarantee that taking on two or three of these activities will make you feel more energetic and accomplished than, say, a whole day spent watching HGTV (ahem).

  1. Do one task you’ve been putting off. Crossing something off your list will feel so good, you might even be inspired to do something else. For me, this will be finding out how to change the address on my driver’s license.  I moved two years ago, so I expect that finally doing this will feel pretty good!
  2. Plan your charitable giving for the coming year. Many of us only make donations at the end of the calendar year or when disaster motivates us to give.  But nonprofits need our generosity year-round for the work they do day in and day out.  Think about how much you are able to donate this year, and consider donating now or in installments over the course of the year.
  3. Pick a small area to declutter. What space in your environment aggravates you, embarrasses you, or slows you down? It could be your desk drawer or your sock drawer, the pile on the kitchen table or that black hole where you toss instruction manuals.    Pick a manageable area that you can declutter in an hour or less, and get it done.
  4. Check in with your New Year’s resolutions. It’s a few weeks into the new year: how are those resolutions going?  It’s okay to refine your resolutions or  drop one altogether.  Just be intentional about it!  If you did any end-of-year reflection, revisit your notes from that process.  What’s changed already since the year began?
  5. Do a brain dump. When was the last time you got everything off your mind?  Sit down for 15 minutes and write down everything that is taking up your attention right now – from upcoming birthdays to grocery lists to the broken dining room chair.  Then, identify the next action needed on each item, and put it in your trusted system (a sure-fire process brought to you byDavid Allen).
  6. Create something. Make soup from scratch, build a shelf, assemble homemade Valentines, crochet a scarf for your dog.  There is little as satisfying as creating something from start to finish in one sitting.  Short projects provide instant gratification and don’t hang over your head like that sweater you started knitting two years ago.
  7. Set a date.  Not to get married (though a blizzard engagement would make a nice story) but to get together with that person you’ve been meaning to see.  Look at your calendar, find three dates that would work for lunch or for coffee, and suggest to that long-neglected colleague/cousin/college buddy that you finally get some face-time.
  8. Write down ideas for how you’d like to use your next block of found time and put your list in a find-able place.

Bonus activity: Subscribe to my blog, via the email box on the top right, or by pasting  into your feed reader of choice (I use Google Reader).

What are your favorite uses for found time?  If you have a snow day today, how will you use it?

Pondering Purpose in the New Year

Today I've been revisiting some of my favorite perspectives on the concept of purpose.  I am particularly moved by these words by choreographer Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening, that is translated through you into action.  And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how it compares to other expressions.  It is simply your business to keep the channel open.”

And some questions to ponder-

  • What is the unique energy or action you will contribute to the world?
  • How can you more fully express it in 2011?
  • How have you blocked its expression in the past?
  • How will you remove these blocks this year?
  • What's the possibility you create when you "keep the channel open"?

Happy New Year.

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Words to Live By: An Alternative to New Year's Resolutions

I've always found the process of setting and measuring progress on New Year's resolutions to feel forced and to be a set-up for guilt.  This year, in addition to reflecting on my year (as I do every year), I will be creating my personal Words to Live By (WTLB).  To borrow from the business world, WTLB can be thought of as a personal motto; to borrow from the spiritual world, WTLB  can be thought of as a personal mantra. Some examples of Words to Live By:

  • Always be me
  • Think, then speak
  • Remain present
  • Breathe, listen, act

WTLB help you fill in the blank, "When in doubt, _______."  They are an always-available, always-relevant personal accountability system; they help you to course-correct in the challenging moments of everyday life.

Words to Live By are:

  • easy to remember; you don't need to write them down
  • applicable to all aspects of your life; you don't need one set for home and another for work
  • doable in the moment-to-moment; you don't need to measure your progress quarterly or annually
  • descriptive of how you want to be, not things you want to do

WTLB reflect what you need to be most mindful of as you walk through this next  year of your life. The words you choose may be based on learnings from the past year -- "I need to listen more" -- or a new intention that you are creating for yourself -- "I will remember to breathe when I'm stressed."  Your WTLB are the words you think you will most need to hear, most often, at the most critical moments.

It is likely that just by thinking about it for a few minutes, you will come up with some possible WTLB.   Good luck, and have a happy New Year!

