Shifting Left of Center

July 19, 2010

True inspiration comes from a deep listening that we seldom embrace in our go-go existence. As a writer, I have found it essential to take pause to capture the Voice within. Creative articulation is relentless in granting itself expression. If I don’t pay attention, the Voice finds someone else who will as I’m busy doing something else. It is a sad moment when I look up to see Voice’s dust cloud galloping off without me.

Janis Hui from The Heart Forum left a most wonderful comment about my piece On Savoring that is most appropriate to this notion. She writes:

Not only we do we need quietude for the creative process, we need it from time to time to maintain our sanity.  Without making a point to slow down and reflect, it’s all too easy to get lost in the rat race and forget if all that we are busy doing is aligned with our authentic selves.  We might think what we do is aligned with our center when we set out to do things but our centers also shift as time goes on. If we took the time to check in with ourselves, we would be able to notice these differences and make adjustments along the way.

Isn’t that so true? If we clutched doggedly to a purpose that no longer serves us, wouldn’t we tend to go faster and harder, thinking more effort will lead to a better outcome?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Moments of reflection are necessary, not just for the writers among us, but for everyone on the planet. That is why meditation, retreats and renewal ceremonies are so important. Whether you are renewing your marital vows or celebrating thirty years in business, we need to formally recognize our commitments. It helps strengthen our resolve and place us back on task.

Yesterday I met with a dear friend whom I have know for a while. She helped me on several book projects and has been my champion in so many ways. As we caught up each other on our lives, she paused for a moment and said, “How do you do it all?” I thought for a moment, then answered: “I only do things that serve my ultimate purpose.”

Like an interwoven tapestry, one thing feeds the next. Everything we do must feed our soul. If it drains us, we must move on. That includes listening for the shift in our center, checking in with ourselves every now and then, and allowing things to unfurl naturally.

My motto today? Let it happen and be witness to the grace of this lifetime for it is here, nestled deep within.

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On Savoring

July 14, 2010

“Can we talk later?” My Munich friend breathed into the phone. She had just come off a three-week marathon music tour. She said she needed time to digest all that had happened over the past few weeks so we agreed to put off our conversation for another time.

It reminds me of what Renee Trudeau recently blogged about. She and I had talked at length about our work ~she’s in the ‘renewal business’, helping women live powerful lives while I’m about the business of time and what we do with it. We rarely allow ourselves to digest what it is that we experience. We consume, but do we absorb those experiences down to the fiber of our being?

She blogged about some of the thoughts provoked by our conversation. She writes:

What revelations might we all be missing because we’re yes, moving too fast, but also not creating big spaces of time in our lives to really allow ideas to deeply seep into our bones? To fully digest concepts that may surface, but are quickly swatted away, like pesky flies.

She is now on a delicious month-long writing sabbatical.

The creative process deserves (and demands) moments of quietude. To do things with the utmost of our being, we need beingness. I recently pushed off a creative assignment until the next morning, knowing it required my full creative awareness. I needed that deep listening that the birthing process of art demands. To capture it all hungrily is my ultimate desire. For that I need the silence of the deaf to truly listen.

Sound is something we are surrounded by. Anyone who comes to where I live remarks how truly quiet it is. I love the softness of the air, kissed by the trees that exhale our sustaining lifeforce. The sweet sound of silence enriches us all.

How might you quiet your mind today to all the white noise around you to savor your moments? It starts in the heart where your life’s truest purpose dwells.

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Our collective urgency, fear and yearning to stuff more into our day are merely symptoms of a much larger issue: how we relate to time itself.

Establishing a positive relationship with time is a lot like investing. You have to give something to get a return. Investing a little time on the front end can give you a surplus at the end. Here’s how.

Time suck #1: Juggling too many things at once.

Solution: Stop multitasking. In scientific terms, what you are really doing is task-switching. The brain cannot concentrate on two or more comparably difficult things at a time. The amount of time it takes to rev up to a new task, then rev down is anywhere between a few milliseconds to a few seconds. Over time you are spending hours transitioning from one task to the next. Furthermore, attempting to multitask is not only inefficient; it’s also exhausting. Estimated Time Savings (ETS): Depending on your level of multitasking, up to several hours a day.

Time suck #2: Unclear prioritization. You are reactive, instead of being proactive.

Solution: Set your priorities. Write down your top items each day. Classify them by priority. Be sure to complete the top five or so and move the rest to the next day’s list. Remain flexible in case your priorities shift (leaving a burning building, for instance, is more important than finishing that report on your desk). Working toward your ultimate goals a little bit each day will help you get there faster than if you dedicate irregular times to fulfill goal-related tasks. ETS: Weeks of all-nighters!

Time suck #3: Lack of self-care.

Solution: Exercise. Mental clarity can improve your focus, thereby increasing your productivity. Take a brisk mid-day walk to get some fresh air and a new perspective or eat a light meal (sitting down ~use utensils!) to fuel your mind for the afternoon. ETS: A twenty-minute investment can equal several more hours of productive thinking.