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Five Provocative Ideas about Leadership & the Brain

I'm reporting live from Boston, where about 250 neuroscientists and leadership experts are gathered for the 5th annual NeuroLeadership Summit.  The crowd is a heady mix of folks who are equal parts charismatic and nerdy, and there is a palpable excitement about this growing field.  Here are five ideas that captured my imagination on the first day of this 3-day gathering. 1.  Group brainstorming can stifle insight (Jonathan Schooler, UCSB) Conventional wisdom says that the best way to generate lots of ideas is to bring a group together and ask them to brainstorm.  Schooler's research shows that group conversation can actually disrupt creative solutions.  Once a team member projects his or her interpretation onto the situation at hand, it is very hard for the others to see outside of the construct their teammate has created.  For maximum creativity, ask people to first solve the problem on their own, and then bring them together to share their individual ideas with the group.

2.  The essence of charisma is mindfulness (Ellen Langer, Harvard) Mindfulness is nothing more than noticing new things as they occur.  Sounds simple, but we spend much of our lives in mindless autopilot, assuming that the situation in front of us (whether it be our commute, our coffee, or our colleague) is the same as every situation that's come before.  This kind of mindless state is not lost on others; it is readily perceived by children, adults, and animals alike.  Mindfulness cannot be faked.  This is why leaders register as charismatic when they are mindful: actively engaged in the present, visibly invested in the uniqueness of the person before them, curious and ready to learn.

3.  Expanding your emotional vocabulary can change how you feel (Lisa Feldman Barrett, Boston College) Changing what you think about what you are feeling can change how you experience emotion. (It's okay, read that sentence again.)  Our feelings don't just happen to us.  In fact, both the emotional and decision-making parts of the brain are involved in how we experience our feelings.  The better we are at to pinpointing and labeling our exact emotions, the better able we'll be to shift our experience of how we are feeling.  For example, rather than settling on "angry" to describe how that encounter with your coworker made you feel, try to figure out if the feeling is really "embarrassed," "inadequate," or even "sleep-deprived."  This will change your experience of the situation that made you "angry" in the first place.

4.  Sometimes the best choice is not to choose at all (Sheena Iyengar, Columbia) We are bombarded with choices everyday.  Iyengar's research shows that the more choices we have (and the less meaningful the distinction between our choices), the worse we are at making a decision that we will be happy with.  Overwhelmed with choices, we end up either not choosing anything, or making a choice we later second-guess.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to opt out of choosing altogether.  It's okay to decide that the time we'd spend deliberating over this widget or that one is ultimately distracting us from our end goal.  (Incidentally, this is why I don't have TV, much less cable -- too many choices.)

5. Why we get bored of our spouses, but not our kids (Ellen Langer again) Situations/jobs/people are neither inherently boring nor inherently interesting.  It's our experience of these things/people that makes them so. Attending to what's different (what's changing) is what makes the world seem engaging.  The more we notice, the more interesting the world is.  A person will complain that she is bored in her relationship with her spouse of 20 years... but the same person would never say that after 20 years of parenthood, she is bored with her kids. This is because we expect our children to change. Our spouses - not so much.

There are many more thoughts from the day captured on my Twitter stream from the conference. Signing off for tonight.

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Peter Block Asks You to Bring Surprise into a World that Wants Control

Last week organizational consulting guru Peter Block spoke at my school.  Block, the author of numerous books (most famously, Flawless Consulting) has over the past decade turned his attention to creating communities "that work for all," most notably in his own community of Cincinnati, OH.  Block describes his work as "bring[ing] change into the world through consent and connectedness rather than through mandate and force." Block is someone who invites his audience to experience what he's preaching in real time- in this case it meant spending 10 minutes in a circle with two strangers ("knees no more than 9 inches apart") asking and answering compelling questions.

I am still absorbing/wrestling with some of the ideas Block put forward that night (particularly as they relate to social justice) but I wanted to share some of my key learnings.

What follows is directly from my notes, so while it is not a transcript, it should be considered a pretty close paraphrase of Block's words as I heard them.  These are the points that most resonated with me.

Organizations are patriarchal. Organizations/institutions are inherently patriarchal.  The essence of patriarchy is this: I know what's best for you.    The belief that The Boss = Cause of any given situation and Subordinate = Effect is a false one.  We give power to people above us because we think they are "cause" and that they set culture.  In reality, we re-produce patriarchy through our participation in it.  There is a collusion between patriarchy and our wish for safety.  Leaders must work with people in a way that makes them feel that they are the creators of their own experiences.

Relatedness is everything. Get obsessive about connecting people.  Our work is to create circles of possibility within the hierarchical structure of institutions.  The circle is the symbol of an alternative culture.  The circle says: we all matter.  Our eyes connect.  All voices are heard.  Group people together with strangers, because hierarchy is supported by like-mindedness.  I cannot be surprised if I am connecting with people I already know.  Bring surprise into a world that wants control.  In the circle, create a world that is an example of the larger world we want to inhabit.