Time suck #4: Being a yes-woman.

Solution: Learn to say ‘no’ with kindness. Agreeing to edit your friend’s blog might be a nice idea, but if you are not in even exchange, it can be time-consuming over the long haul. Think of ways to realign your planning so she’s saving you time, too. Otherwise, politely decline. ETS: Depending on what you are saying ‘no’ to (are you saying ‘no’ to babysitting for an afternoon or to organizing the annual blood drive?), you could save yourself weeks’ worth of time to dedicate to something else.

Time suck #5: The morning rush.

Solution: Get up fifteen minutes early to meditate or write in your gratitude journal. Your mental positioning is as important as your physical one. Bring your mind and your body into alignment with a quiet routine before your day begins. Stretch your muscles and your mind. ETS: How you start your day is how you live it in its entirety. Getting off to the right start with a fifteen-minute investment in a centering activity (journaling, meditating, yoga poses) will expand the experience of your time horizon by hours.

Time suck #6: Sleep deprivation.

Solution: Get enough rest. Expanding your day by going to bed an hour later does not give you another hour over time. In fact, a non-rested thinker is a muddled one. ETS: Investing one hour can grant you at least three hours of more productivity.

Time suck #7: Miscommunication.

Solution: Manage expectations. Think you said something clearly and your partner heard it completely different? Clear communication and proper expectation management will save you hours of cleaning up the mess you could have prevented had you managed those expectations properly in the first place. ETS: A lifetime!

Time suck #8: Enslaved by your digital devices.

Solution. Designate times for information gathering. Email begets email. The more you send, the more you receive. Train yourself to check email periodically instead of constantly. Close out of your email system while working on other projects to avoid distraction. ETS: Up to ten hours. Trust me!

Time suck #9: Always on.

Solution: Unplug. Henny Penny may believe the sky is falling, but yours won’t if you go off-line for a few days. Most cell phones are equipped with personalized ring tones. Set it so you can identify who’s calling without having to even touch it. Or better yet. Turn it off altogether. ETS: Not only will you save your sanity, but you can potentially save hours of relentless data chatter by locating the ‘off’ button.

Time suck #10: Time starvation. The “I’m sooooo busy” syndrome

Solution: Embrace time-abundant thinking. Check how you talk about time? Do you never have enough of it? Are you constantly ‘just so busy’? Remember: activity does not necessarily equal productivity. When you realize you have more than enough time to do what is required to fulfill your ultimate purpose, the pressure is off. You stop engaging in activities that are not in alignment with that purpose. You spend more time on the things you love, thereby encasing you in even more joy and, yes, time! ETS: Your entire lifetime!

Stress recedes when you are present in the here and now.  As a matter of fact, now is all there really is.

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Admittedly, I was zooming through town a tad too fast. Fueled by my excitment at landing a new PR account (based in the juicy slow land of Bullerbü ~yes, Sweden!), I almost overlooked a family of ducks walking pompously across the road. They didn’t waddle. No, no. They strutted in web-footed fashion. They weren’t eager to cross to the other side either. They walked like they owned the place.

It’s happened on that corner of the street before. I should have known they might be out for their daily country jaunt. Luckily, I slowed fast enough for them to carry out their mission undeterred.

The family of birds reminded me of a long-forgotten book I used to read to the kids when we lived in Boston: Make Way for Ducklings, a true story about a policeman who ushered a family of ducks across the street on a frequent basis. We can learn from stories and experiences such as these. Slowing our pace, despite our distraction about this or that, can bring us into present time, the only real time we have.

What will you do to make way for ducklings in our life today? Do tell!

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Benjamin Franklin
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Benjamin Franklin meant well. He advised his tradesmen audience in the aptly worded „Advice to a Young Tradesman”  that time is money. In his day a person of trade, well, traded his time for the money he earned. In many cases today people think they still do that as well. But what they are really doing is spending a lot more time thinking about work than they are paid to do. Thanks in large part to technological advances, work has seeped into many aspects of our lives. So while we’re swinging our child on the swings, we’re solving that problem at work in our heads or on our cell phones. Many times you will see people ceaselessly thumbing their BlackBerries at coffee shops during ‘leisure time’. In today’s world, time is not money, my friend. Time is time and money is money.

In the world of slow, time does not equal money. Instead, time equals your existence.

The truth of the matter is ‘the time is money’ adage has gotten us into a lot more trouble than we realize. Because we live our lives based on the misleading premise that time is money, we attempt to do more in less time. We begin to confuse activity with productivity, as if the ‘doing’ will grant us ‘being’. Inadvertantly, we hop on the hamster wheel, running as fast as we can with a competitive mentality about the clock and what it supposedly represents.We have a negative relationship with time that gives us a sense of time starvation instead of abundance. Even our precious vacation time is not immune from the time-money equation.