Questions bring us together, answers drive us apart. Create a moratorium on doling out advice or help.  Working on problems isn't powerful - ask questions instead.  Get curious, be interested, pay attention.  Ask questions that have an edge to them.   Ask, "why does that matter?"  Other powerful questions:  "What is the question that is animating your life right now?" "What is the crossroads you're at at this stage of your life?"  "For the thing you're complaining about, what's your role in creating it?"

Slow down and connect with people. Building connections with one another takes time. People will say it takes too much time, that there are more important things to do.  Speed is the argument against love, against relatedness, against democracy.  Doing is a defense against being.

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Four Stunning Tools for Visual Learning

Learning styles may be a myth, but I will make the unscientific assertion that I am a visual learner.  I need to see things for them to sink in.  In the past month, a handful of stunning visual learning tools have caught my attention. 1.  Take Notes in a New Way At a leadership retreat I attended last month, the two group facilitators were joined by a silent but powerful partner: Nora Herting, a graphic recorder from ImageThink.  As the retreat unfolded, Nora drew images and highlighted key phrases to capture the spirit and content of what was said.  Posted on the walls, the drawings became a map of our time together and conversation pieces in and of themselves.  Here's a video of Nora and her colleague at work:


2.  Zoom Past Powerpoint A friend introduced me to Prezi, a zooming, nonlinear presentation tool which offers a welcome alternative to Powerpoint.  In Prezi, instead of making sequential slides, you create your presentation on a big blank (electronic) canvas using font size, images and framing of text to create variety and emphasis.  Come presentation time you literally zoom around your canvas, following a path that you set ahead of time or changing course as the mood strikes.  I've only played around with Prezi online and have not yet used it for a presentation.  I'd be interested in hearing from folks who've tried it out.

Joan Rivers and Twyla Tharp, Organized Artists

I saw the hilarious and disturbing  Joan Rivers documentary this weekend. One of my favorite parts was seeing Joan's low-tech joke library. Take a look:

Joan is onto something.  Though artists have a reputation for being messy and spontaneous, many have organized workspaces because their art demands it.

Organization is in part about being prepared for the moment when insight strikes.  It's about creating the conditions for creativity to flourish, so that when you enter into creation mode, your physical world is set up to support you. Being organized also creates the mental order that many people need to be able to put aside mundane things and enter a creative head-space.

An organized workspace, for artists an non-artists alike, needn't mean office-standard manilla file folders and labelmakers.  In her book The Creative Habit, choreographer Twyla Tharp describes the  unconventional system she uses to support her creativity*:

Everyone has his or her own organizational system. Mine is a box, the kind you can buy at Office Depot for transferring files. I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me...

The box makes me feel organized, that I have my act together even when I don’t know where I’m going yet... Most important, though, the box means I never have to worry about forgetting. One of the biggest fears for a creative person is that some brilliant idea will get lost because you didn’t write it down and put it in a safe place. I don’t worry about that because I know where to find it. It’s all in the box….

As different as their systems (and their art forms) are, Joan and Twyla's methods are fundamentally similar.  When they are ready to create, neither the comedian nor the choreographer wants to spend time searching for things -- they want to be able to quickly access what they need and get down to creating what they want to create.  Both feel grounded knowing that their creative works-in-progress have a safe home outside of their heads.  That's one sign of a working system - it makes you feel better.

No matter what form it takes, a good organizational system supports you to do your best work by allowing you to put your brain power where you want and need it to be. For some people that system will be a cardboard box of ideas, and for others a card catalog of naughty jokes.

Do you have an unconventional organizational system?  If you're an artist, how do you organize your workspace?

*With thanks to Merlin Mann for introducing me to this passage.

The Regret Minimization Framework

In this short video, Jeff Bezos explains how he decided to leave his cush, stable financial-sector job to start this wild dream called Bezos' framework is essentially this question: when I'm 80, will I regret not doing this?  He calls it the Regret Minimization Framework. [youtube=]

I've used this framework (without knowing Mr. Bezos' fancy name for it) to make a few important personal and professional decisions in my life.  As Bezos suggests, I found it helped me leapfrog over anxieties and uncertainties tied to the here-and-now and take a longer view.

Like the warmer/colder test (which is more about the here-and-now), the Regret Minimization Framework is a quick "gut-check" that can help you find clarity as you approach important decisions.  Of course, not everyone's internet start-up is going to turn into Amazon, but Mr. Bezos says that the important thing for him is that he tried (easy for him to say now, a cynic might add).

You can watch the video here (having problems embedding it on my blog, sorry).

What do you think about a regrets-based framework for making important decisions?