According to expedia.com’s latest International Vacation Deprivation Survey conducted by Harris Interactive in April 2010, nearly one-third of the respondents admitted to engaging in work-related while on vacation. The trend seems to be increasing. In 2010 30% reported that they check work email or voicemail while vacationing as opposed to just 24% in 2009.

If you love what you do and you are not stressed by it, that’s one thing. But if you feel you can never disengage from your work to regenerate, chances are you need to entertain the idea of a lifestyle change. As this slide show proves, you needn’t worry about when you will ‘get there’. You’ve already arrived. And yes, time abundance can be yours.

Your body will tell you if you’re on the right track. Have you ever wondered why you feel so much better while on vacation? Not only is your stress level reduced, but you also tend to engage in more leisurely dining and longer sleep. Your body is a wonderful barometer for whether or not your pace of life is working for you. Inject some slow into your summer routine and see where it leads you. It might just take you off the beaten track. Take it from me, a recovering speedaholic. The road less traveled is a great place to be!

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The Focus Test

June 17, 2010

When do you focus best? Take this poll and let me know! It will be the basis of a new podcast series starting in July called Focus Fridays. Have a success story to share about how you eliminated distraction for your life? Leave a comment and let me know and you may be featured in one of the podcasts!

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The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
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“China?” My friend’s face dropped a notch. His company was sending him on a six-month stint to the coldest part of China starting September. He knew his career depended on it. His wife seemed philosophical.

“I’ve always wanted to visit The Great Wall,” she smiled.

And so he went with a tear in his eye while he left his wife and kids to fend for themselves.

Project work can be stressful. If you work for a project-oriented organization as my friend does, work-life balance is an Ivory Tower term. It sounds great, but doesn’t exist. While I advocate words such as ‘alignment’ and ‘life’s purpose’, we all know what is meant by the work-life analogy. Work is a part of life. It’s not everything.

Rodney Turner, Martina Huemann and Anne Keegan reported on the challenges of work-life balance for project-based organizations in the International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 577-585. They concluded that project managers are self-selecting (meaning they really do like the diversity project-based work brings and therefore choose their projects as they wish). The greatest challenge is with shorter term projects, such as the one my friend had to lead. Budgets are made well in advance so you risk not having the resources to carry out your job. You also have a high level of intensity the entire time due to tight timelines. Larger projects are more foreseeable. You can pace yourself better and spend time with family in between.

“The ideal project-oriented organization,” the authors claim, “has a specific management culture expressed in the empowerment of employees, process-orientation and team work, continuous and discontinuous organizational change, customer-orientation and networking with clients and suppliers.”

In other words, they have more time to be human.

Interviewing over 50 managers in 15 organizations throughout Europe and the US, the authors inquired as to the ethical treatment of the employees. Many of the employees opted to work 60 to 70 hours per week simply because they enjoyed the work. As any consultant will tell you, we enjoy the feast before the famine. And contractors are under pressure to bid the lowest while still building in a profit margin to get the work done under budget.

“For companies undertaking large proejcts, the work environment is less dynamic, less frenetic and so tehre is greater cope for balancing the work load.”

If you find yourself in a hectic work environment, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. In the case of my friend, he had no choice if he wanted to remain employed. And the kicker? He wants to go back to China every now and then to check in with his former team. Somehow, despite all the hardship he learned a lot and realized his potential in ways he never imagined.

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Logo of Harvard University
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CTV news wrote a piece about Harvard Business School blogger Peter Bregman who embarked on a single-tasking experiment after a series of multitasking blunders. He tried to craft an email while on a conference call with a board member, who asked him a question. When the board member received no response, the situation got awkward.

Peter swore off multitasking for a week.

Here’s what he found.

  • Delight.
  • Enhanced productivity.
  • More patience for the ‘useful things’ in life.
  • Reduced stress levels.
  • More protective of the time he spends.
  • He looked into his personal bank account of time and smiled.
  • No downside.
  • More energy.
  • More focus.
  • He literally saw the leaves on the trees and felt a rush of gratitude.

Slow works.

Time to celebrate!

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The Power of Why

May 12, 2010

 During a recent acting workshop with the gracious and gorgeous Gabrielle Scharnitzky, I learned the importance of asking ‘Why’ above all else. The motivation of the character informs everything that follows. Ask yourself what the character believes (the ‘why’) and the actions (the ‘what’) and the movements and words (the ‘how’) will automatically fall into place.

Simon Sinek also speaks of the power of why in leadership. When we are clear about our beliefs, we attract others who believe as we do. And that is the beginning of a movement.

I believe in the right to determine our own pace of life. Why do you believe in the power of slow?

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Craftmaster James Dillehay has learned to turn passion into profits. By teaching yoga, he gets to do what he loves. By selling crafts, he is able to literally weave his love into his work.

Here’s James Dillehay in his own words…[Listening instructions: click on the link, then click on it again for your media player to open. Be sure your pop-up blocker has been deactivated.]